Creative Assignment 4:
The IoT's Cutest Chainsaw

tl;dr: Design an enchanted object. It must delight, surprise and be lovable, but should never be used by anyone, ever.

Type: Collaborative

Due: Tuesday 16th February, 8.30am. No late work.

Submit to:

Team Assignments: Self organize - Teams of 4.


We want our objects to be enchanted, magical and to be joyful. This is our goal in designing for the Internet of Things: to make our products desirable and lovable.

There are, however, many stakeholders, actors and needs to be considered in designing for the internet of things. The different needs and value opportunities can potentially conflict with the ideal of making the best product for the end user or, indeed, in placing the best intentions of the end user firmly at heart.

When we design for the Internet of Things, we imagine a utopian scenario where objects seamlessly integrate, empower and enrich our daily experiences and routines, and through playful, subtle interaction enhance our homes, workplaces and cities by imbuing our objects with information, intelligence and awareness.

But there is a dark side to the Internet of Things (cue: Imperial March). The potential for harm when the ‘connectedness’ of internet appliances is not fully considered can be truly terrifying.

Some, but not all, of these are speculative possibilities. Nevertheless, we need to be mindful of these potential scenarios when we begin to design connected systems which have the potential to expose personal data (directly or indirectly; publicly or privately) to other stakeholders in the service network or more broadly to anyone on the internet.

This is what you’ll explore in this exercise.

Learning Objectives

As part of this assignment you’ll be asked to:

Project Brief

Your project is to create an ‘enchanted device’ based on Rose’s characteristics (see Readings from Week 3); however, there’s a twist.

In addition to being a desirable, lovable and delightful internet appliance, the product must have one of the following characteristics: it should also be dangerous, nefarious or malicious.

Note: The product must still be an internet-connected device - i.e. use some online data, share sensor information with other devices or communicate with online services / other devices, etc

Basically, you are designing the cutest toy… chainsaw, but for the Internet of Things.

Once you have developed a conceptual design, next reflect on the outcome. In creating this unsettling device, what have you learned about designing for the Internet of Things? Use this design exploration to develop a series of general design recommendations for others who might design for the Internet of Things. What might you recommend they avoid and why?


1) design a playful ‘prototype’ that is both delightful and dangerous

2) reflect on this outcome to develop some general design recommendations related to the ‘danger’ this product creates.

Project Requirements

You should develop:

  1. A short video illustrating the desire/danger concept

  2. A short description of the concept, why you chose it and how it considers/demonstrates a potential concern for the Internet of Things.

  3. A series of design recommendations for other IoT designers that you believe would be generally useful to others preparing IoT systems and which directly relate to the desire/danger concept you designed.

  4. A working product prototype [not a required component; extra credit]

Examples of Speculative/Conceptual Design Videos

There are lots of examples of design fictions, speculative prototypes and concept videos which explore privacy, ethics and issues surrounding the IoT vision. For example, Postscapes hosts a set of annual awards which includes a design fiction category. This is a great starting point but I’ve included some examples below too.

Ethical Things is a speculative prototype where a fan when faced with everyday ethical dilemma’s will consult an online crowd in order to make decisions of what to do next. It grapples with notions of automation, decision making and ethics can collide:

If a “smart” coffee machine knows about its user’s heart problems, should it accept giving him a coffee when he requests one?

They explain: “When it comes to discussion around the ethics of machines, the focus is often put on extreme examples … where human life and death are involved. But what about more mundane and insignificant objects of our everyday lives? Soon, “smart” objects might also need to have moral capacities as “they know too much” about their surroundings to take a neutral stance. Indeed, with fields such as home automation, ambient intelligence or the Internet of Things, objects of our everyday lives will have more and more access to a multitude of data about ourselves and our environment”

SuperFlux’s Uninvited Guests grapples with the questions surrounding the introduction of ‘smart’ objects designed to monitor human activities. How will they be regarded? What conflicts will they create and how will we circumvent them? It askes these questions through the lens of Thomas, who lives on his own after his wife died last year. His children send him smart devices to track and monitor his diet, health and sleep from a distance. The video explores “the frictions between an elderly man and his smart home” which result.

The Selfie Plant asks what would happen if an smart object became narscistic. Playing on the recent ‘selfie culture’, this speculative prototype explores if a plant could choose to record moments like blooming of a flower or a new leaf, and then share these moments on the social network. It “is an attempt to provoke some thoughts in the above genre of expression. The Selfie Plant expresses itself in the form of a nice-looking selfies, which it clicks according to its mood, weather or occasion. It mimics human behaviour, by giving it’s best pose and adjusting the camera angle to take the perfect selfie. Undoubtedly, the plant posts these photos on social network via it’s Facebook profile.”

Addicted Products explores ideas around ownership of connected products and asks what would happen if a product could not be owned but has to be ‘hosted’. This places a duty of care on the ‘host’ to maintain the relationship and make sure the product wants to remain in their home. It asks:

If we take the perspective of a product, it’s main pleasure should come from being used. But when a product is suddenly connected to others it might be able to compare itself and hence be subject possibly to some sort of peer product pressure. As it happens with people, peer pressure is one of the major forces behind behavioural changes and addictions. So if we model a similar behavioural model of an addiction, What could a product do to try to be used? What limits could it break? What would be its ultimate extreme decision? Stop working? Sell itself? Suicide?

Corner Convenience takes a broader approach and introduces a range of possible near future technologies. Prepared Julian Bleeker, the Near Future Laboratory and students at Arizona State University as part of the Emerge Conference, it explores the familiar landscape of the convenience store but speculates on the possibilities for future products which might one day exist within it.

Corner Convenience from hellofosta on Vimeo.

See also:

Using Online Material:

It is perfectly fine to use examples, code, tutorials, and things you find on the web to help you realize your project. That’s part of the open-source mentality that surrounds much of Making, Arduino and microcontrollers. However, you cannot just copy and paste these solutions. In your documentation you must acknowledge where you got this content from. Include a link to any tutorials, guides, or code that are part of your final solution.

Final Documentation:

Projects should be added to the IDeATe Gallery. You should provide a clear and concise description of your project, your process, and the outcomes. It should be quick to get an overview of the project. Ideally, your description of the outcomes should be repeatable too i.e. anyone in the class can replicate it easily from the information provided.