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Thing Constellation Visualizer: Exploring Emergent Relationships of Everyday Objects

Designing future IoT ecosystems requires new approaches and perspectives to understand everyday practices. While researchers recognize the importance of understanding social aspects of everyday objects, limited studies have explored the possibilities of combining data-driven patterns with human interpretations to investigate emergent relationships among objects. This work presents Thing Constellation Visualizer (thingCV), a novel interactive tool for visualizing the social network of objects based on their co-occurrence as computed from a large collection of photos. ThingCV enables perspective-changing design explorations over the network of objects with scalable links. Two exploratory workshops were conducted to investigate how designers navigate and make sense of a network of objects through thingCV. The results of eight participants showed that designers were actively engaged in identifying interesting objects and their associated clusters of related objects. The designers projected social qualities onto the identified objects and their communities. Furthermore, the designers changed their perspectives to revisit familiar contexts and to generate new insights through the exploration process. This work contributes a novel approach to combining data-driven models with designerly interpretations of thing constellation towards More-Than Human-Centred Design of IoT ecosystems.


  • Research through Design

  • Semi-Structured Interview

  • Design Workshop 

  • Thematic Analysis

Results & Contribution: 

  • An Inspiring Open Design Toolkit: thingCV (

  • Propose Object Co-occurrence as Design Material for Constellation Design 

  • Introduce Computational Design Ethnography

  • Example of Use by IoT Designers, Engineerings, and Researchers

Collaborators & Acknowledgement: 

Rung-Huei Liang (supervisor), Lin-Lin Chen (supervisor), Yi-Ching (Janet) Huang (researcher), Jane Yung-Jen Hsu (researcher).  


Yi-Ching (Janet) Huang, Yu-Ting Cheng, Rung-Huei Liang, Jane Yung-jen Hsu, and Lin-Lin Chen. 2021. Thing Constellation Visualizer: Exploring Emergent Relationships of Everyday Objects. Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 5, CSCW2, Article 479 (October 2021), 29 pages.


The following presents a brief introduction and research photos of the project. More details can be seen in my publication or contact me for further information.



While IoT research has largely focused on designing new devices, limited studies explore ways to appropriately integrate new devices into our everyday practice. In everyday practice, there are already various objects designed or used for supporting our needs and daily activities. To approach the IoT vision where objects can cooperate with each other to reach common goals, researchers need to investigate how people interact with existing objects in practice.

Researchers have investigated various ways to understand relationships between humans and objects by changing the ways of perceiving the world.


While these unique perspectives are valuable for future IoT design, the great challenges of understanding emergent relationships among objects from everyday practices still remain.


First, such emergent relationship is hidden and barely recognized by people. It requires experienced designers or experts to extract these patterns from empirical data through an iterative sense-making process. Second, as the volume and complexity of data increase, it becomes more challenging even for experts to extract these patterns if they don’t have appropriate support. In addition, these observations around a single object or a few objects are still limited due to the lack of tools.

To move beyond a limited perspective around objects, some researchers have articulated the importance and challenges of constellation design. Researchers have used constellation as a metaphor to describe the complex relationships where people, objects, environments, and data are entangled



We design Thing Constellation Visualiser (thingCV), a tool that visualizes a constellation intertwined with 80 common objects. With thingCV, designers can use the threshold slider to observe the changing patterns of the two types of constellations (e.g., social-centric and ego-centric views). By clicking the switch button, the tool will zoom in to an ego-centric view or zoom out to a social-centric view. The social-centric view provides an overview structure of the constellation. Objects with higher scores in co-occurrence will be grouped into the same community highlighted in the same color. Second, the ego-centric view provides a detailed look at an ego-centric constellation. By clicking any objects on the panel, users can jump into different types of ego-centric constellations to investigate specific objects.




We conducted two workshops with a total of 8 participants (4 males and 4 females). All participants are designers (half from industry and half from academia) and have professional experiences in IoT design or product design. The goal of the workshops is to explore how designers use our tool to make sense of co-occurrence relations among everyday objects and investigate whether visualizing connected objects can be used to explore future IoT design. Each workshop was 90 minutes long and took place in Taiwan.



After the workshops, we analyzed the collected data, including a transcript of the audio recording of the workshop, screenshots captured by participants, and paper drawings and notes taken by the participants during the observation with the tool.


We used Thematic Analysis to analyse the collected data collaboratively to obtain four main themes with related findings.

More details can be seen in the paper.


The qualitative data analysis resulted in four themes: 1) observing thing constellation flexibly, 2) projecting social quality onto things, 3) discovering emerging diverse contexts via object clusters,and 4) changing their perspectives to revisit everyday practice.

1. Projecting Social Quality onto Things

''Couch is connected with various objects to support diverse activities in people’s everyday lives. Maybe the couch can be the perfect IoT object or the interface to control various activities ordo something smart.''

Participant (P7)


''How could the hair dryer be as lonely as animals? The hair dryer is a common object that appears every day but it is more isolated than the snowboard.''

Participant (P7)

''Cat joins the cluster earlier than the dog, why?!''

Participant (P6)

''Cats can make friends with everyday objects earlier than dogs.''

Participant (P5)


2. Discovering Emerging Diverse Contexts via Object Clusters


''I imagined how they would be placed in the same space. And I found that all of them [the objects] played reasonable roles to support various contexts in the space without feeling out of place.''

Participant (P5)


''I found different contexts for using the sink such as after using the toilet, cooking in the kitchen, and brushing teeth. These contexts are happening in different spaces. However, it is also possible that this is a mini apartment where all the activities have happened in the same sink.''

Participant (P2)

3. Changing Perspectives to Revisit Everyday Practice

''Before using the tool, I thought every object would be definitely linked to ‘person’, because objects were only used when people touched them based on my intuition. However, it is not a fact at all. During the observation, I found that there are some objects that are already connected as a community, a community without any people involved. And the ‘person’ is just one of the busy objects like ‘chair’ and ‘sofa’ in the ThingConstellation.''

Participant (P7)

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