As it's the time of year when all interests in furniture turn to Milan for the Salone, the guys from OpenDesk have teamed up with Torinese Arduino-offshoot Casa Jasmina to run a workshop exploring the intersection of furniture and the Internet of Things.

Sadly I can't make it over to Italy, but they've asked me to Skype in. In preparation for that I collected together some related links and thoughts, and figured it was worth sharing to a wider audience too.

Most of the existing projects I think about in furniture-related contexts (at home or in the office) aren't actually furniture - a nearer description might be the Internet of ornaments. However, they cover some of the design considerations that would also apply to furniture...

  • Good Night Lamp. Does one thing supremely well - lets you keep in touch with loved ones without having to change your habits at all. Making the indication a side-effect of the existing interaction of turning a light on or off means it's a connected device anyone can use.
  • Voy Oslo's Ugle owl. It's a beautiful object regardless of its connectivity, and you have to pay attention to it to notice the changes (unless you're present when it moves). Plus it doesn't dictate what the indications are - they're just a bunch of colours to which the owners have to attach any significance.
  • Russell Davies' BikeMap. Providing the information he needs exactly at the point where he's leaving the house, with a glanceable display. Information where he needs it, when he needs it.
  • And similarly to Russell's project, Richard Pope built his Bike Barometer, which takes live traffic and weather data and tells him if he should take the Tube or his bike to get to work.
  • The Kindleframe looks at the best way to integrate a screen into daily life, if it's going to be always on - especially if it's going to live in the room you'll be sleeping in!

Getting onto furniture itself, David Rose has been exploring this in interesting ways. In particular, I like his Skype cabinet idea where you devote one or two cupboards in your house to a video link with loved ones. The door of the cupboard glows if there are people around at the remote end, and if you open the door up it initiates a video call to their cupboard. It's something a bit like happening upon your neighbour if you both venture out into the garden at the same time, and can have a chat over the fence, but across greater distances (and with people you like enough to permanently devote a cubic foot of your home to). More on that, and the other research he's involved with, in this video:

The things that naturally come to mind when you first start thinking about this is how to use it to notify you of new emails, mentions on Twitter, whatever... I've got form in that area too, with Bubblino being my second ever IoT project.

However, I don't think we need more ways for the Internet to nag us about what we haven't done.

How can we embed technology and connectivity into our surroundings to help us get things done (and ignore the distractions)? Maybe a notification system on my desk would work if it's in my peripheral vision and therefore ignorable and the desk can tell my phone and my laptop to stop their notification systems while I'm sat at the desk.

Think about the tools, information and experiences that people want or need, rather than thinking of other ways that technology companies can mine us for interactions.