Tu Delft and Haque design research
It's a network of toasters that don't have owners but are hosted by people that apply for them. They are toasters that love to be used, with agency and desire and become jealous of other toasters that are appreciated more. If one doesn't use an Addicted Toaster enough, it will try to transport itself to someone else that makes more toast.
One of the things we liked about this project is it moves beyond simply illustrating applications for services utilising networked products, to exploring their possible psychological and emotional consequences.
What will happen when products will talk to each other? What will they talk about and how will their behavior change due to these conversations? Addicted Products is a "real, fictional service" exploring relationships between connected products. It's a network of toasters that don't have owners but are hosted by people that apply for them. They are toasters that love to be used, with agency and desire and become jealous of other toasters that are appreciated more. If one doesn't use an Addicted Toaster enough, it will try to transport itself to someone else that makes more toast.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
This projects was a self-initiated exploration about addictions and particularly about how they bring about drastic decisions and actions. It was a speculative approach to the theme: what if a product is addicted and what is it addicted to? The project was done in collaboration with Haque Design Research in London: the studio was looking for new projects that could explore emerging relationships between people and connected products/environments and work often in the realm of behavioral model applied to products or installations. The project tries to embrace the dilemmas around object agency and the behaviors that can emerge from creating networks of multiple smart objects. The main challenge was to find a process to explore and design from the point-of-view of a product and what its addiction would look like. There were no clear design criteria to be met, but rather an approach to be embraced and used: a hands-on iterative prototyping. The only final delivery that was commonly agreed was to have an installation or an object that could clearly show a behavior that was based on a model of an addiction.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
My main intent was to place this exploration in the context of everyday objects and see how an addiction of a product would emerge and affect the relationship between products and people and products themselves. In every vision of future homes, households products (such as toasters) are those ones that are connected to each other and always work together in harmony, creating that perfect, modern, and yet somewhat boring scenario. But what if products do not do that? What if they have their own goals? In this sense an addicted product could, as an addict, act in ways that are not completely understandable by humans, but that are solely driven by the increasing need for pleasure and relief -which in the case of a product is being used. Its perception of pleasure would then change because it could be put in comparison to other products when connected to the web and suffer form a sort of peer product pressure, one of the main forces that influences addictions. Therefore, the product would have to express this suffering and act in some way to obtain pleasure and relief by subtly convincing or tricking the owner. Ultimately it may lead to more extreme decisions. What would be its ultimate extreme decision? Stop working? Sell itself? Suicide? Creating a service in which a set of these toaster where given and hosted by people was a way to test the different possibilities and understand reactions of people to a product that has its own goal.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
An initial literature study of addiction lead to an understanding of mechanisms that are common across addictions in different contexts in people. This research led to a fixed model diagram that could be translated into a programmable behaviour. As I had no real clue of how an addiction of a product could look like and how to design a behaviour, I started by designing small simulations of this model using the most simple product possible: a sensor. Iteration by iteration I discovered interactions and rules that informed the final concept, even from limitation and errors given by code. The toaster thus became the subject of further experiments as it is an icon of average, ubiquitous, and "most-likely-to-be-connected-to-the-web" product. The aim was to keep the product as anonymous as possible and play with subtle ways of behaving differently, in order to avoid uncanny talking products. A language of communication of the various states of behavior was defined by using its lever augmented with a motor, something that plausibly would be the first augmentation of a toaster if remotely controlled. Connecting all the devices and defining their communication was done through the help of a platform for designed by the studio, Cosm, and using open source platforms such as Arduino. In order to test the idea, a "real, fictional service" was set up and five toasters were sent around to homes, offices, and studios around London that randomly accepted to house one of them. A website was then implemented to host the service and attract more people to subscribe to become desirable new hosts that a non-happy toaster could try to contact. As a final step of the project, a short story was filmed to narrate a possible story of one of the toaster, Brad, and the scenario that its addiction would define.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
It is not implausible that is some near future, growth of production may become impossible. Commodities such as household products are often taken for granted, but they may become unavailable to everyone due to the growing amount of requests and limited material resources. Addicted Products questions the model of constant ownership and proposes a scenario in which a product can be shared without the active decision of a person, but based on its own needs as a product. By designing products that love and even crave to be used, Addicted Products shows how new interactions and conversation may emerge. The product itself could show us that we don't need it and by being connected it could also become an agent for itself and find new owners, questioning the limits of the actions of a connected object. A truly smart product probably would do something that we may not agree with, but could lead to a more positive outcomes: in the future people may not have "buying power," but mainly "keeping power" of products.