for the Internet of Things

a design research thesis by

Stephanie Cedeño

  1. The process of which the division of labor has relegated women to the role of housewife.

  1. A semiotic and speculative process that uses the division of labor in household tasks to interrogate gender stereotypes for Internet of Things maintenance; reframing conventions of smart home upkeep impacts the physical and digital labor involved, from cleaning up the tiniest dust particles to caring for the entire IoT system.
  2. A design research investigation in the form of a suite of objects (see INDEX) examining the maintenance tasks associated with a home where the future of the Internet of Things is manifested and proliferated as smart dust ultimately proposing new gestures for interaction design.


/ film

Inspired by Richard Serra’s Verblist, the film sequences are rooted in semiotic experiments analyzing what our “debt to action” in maintaining our spaces entails. These actions speak to cleaning as a verb–and I repurposed these terms to reclaim them in what a future technological “reset” could be in our homes.

The list of verbs were partly gathered by interviewing three different couples and posing the question:

1) What are the everyday maintenance actions performed in your home?
2) Who does what?

From these action verbs, what I’ve designed are a series of vignettes messing up the assignments and responsibilities of roles to show what dusting, wiping, defragging, and resetting a world where smart dust–a speculative technology I use as a metaphor for future IoT manifestations–live freely in the home.

Each vignette is introduced by their maintenance verb, where, if read closely, the negotiation of tasks occurs– my way of rethinking the divisions of labor and the inefficiency in negotiating who does what.

I poke fun at the mundane rituals of resetting we are already familiar with in our homes, and intentionally abstract the aesthetics of the videos in order to provoke what new domestic technological landscapes, outside of the normalized corporate visions, may begin to look like.

After completing these film sketches, I began thinking about the implications of this design research and its application to interaction design.

1) How can I begin to think of the maintenance verbs I have collected as proposals for gestural interactions for the maintenance of our IoT devices?
2) What are other gestural forms of maintenance that we overlook everyday?


/ rags

By integrating the human hand into IoT maintenance studies, I was led to material investigations pairing common fabrics associated with cleaning and common technological maintenance terms printed on type. For instance, what does defragging the counter look like?

These “tech-kitchen rags” are early experiments for  physicalizing upkeep rituals of technology with the everyday tools of home cleaning.


/ book

ON THE SURFACE of EVERYTHING is an oversized book moonlighting as surfaces of the home at a 1:1 scale for an immersive experience of smart dust. The book was a way for me to playfully push the boundaries of graphic design, as well as a way for me to conceptually actualize the speculative technology of dust seen in my film sequences.


instalación / installation
(more photos coming soon)

The driving logic for this spatial installation was to display the rags in front of the photographed surfaces of the home, so that the type printed on the cloths act as the captions for the domestic scenes. Using the inspiration of a clothesline, I used green fishing wire to create two levels of line to hang the posters and rags. The green fishing line was barely noticeable, but in the sunlight was a fun pop of color to the installation.


/ research

_coming soon_
~ but a little bit below for now ~

Cleaning Games + Simulations
Corporate smart home visions are never as messy as they should be and we have this idea that our virtual realities are dirt-free and lint-free. However, there is value in representing the dust, debris, and the labor of cleaning in simulation as well as in our futures thinkingabout technology. Visualizing the mess in our futures is essential to begin thinking critically about the future of labor and who will continue to upkeep our tech-futures.

While conducting research, I played many online cleaning games and simulations and wondered why so many existed–the idea of satisfaction came up and how one does not have to break their back when “cleaning” in the virtual world (or do they?).

"Smart Dust"
Ultimately, a lot of the online games helped the aesthetic choices of the film sequences I did above; the games also helped me think about the “behavior” of the smart dust (an early aspect of my research I explored early on).

The following vignette explores a future where smart dust exists in the smart home, are expressed formally as glyphs, and behaviorally congregate in groups of three.

A Post-Optimal Speculative Mesh Network
Using Plume's mesh network diagram as research, I played around with the idea that "smart dust" could operate as a post-optimal mesh network for the home.

The diagrams were helpful to ask: what does it mean for us and devices to live within this heavily sensor-ed space? To clear up any confusion about the behavior of dust and its role in the home, I wrote a mini smart dust manifesto:


The Speculative Dust Service handle the post-optimal mesh network comprised of millions of sensors, particles of Smart Dust, within the home.

The Smart Dust System is a tangible and decorative mesh networking infrastructure that challenges the existing WiFi paradigm of maintaining a solid, strong network signal solely for radical productivity and endless consumption. Strong connectivity is not what we are after, rather it is the experiential implications of the smart home configurations that interest us.

The Smart Dust Mesh Network...
1/ Self forms and congregates,
2/ Lives in an orderly patterned language, and
3/ Follows a multi-hop behavior, jumping from particle to particle, dust to dust.


For the Works in Progress show, instead of simply animating the smart dust particles in the diagram above, I animated a list of the 5,000 most common SSIDs (or Wi-Fi network names) gathered from here.

I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what I wanted to say with my thesis work, so I will share a few screenshots and scans of my messy, obsessive note-taking.

(c) Stephanie Cedeño. All rights reserved. 