In Class Exercise IV-B: Social Object Scavenger Hunt

tl;dr: Explore the design of interactive artifacts, and a social IoT, by collecting and examining a series of objects that already play a role in mediating social circumstances. Uncover practical issues and design considerations for the social IoT by investigating these objects, critically analyzing them and speculating on future possibilities.

Learning Objective

Dourish argues that by “augmenting objects with capacities for communication, such intimate designs recognize the significant role objects play in mediating interpersonal relationships between people, but also the ways objects are active participants in social relationships.” During this exercise, students will confront these issues directly by gathering examples of social objects as design precedents. We’ll reflect on these design precedents and speculate how they, and the socio-cultural considerations they raise, can inform the design of smart appliances. By the end of this exercise, students will:

Time Required

1 hour - 1.5 hours



1: Scavenge

Go out into Pittsburgh and find three compelling and distinct examples of social objects (or everyday non-digital items that mediate/support human relationships).

For this phase


Some examples (that you can’t use):


Find non-obvious examples. Go beyond low-hanging fruit and try to find examples that are less obvious mediators of social relationships.


__You’ll need to collect either the object or a photograph of it. You must collect at least 1 collect a story from someone about an example and at least 1 observation of an object mediating social relationships. __

You will need to analyze and evaluate each object along the following dimensions:

Interesting examples and unusual examples are strongly encouraged

Part 2: Report Out

Each group will quickly report out on their objects and their findings. Max 1 minute per object.

Once all groups have returned out (and if there is time remaining), reflect on the similarities and differences between the objects found

Part 4: Design It

From our readings this week, Dourish discusses the following

The design of interactive artifacts, and a social IoT, needs to consider how objects already exist in established networks of relationships with people and how this sociality can be incorporated in situated, engaging, shared and meaningful ways. This raises practical issues, such as how to retrofit and transform existing everyday objects into computationally interactive things, and risks compounding the problems of building novel tangible interfaces, which are time consuming, complex, and require technological expertise (Mugellini et al., 2007).

Within your same group, and using the objects encountered, choose one and prepare a design concept for a smart social device based on it. Your design concept that amplify the social function of the object by embedding smart stuff i.e.

Brief: Design an Empathetic Interface: Better understand that person or for them to understand someone else

You should

Then present to the class

Submitting your work:

Capture your ideas with a photo and Post in the #projects channel on Slack. Include a write up/summary of your discussion and photos of your brainstorming work / process.