The Internet of Very Bad, No Good Things

Thingclash at A/D/O

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of presenting a Thingclash workshop at the brand new A/D/O creative space in New York City’s bustling Greenpoint neighborhood. As part of the Design Academy’s Utopia/Dystopia opening season, exploring “the role of design in navigating a world of profound change,” I was asked by Senior Fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Strategic Foresight Initiative, and Urbanist-in-Residence at Urban–X, Greg Lindsay, to present an invitation-only Thingclash workshop, followed by a public panel discussion that same evening.

The workshop participants—ranging from designers and creative technologists, to futurists, security experts, a Ph.D. candidate in technology in education, and a dystopian fiction writer—found themselves examining frictions within the system, created when IoT “Things” are introduced into the wider world. It’s always interesting to see how the teams discuss (and sometimes argue over) intended IoT experiences vs real-world situations, when seen from the diverse perspectives of imagined users in an increasingly messy, connected world.

Watching our participants work through the layers of various Thingclash workshops over the last year, we wanted to add some new levels of thinking for this iteration. In anticipation of this, we decided it might be time to introduce some (extra) chaos into their deliberations. Acknowledging the uncharted circumstances playing out in political settings around the world, we introduced “The State” card, as a final round of play. Delivered in a brown envelope, each team was advised that The State was dissatisfied in some way with their scenarios, and they were asked to fulfill an additional request, or describe how they might negotiate with this unknown external entity.

This new wrinkle led participants to imagine ways to shift or change their Things in new, and increasingly interesting ways. Among other things, the teams better recognized the implications of collecting and sharing user data without permissions, impacts on privacy, and the necessity of clear opt-in, or opt-out processes. Improving a Thing’s usefulness for People and Places was no longer just about UX, or fancier bells and whistles.

In the final round, the teams created fictional stories based on the critical realizations they had made about their scenarios, to share with the other participants. These stories were then presented at the public panel discussion later that evening, and this generated both interesting questions, and lively discussion, about how the IoT has so quickly become deeply embedded into our lives—despite huge gaps in security and accessibility, not to mention the common expectation that users must adapt their behaviors, so designers and developers can ignore the Thingclashes they sometimes create.

Special thanks to Greg Lindsay, Gabe Isaac, Ben Scheim, Daniel Pittman, Ari Joseph, Tara Gebbia, Emma Charleston, Natalie Kane and Scott Smith.

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.