Connected Everyday and the life of things

I was lucky to notice a tweet on Thursday evening, otherwise I would have missed a symposium at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering in Delft at Friday, dedicated to Connected Everyday. The symposium is dedicated to the inaugural lecture of Elisa Giaccardi later that day, but I was triggered with the line-up of speakers in the morning. Three of them I knew already by their reputation for good thinking on a field I find most interesting; connected products and the deeper impacts.

We live in a world where digital data, material objects and social practices are increasingly connected and interdependent. What are the challenges in designing for this new ecology of materials, artefacts and interactions?

Paul Dourish started off with a more philosophical look to the concept of Everyday. He mentioned different concepts of Everyday: Everyday as ubiquitous, everyday as casual, as residual, as repressive, as revolutionary, as collective, as site of study, as site of design.

Everyday is restructuring our perspective on life, my everyday is different from yours. As site of study it is interesting how he described the participation in the researchable world. Reshaping the concepts of everyday through design is in the end the topic of now.

Next was Chris Speed. He talked on Fast Algorithms and Slow things. And the concepts of time. The framework of everyday is future and past. He explored a bit further into the notion of time. Showing how stories told in movies of 6 seconds on Vine have a different meaning as the 140 characters of Twitter, that cost us also 6 seconds to read. And he let us experience via Speeder how speeding up the reading pace transforms meaning.

Sensors make us watch without eyes. New realities emerge. I liked his app TMIY, Take Me I’m Yours, where you can put geofenced based messages to objects based on place and time. The theory of spimes brought to practice. I think his distinction between objects and things, where things have context of presence, is very valuable. New economic models will emerge from the connected things.

Third speaker was Ron Wakkary. I did not see a talk of him before, but I liked it very much. He goes into the way we need to design for these everyday practices. We don’t call it functionality, it just does things. He also reject the idea of users. We have to look to these new things as self controlling entities. Unselfconsious interactions.

Screenshot 2014-01-27 04.27.32
A model

He used a couple of research project that made sense. The table non table project and the indoor weather station. Both designed for a kind of own will in the things. And as his main conclusion: “that over time lead to subjective and possibly unknowing improvements in the relationships of artifacts, evironments and people.”

Last speaker was Jack Schulze. Well-known for his agency BERG London, that is now fully transformed into a product company BERG Cloud with signature product Little Printer. He did not talk on this product, but on more meta level consequences of these new products. Systems are leaking into our experiences. Every connected product brings a system with it.

The example of cash is very strong. The product itself is quite simple. A coin. But it represents a lot. Like ownership. That change as you don’t hold the coin yourself. The object is just a carrier of the system behind it. And make the context of use clear.
And the example of Google; as a search action to pizaa of 0.26 seconds can return 213 million result, what is the thing carrying with it.

There are four orders of products, an evolution.

  1. Shelf demonstrable value
  2. Action at a distance, autonomous connection
  3. Independent connection to the web, the objects are part of the services of the internet
  4. They speak to and affect each other, an ecology of things

To use something, you have to be able to perceive it. You have to make things that have heart. That is what connects us to the things. Like the Apple iOS comparison to Android. iPhone feels better because the makers care.

The panel discussion delivered some extra bits of insights. The format to let objects ask questions to the speakers worked out very well. We learned a nice entertaining activity; read the reviews of the Roomba and see how the product is having a soul for people.

Schulze added that it is remarkable to realize how the very same book of 1999 -say Harry Potter- is so different now with all its context you get when reading in 2014. That is the impact of systems and spimes.

Wakkary put it nice: products are interventions in situations. And as Chris Speed said; objects are no things. Things are events with objects as artefacts. Combine this with algorithms and it can get messy.

Published by


I am a design director at Structural. I curate and organize ThingsCon Netherlands and I am chairman of the Cities of Things Foundation. Before I was innovation and strategy director at tech and innovation agency INFO, visiting researcher and lab director at the Delft University of Technology coordinating Cities of Things Delft Design Lab.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s