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  • 2021AkmalPhD

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Design by Play: Playfulness and Object-Oriented Philosophy for the design of IoT

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date2021
Number of pages233
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


The Internet of Things (IoT) has garnered heightened interest and momentum in recent years. These connected devices have extended the concurrent rise of data collection and processing within the everyday objects that cohabit our human lives. Though technology has always changed the way we live our lives these ‘smart’ devices are adding new challenges—particularly concerning privacy and security—not previously experienced when using their older ‘dumb’ predecessors. These challenges are not always apparent to their human cohabitors and often only come to the fore when something untoward happens as a consequence of the data being collected.

These objects are not to blame, they exist in their worlds governed by their own rules established by their creators rather than their users. Designers have traditionally been taught to present these objects as neutral participants in our human lives; there to help, but not supersede. However, these objects exist within many independent and interdependent assemblages of human and non-human actants that go beyond the previously experienced human-object relationship.

Through this discourse, I highlight the overall aim of this thesis to ask questions around our traditional practices of design concerning IoT. In particular, this research strives to do many things: it attempts to intertwine philosophical debate with the act of design; it moves towards an argument of rethinking design orthodoxies around human-centeredness in favour of object-oriented-ness; it explores an alternative side to the phenomenon of the IoT, arguing for agency in a post-anthropocentric perspective of the world and its implications; it tries to bridge the gap between practice-based design research and theory by passing through a veil of philosophical intrigue. But at its core, is an advocacy for the presence of a playful attitude within the practice of design, arguing for an attitude of playfulness as an integral part of the design process. How being playfully charged to create artefacts can usher in unique perspectives for design and technology.

The research is enacted through an iterative Research through Design ideology, using a transdisciplinary approach of Ludic and Speculative Design practice that explore alternative perspectives towards the design of IoT. It is conducted through an exploration of Object-Oriented Philosophy as a means to enact a metaphorical ‘carpentry’ of artefacts that practice philosophical arguments through their execution. In the process of designing three artefacts—a model for a philosophical view of IoT, a board game, and a bespoke deck of tarot cards—this research builds upon the idea of More-than Human-Centeredness for the design of IoT, by introducing the creation of bespoken method assemblages as a means for playful design exploration. It concludes on a debate around the implications and potential of design thinking in a post-anthropocentric perspective through the inclusion of playfulness and philosophy as assets for design, and, the use of philosophical carpentry as a methodology for understanding the nebulous nature of IoT.