• Designing the domestic Internet of Things using a practice-orientated perspective

Kann, Michael, 2021, Thesis, Designing the domestic Internet of Things using a practice-orientated perspective PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a system of sensing, actuating and networked objects, often discussed as delivering efficiency through machine determined, automated decision making and action to achieve ‘Smartness’ in a logistically based paradigm. When applied to the domestic space these values are touted as beneficially controlling lighting, heating and entertainment to improve efficiency and comfort, while reducing costs. This approach follows the external goods of effectiveness, reducing everything to an objective value/cost proposition; however, the home is a subjectively experienced space incorporating differing values, so this reductive perspective overlooks a wider spectrum of inhabitant’s concerns relating to their daily activities and the domestic space. Furthermore, this approach can supplant involvement in domestic activities by treating these as computable problems to solve, alienating users through automation, a lack of transparency and poor understanding of the reasoning behind machine decision making.

Existing attempts to address this topic indicate Techno-Centric approaches impact on understanding and engagement with the domestic space; Human-Centric perspectives focus on supporting people’s subjective experiences by prioritising their activities, sense-making and sensory experiences within the design process; Beyond Human-Centric IoT perspectives broaden this understanding to propose non-hierarchical, flat ontologies for the IoT and the implications this has on integrating human/non-human agency in the IoT, generally and domestically. This supported an approach utilising Practice Theory, a development of organising concepts for theorising social life, with sociality dependent on activities conducted with materials to develop a coherent sense of self and which understands place as a meshwork of human/non-human agency.

Practice Theory is applied within a Design Research approach using a synergistic Participatory Action Research (PAR) / Participatory Design (PD) process. Exploring Domestic Practices contextualised the IoT through a range of methods including interactive installations, interviews and design workshops, uncovering participant attitudes towards the IoT, generating Practice Themes and specific examples of practices and constituent elements. These acted as User Generated Values (UGV) in a Values-Led PD process to inform the project pathway and the conceptualisation of a Practice-Oriented IoT through PAR’s Action-Reflection spirals. Additionally, a parallel PD process explored the effective communication of UGV within Professional Design Practice (PDP) workshops with the intent of reducing communicative distance between end-users and developers, supporting communication of user’s attitudes towards the IoT and Practice within PDP through inclusion as guiding values. Models of the IoT balancing Practice and technical concerns, workshops and toolkit were developed iteratively, leading to an outcome modelling the IoT and Practice within a flat ontology. Through this, and by embedding Practice within the IoT itself, IoT agency was reframed from automation towards assistiveness in Practice and IoT values shifted from efficiency in external goods of effectiveness towards internally derived goods of excellence, supporting skill development, engagement and reflection on action.

This identifies the value of using PAR and PD to consider people’s values, goals and existing practices when developing the domestic IoT. This was particularly valuable in exploring Practice to understand people’s activities in the home and contextualise attitudes towards the IoT. This informed the development of a framework balancing the IoT’s technological nature with people’s activities and values, a system guided by Practice elements reciprocally informing and supporting participant engagement in dynamically developing domestic practices.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W200 Design studies > W290 Design studies not elsewhere classified
School or Centre: School of Design
Funders: Ted Powers Bursary
Uncontrolled Keywords: Domestic Practice; Practice-Oriented; Internet of Things; Action Research; Participatory Design
Date Deposited: 28 Oct 2021 14:37
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2021 14:37
URI: https://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/4919
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