Alternative IoT

Problem Statement

Most visions of the Internet of Things employ a very narrow view of the home. What might alternative living situations teach us about designing for IoT?

Kelsey Aschenbeck
Heidi Biggs
Nouela Johnston
Cayla Key
Jeremy Viny
Audrey Desjardins

Primary Research
Concept Development
Fall 2017–Spring 2018
9 Months

This long-term research project employed co-speculative design to investigate alternative visions of IoT devices in the home. We worked with 16 participants to develop situated design concepts attuned to living situations that diverged drastically from industry stereotypes. Our findings challenge assumptions and reveal new avenues for IoT design.

IoT Stereotypes
Mass-market IoT devices overwhelmingly cater to middle-class nuclear families in detached homes, an approach that excludes people with a diverse range of lived experiences. This one-size-fits-all vision of the home erases the real-world complexity of making a home. Moreover, these devices present domestic technology in a solution-oriented light, prioritizing efficiency and automation over other values.  

Research Questions
What can we learn about designing for the Internet of Things by exploring alternative living arrangements? What meaningful visions of the role connected devices can play in the home are ignored by typical design practice?

We employed the following research-through-design methods to investigate our research questions. The process involved 16 participants over several months

︎ Probing the Home

We conducted in-home visits with participants in non-typical living situations. The participants spoke to us about the organization of their space, their habits and routines, and the most unique or meaningful parts of their home.

︎ Co-Speculation

Based on what we had learned, we developed 10 situated, imaginary concepts tailored to the participant’s living situation. These concepts were made to engage the home in a playful and speculative way. Half of the concepts were devised by us and half by the participants.

︎ Bespoke Booklets

As a vehicle for presenting our concepts and evoking our participants’ creativity, we created handmade booklets for every home. The informal nature of the booklets invited handwritten feedback and drawings from our participants.

Alternative Avenues
Through this study, we found several new avenues to use as starting points for broadening the assumptions embedded in current design practices.

︎ Acknowledging Porous Boundaries

IoT devices can help reveal the malleable nature of the physical and psychological boundaries of the home

︎ Exposing Neighborly Relations

Viewing the home as a discrete unit leaves interactions and negotiations between neighbors unacknowledged

︎ Extending Temporality

Technology can help reveal new perceptions of time in the home, whether long-term trends or moment-by-moment changes

︎ Revisiting Agency in the Home

Living with IoT devices necessitates the allocation of agency between human, object and the space itself

︎ Embracing Imaginary and Potential Uses

Each living situation has its own unique constraints; connected devices can facilitate the exploration of alternative uses for the home

Desjardins, A., Viny, J.E., Key, C., Johnston, N. (2019).
Alternative Avenues for IoT: Designing with Non-Stereotypical Homes. In Proc. CHI'19, New York, ACM Press, in press. (acceptance rate: 23.8%). Honorable Mention CHI'19.

Desjardins, A., Key, C., Biggs, H.R., Aschenbeck, K. (2019).
Bespoke Booklets: A Method for Situated Co-Speculation. In Proc. DIS'19, New York, ACM Press, in press. (acceptance rate: 25%)

The course of this study presented several shifts in focus and approach. It offered a great introduction to the way a long-term projects evolves over time and allowed me to become familiar with the processes and methods of design as an academic discipline.