Run Your Own Thingclash Workshop

We at Changeist, along with a few associates, set up the Thingclash project about 18 months ago now, with the intention of starting a conversation around human values in the Internet of Things (IoT), and to provide tools to help make that conversation easier, more expansive, and more inclusive. We’d like to think we helped drive some of the public critical discussion around the IoT that is now happening more in the mainstream than it was two years ago. 

While we worked on a toolkit for workshops (really, a toolkit for thinking in groups, whatever that may look like), we started the Critical IoT Reading List, which has been well received, and continues to be added to, thanks to your contributions. (Keep them coming!)

With a toolkit finally in place, we have run workshops at various scales, and focused on various specialist topics, over the past year or more. Now, to mark the return of Thingscon NL in Amsterdam, where we ran our first public workshop, we’re compiling the array of cards and exercises together to release as a single Creative Commons-licensed set of materials, available for download.

In the downloadable .zip file you will find:

3 TYPES OF CARDS in a layout for 2-sided printing if you prefer. We’ve included blanks to let you add your own.

  • THINGS — These are categories/archetypes of devices which you can make more specific through the exercises. Use a few, or use them all. Not all THINGS will be appropriate for all settings, topics and groups. We’ve included many different categories of THINGS to enable specific or broad discussions. Your participants get to specify what subspecies of appliance they want to work with, for example, or a connected button that performs certain actions.
  • PERSONAS — These are categories of potential user types, with emphasis on non-typical users. Again, you get to bring them to life with specific identities. For example, a dependent could be a child, or an adult in care.
  • PLACES — These are contexts in which PERSONAS might use THINGS. again, take the suggestions as starters, and specify something else if you want.

A KNOW YOUR THING WORKSHEET (A4 size) — A first step in the encounter which allows groups to determine together the identity, capabilities and limitations of several THINGS. 

MAIN EXERCISE WORKSHEET (A2 size) — A grid that can be used to take a PERSONA’s THING through various PLACES to better understand how needs, requirements and frictions change in the life of a THING.

INSTRUCTIONS (A4 size)  — As with any good game, a “how to” taking you through the most common version of the workshop.

In light of recent events, we have also taken the opportunity to add a “trump card,” shall we say, called THE STATE. You can think of it as a kind of wildcard that can be dropped into any interaction to give your group a clear moment to stop and consider the implications for design and interaction having THE STATE, in whatever form, be a silent party to your PERSONA’s use of the IoT. We’ve already found the Thingclash workshops have been brilliant at bringing to the surface issues around control, consent, accessibility, and safety in using the IoT. We hope this will add an extra, and timely, dimension to these conversations.

Our aim in releasing this material is not to walk away and never see it again, but to see what you can do with it. To that end, we’re sharing a few top tips for running your own workshop: 

  • Invite a diverse group. Thingclash is meant to be a tool for exchange of ideas, perspectives, and insights. For this to work, you need a spectrum of these present at the table. Invite not just designers and engineers, but people involved in policy, marketing, support, ethics, research (qual and quant), creative, and, yes, regular people…users and people who might have these devices and services in their communities now or in the future. Mix teams. Invite people of different social and economic backgrounds, gender, power, expertise, and cultures. Make it an open space where everyone is comfortable
  • Take your time. Give groups time to think, share and discuss. We have put suggested timings on the instructions, but these area guide. A standard workshop can take 90–120 minutes. Give everyone an opportunity to express their perceptions and views. 
  • Don’t focus on solutions, aim for new realizations. The goal is not to make an amazing THING that works for all PERSONAS in all PLACES, but to explore the unexpected frictions. You should leave with a list of issues and ideas to investigate and further explore, not a ranked list of winning designs.
  • Share your work. We want to know how you are using—and redesigning—Thingclash. We have our own list of future variations, but we want to know about yours. Share them with us. Take pictures, create new exercises, share results (when you can). We’ll share what we find, so be sure to follow us on Twitter. If you have questions about the materials or want to brainstorm a new format, our door is always open.

Of course, we’re always happy to design and/or run an expert workshop for/with you. Just ask

If you want to see a brief introduction to THINGS, PERSONAS and PLACES, check out the first section of this abbreviated Thingclash workshop we ran at Sibos for the financial community. You’ll get a feel for the types of examples we list under each category.

Lastly, a big thanks to those who have contributed to the project directly and indirectly: