The Cost of Being Connected

Dreaming of smart home futures through design fiction

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For some, smart home living is a sign of the future, and provides an opportunity to solve major societal problems. For others, it is just a vague buzzword. This thesis project sought to explore the potential implications of living with smart and connected technologies in our most private spaces and to engage non-experts in a conversation about it.

This speculative project first used traditional design research activities to understand the context of the smart home, informing the design process of two design fiction artifacts. Following, these design fictions were used as a research for design tool to 1) sensitize and engage non-experts to provide their perspective on the context and 2) indicate threats and opportunities for the design of smart home devices in the home.

The first design fiction was a physical booklet containing news articles from the future. This was used to convey the broad spectrum of findings to a non-expert audience. Using these findings, the final speculative question was formulated, which defined the pretense of the film: “What if smart home devices develop dementia (and other aging-related conditions) due to their short product lifespans and the deterioration of hardware and software over long-term use?”. This question was used to define the storyline, scenes, filming, and editing process. As a result of the production process, a short, 6.5-minute film was created as the final design fiction prototype.

8 participants were evaluated using a semi-structured interview and the film, which considered their previous knowledge, their perspective on living with smart home systems, and the extent to which the film sensitized them to the topic. These findings contributed to the 12 design recommendations, which is a call to action for designers to design for ownership. These recommendations highlight the imbalanced relationship between devices, companies, and users while providing 12 tangible ways designers can create a greater sense of agency and ownership by making changes to the design of the user experience, user interface, and the way these systems themselves are designed.