Questioning "Things"

Image: Flickr / Scott Beale, Laughing Squid

After a brief, work-induced blogging sabbatical, it's time to get back to it. If you've followed us on Twitter or subscribe to the quarterly newsletter we just sent out, you'll know we've been working on an internal lab project called Thingclash. This project, which is open and ongoing, is intended to shed needed critical light on how designers, product planners, engineers, strategists, developers, investors and users think about the Internet of Things (IoT), with particular focus on how design and technology mesh with—or clash with—existing cultures, behaviors, norms and desires.

The classic case of this is the phenomenon of card clash, a problem most well known from TfL, London's transport network, whereby contactless payment systems don't distinguish between the transport system's own Oyster contactless card and regular contactless bank cards. Simply put, a technology of convenience conflicts with the cultural construct of the wallet, in which many people carry a mix of cards. The solution offered by TfL is to retrain behavior rather than retrain the system in some way. Clearly, the problem is more complex, but the outcomes are simple, and the solution a potentially unnecessary social hack. 

I introduced the project at Thingscon in Berlin last month, and we launched a microsite to house the project as it unfolds. Our initial plan is to develop some basic tabletop tools that can be used to illustrate the various forms and modes of frictions that emerge between the IoT and people. WIRED recently discussed Thingclash in an article on the role of designers in improving how the IoT fits into our lives. 

Image: WIRED

Image: WIRED

We will be holding an internal workshop to push the design of these initial tools along in July, and will open it up to folks who have already expressed interest in contributing in the coming month as well. If you are interested in knowing more, or would like us to come and talk about Thingclash at an IoT event or internal session, get in touch. We'd love your own thoughts, feedback, or examples of thingclash you've observed in the world.