Interaction design for the Internet of Things

Authors: Mikael Wiberg
Posted: Fri, April 11, 2014 - 3:19:02

The Internet of Things (IoT) seems to be the next big thing, no pun intended! Embedded computing in everyday objects brings with it the potential of integrating physical things into acts of computing, in loops of human-computer interactions. IoT makes things networked and accessible over the Internet. And vice versa—these physical objects not only become input modalities to the Internet but also, more fundamentally, manifest parts of the Internet. IoT is not about accessing the Internet as we know it through physical objects. It is about physical objects becoming part of the Internet, establishing an Internet of Things. Accordingly, IoT brings with it a promise to dissolve the gap between our physical and digital worlds and the potential to integrate elements of computing with just about any everyday activity, location, or object. In short, IoT brings with it a whole new playground for interaction design!

We already see good examples of how this is starting to play out in practice. Connected cars, specialized computers, and tagged objects are becoming more and more common and the repertoire of available networked objects is rapidly growing. There is a shared interest in the Internet of Things in industry and academia. 

While the technological development around this area is indeed fascinating, it is from my perspective even more interesting to see where this will take interaction design over the next few years. From an interaction design perspective, it is always interesting to explore what this digital material can do for us in terms of enabling new user experiences and the development of new digital services. The IoT movement does indeed bring with it a potential not only for re-imagining traditional physical materials, making physical objects part of digital services, but also for re-thinking traditional objects as not being bound to their physical forms and current locations, but rather functioning as tokens and objects in landscapes of networked digital services, objects, and experiences.

When we, as interaction designers, approach the Internet of Things I hope we do it through a material-centered approach in which we treat the IoT not only as an application area but also more fundamentally as yet another new design material. With a material-centered approach, I hope that we look beyond what services we can imagine around internet-enabled objects and instead move our focus over to the re-imagination of what human-computer interaction can be about, i.e., how IoT might expand the design scope of HCI. By thinking compositionally about IoT and viewing IoT in composition with device ecologies, cloud based services, smart materials, sensors, and so on, we move our focus from what this latest trend of technology development can do for us to how we might interact in a nearby future with and through just about any materials—digital or not. This is what I hope for when it comes to interaction design for and via the Internet of Things! 

Posted in: on Fri, April 11, 2014 - 3:19:02

Mikael Wiberg

Mikael Wiberg is a full professor in informatics at Umeå University, Sweden. Wiberg's main work is within the areas of interactivity, mobility, materiality, and architecture. He is a co-editor in chief of ACM Interactions, and his most recently published book is The Materiality of Interaction: Notes on the Materials of Interaction Design (MIT Press, 2018).
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