ThingsCon Salon workshop at SXSW

SXSW is probably the biggest and most famous conference on tech and interactive media in the world. This year the Netherlands will have an official pavilion as part of the SXSW program, called ‘New Dutch Wave’. The organisation invited ThingsCon Amsterdam and LABS to organise a workshop on Sunday March 12, 1.30–4 pm. I will use the format of the ThingsCon Salon for this workshop and combine a talk with a hands-on design workshop. Let me share here the backgrounds of the session.

New type of things

One of the interesting developments driven by IoT is the change of character of the things. The adding of a software layer as intermediair influences both the the interaction experience as the role of the product as a whole. I often referred to this as hardware as a platform. The new thing can be a host for services of other providers than the brand of the thing. The detergent brand that makes an service (‘app’) that runs on the connected washing machine to help you make the personal ideal washing experience.

I like to use these kind of ‘cheesy’ examples because this triggers the design thinking more. We will have sneaking IoT in our homes through traditional consumer electronics. The concept of BERG on a different design approach for the washing machine is an early inspiration.

In the session I will use results from several research and experimental project we are involved in or commisioned. The design for IoT as a conversational model by Gian Andrea Giacobone, the research on Products as Agents by Nazli Cila that will be presented at CHI 2017 with honourable mention, and the design of an connected barbecue by Sietse Taams for LABS (in progress).

We will dive into this new relation between products and services where hardware is a platform for service makers, and the adaptive products will take different roles. This is based on the research of PhD researcher Nazli Cila from University of Amsterdam on ‘Products as Agents’. Products that can take the role of a collector, actor or creator. The research is well received in the scientific community.

New interactions

With the software and connectivity embedded in things new ‘embodied’ interactions are possible. Haptic as one of the most important ones. Combining sensors and actuators in products, fashion etc is interesting for creating the dialogues with the new things. With LABS we are involved in several research and valorisation projects like TaSST to dive into these interactions, and we will dive deeper into haptics as design materials in the workshop. We will have the latest version of TaSST to experiment with.

Human-centric and responsible IoT

The thirds aspect that I like to address in this workshop is the responsibility of the designer and the thing. A lot of focus in the creation of IoT-products and services is on the collecting of data to learn about the user for better targetting, or for creating an optimised world from a systemic perspective. With ThingsCon we aim to foster the creation of human-centric and responsible IoT. With these new adaptive things and second-skin interactions the things are even more part of our identity. In the design workshop this notion should be actively involved and I will use the IoT manifesto as discussion starter for that.

Some backgrounds on the session

ThingsCon is one of the biggest European conferences on the design and making of the Internet of Things. ThingsCon is founded in Berlin in 2014 and we started with the Amsterdam chapter end of that same year. ThingsCon events are organised all over the world. In 2016 we focused our mission to foster the creation of human-centric and responsible IoT. 
Last December ThingsCon Amsterdam organised the 3rd edition with more than 3oo participants, 2 days of sessions and talks for designers and makers of IoT. Next to the annual conference in December ThingsCon organises focused Salons throughout the year (the 7th will be 23 March) and a trip to Shenzhen end of April.

The Salon at SXSW is organised by LABS, the innovation lab of With LABS we are involved in several research projects and experimental products to experiment these new things. As example LABS is part of a project to valorise the research by University of Twente and Amsterdam to a haptic sleeve that creates a so-called Internet of Touch. Bridging research and practice is key. Several other experiments and research has given lots of insights in the values of haptics as interaction touchpoint.

The Salon will run about 2.5 hours from 1.30–4 pm. 
In the first part (about an hour) we will have an interactive session where we will share the latest insights from research and future developments in things.

In the second part (1.5 hours) we will do a design session in groups to explore the possible impact on current things. We will have materials to feel things and to speak to things. We will both look into the design challenges as into the consequences of the choices.

The learnings from the participants will be actively shared.

Hope to see you at SXSW!