Co-Designing and Co-Speculating on Different Forms Of Domestic Smart Things

In 2018 Betti Marenko (Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London), Marco Rozendaal (TU Delft), and Will Odom (SFU) invited me and a number of really fantastic design researchers and artists from around the world, to a design research workshop / retreat in the Netherlands. At the Lorentz Center in Leiden we spent a week thinking about Designing Smart Objects in Everyday Life.

Our collective thoughts on an emerging research framework for designing smart agents will finally be out in 2021 as a book with Bloomsbury. The volume examines the emerging human/nonhuman intelligence of smart interfaces, objects, systems, agents within sentient environments. It focusses on »the animation and contested materiality of the digital« as Betti Marenko put it. For this volume I co-authored, together with Will Odom (SFU) and Dries DeRoeck (StudioDott), a chapter called Co-Designing and Co-Speculating on Different Forms Of Domestic Smart Things.

In this chapter we challenge how the interaction design community has long conceptualized ‘the home’ and ‘domestic life’ as a homogenous social concept. We describe and reflect on how co-speculation and co-design with a diverse set of people living largely outside of a ‘mainstream’ view of the home opens new avenues for designing domestic technology. The first case uses cultural probes and design ethnography to inspire the creation of speculative design proposals. The second case uses a novel IoT toolkit and method to involve people from a wide variety of backgrounds and abilities to co-design future smart connected objects. Taken together, both cases offer novel accounts of how designers and researchers can approach co-design and co-speculation to support people’s unique needs, values, and desires in the context of the home. In so doing, we show how to envision new ways of designing smart objects and technologies that challenge, rather than reinforce, social roles and narrow concepts of ‘the home’.

Marenko, B., Rozendaal, M. and Odom, W. eds. (2021) Designing Smart Objects in Everyday Life. London: Bloomsbury