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Qualification: Doctor of Philosophy

Awarding body: Industrial Design


  • Funk, Mathias , Promoter

  • Chen, Lin-Lin , Promoter

  • Liang, Rung-Huei , Co-Promoter, External Person


Date of grant: 28 Jun. 2023

Place of publication: Eindhoven, the Netherlands

Publisher: Eindhoven University of Technology

Printed ISBNs: 978-90-386-5798-1

StatusAccepted/In Press: Jun 28 2023

Have you ever imagined a world where your everyday objects could interact and collaborate like the toys in Toy Story? This might sound like a fantasy, but with the integration of sensing and connected technology, it could become a reality. Everyday objects could become aware of each other, share relevant context data, work together, and provide intelligent services that add value to your life. For instance, all the lamps in your house could coordinate to provide optimal lighting for different users (including pets and plants) while saving energy. If one lamp breaks, it could request other lamps to temporarily take over its duties.


In this thesis, I call such a future an "Awareness of Things" (AoT) vision, where heterogeneous objects can become aware of one another and share contextual data to build a collective understanding of a situation. With different levels of shared awareness, objects would then have different visions and capabilities to form their collaborations with other objects. While sensing and connected technologies are pivotal in this vision, they alone are not adequate for capturing context-relevant data or fostering meaningful collaborations. Moreover, the excessive collection of contextual data can raise serious privacy concerns. This raises a critical question: how can designers instill a level of awareness in objects that not only understand the context but also respect user privacy?


This thesis addresses this question by introducing the concept of object awareness and exploring methods to enable objects to sense, interpret data, and understand the present situation in a manner that is beneficial to the people who interact with them. This vision expands upon the Internet of Things (IoT), emphasizing the importance of contextual data semantics, data-sharing flow, and privacy considerations in the design of object collaborations. Using a Research through Design (RtD) approach, I conducted three design explorations on creating a system of data-enabled objects aligned with the AoT vision. They are: "When People Vanish," "Seeing through Things," and "Constellation Design." These explorations demonstrate how I support designers in designing object awareness from an object-oriented perspective. The findings and reflections from these explorations led to the synthesis of the AoT framework, which provides an overarching structure for future designers and researchers. This framework includes six bottom-up elements that assist in designing object collaborations and identifying new design opportunities.


In essence, this thesis contributes to the field of design by exploring the transformative potential of the Awareness of Things vision. It underscores the critical role of contextual data semantics and privacy considerations in the design of data-enabled objects. By adopting the AoT vision and leveraging the AoT framework, designers and researchers are equipped to sculpt a future where everyday objects, through their awareness and collaboration, potentially enhance people’s daily experiences.

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