Next Thing You Know

At ThingsCon Amsterdam 2016, Sjef Van Gaalen, Rachel Sender, a Rotterdam-based illustrator and designer and I partnered to present a Thingclash workshop with a twist. This ThingsCon workshop included a two-hour Thingclash investigation, which then provided the framework for an additional two-hour writing intensive.

Normally, a Thingclash workshop concludes with the participants finding and examining frictions within the system, once IoT “Things” are introduced into the wider world. Sometimes participants imagine ways to shift or change their Thing, to improve its usefulness for the People and Places assigned to their explorations. At this workshop though, the participants took their discoveries one step further — they imagined and crafted stories around their Thingclash scenarios, and combined their observations from the workshop into short, enticing, and sometimes provocative near-future narratives. These “speculative frictions in the plausible near-now” were lightly edited, laid out with illustrations, then printed overnight into a 16-page newspaper, named “Next Thing You Know” which was distributed to the ThingsCon audience the next day.

Each team of writers created a fictional author and bio, then crafted their stories. A sampling of the plots range from a blind man whose self-driving car is used to commit a bank robbery, to a house-bound ex-astronaut who does private investigations with a drone, senior citizen spies in a surveillance-state nursing home, to an acrimonious divorce caused by a luxury automobile that knows just a little too much about its owners. And that’s just a few of the offerings. (We have a limited quantity of the newspapers available; if you would like to receive a copy, shoot us a request.)

Watching our participants work through the layers of various Thingclash workshops over the last year, we observed them creating their own, richer stories within the framework. Participants often want to flesh out their imagined worlds, creating characters more developed than the personas they have been given, and coming up with short plot lines for their imagined future world.

However, these stories rarely live beyond the workshop, outside the experiences of the participants themselves. With this extended workshop format, we suggested narrative strategies for augmenting simple scenarios into short, but fully-forged stories, then capturing them in an accessible, tangible format that could be (re)distributed to a wider audience.

We’re strong believers that understanding user diversity, and embedding multiple user contexts into IoT products will improve opportunities for the global success of these products. Thingclash has become a testing ground for examining these contexts, and how they might break down or become stressed within unanticipated scenarios.

Thingclash is an excellent, light-weight exercise for helping developers, designers and other stakeholders make their ideas and products better for their users. The entire set of Thingclash materials are now available online, as a free, creative commons resource. Download your set today. Or, we can produce a customized version of Thingclash, specific to your industry needs. For more information, you can contact us here.