Chapter 1 An Unorthodox Introduction

“And now for something completely different”

— Monty Python’s Flying Circus

1.1 A starting point

In the past years of my doctoral endeavours, I haven’t been able to pinpoint why but games and play became integral to my work. The background story for my PhD finds its roots in what characterises me as a person. Throughout the course of my research, I’ve taken inspiration from works of philosophy, technology, and design, and allowed them all to merge in one big pot of ‘design research’. Every ingredient in this pot is individually unique, however it’s the sum of its parts that makes it worth something more; and, at the centre of it all is an attitude of playfulness.

I did not enter into this research with the intention of it ending in this way. But coming from a Fine Arts background, I’ve been comfortable with letting ideas fall into place. I remember talking about my future, after completing art school, with my printmaking teacher. Having been a self-taught graphic designer I enjoyed the practice and thought a career in design would make sense; foolishly thinking it paid well too. But having spent four years becoming a printmaker, my perception of things changed.

Picture a desk with everything knolled1 and pristine. That was how I imagined my path into Design would be; organised, maintained. Entering printmaking to me was a broader way of exploring the graphic medium. But come the final days of my graduation exhibit my ideas were no longer the same. I had done a series of drawings and a video installation that shared the spotlight of my printmaking thesis alongside prints, which were ironically shadowed. Not knowing how I transitioned between mediums, Art had opened me to exploring beyond Graphic Design. I had discovered magical realism, philosophy, culture, and even technology in what I imagined to be a traditional printmaking course. Thus, I found myself at a crossroads, one where I had no idea where either path led. I was sure one at least went in the direction of Design or Art, but in what form?

1.1.1 Fish out of water

During our chat after graduation my teacher had this to say, “You’ve done enough art for a while, do something else”. He was rather eccentric, and I suspect adding a playful spin on things was part of his mantra in life. As a printmaker apprentice I learnt to look at the laborious activity of printmaking with a glint of playfulness in my eye. That said, like most things he had to say to us, at the time that too felt a jest. But it stuck, and I’ve caught myself at different moments realising I’m doing something new again with his words echoing in the background. In fact, during this PhD friends have caught me out diving too deep into rabbit holes of research. Whether that is the process of how doctoral research conducts itself or not I can’t say, but I would like to attribute some credit to my printmaking tutor and the unintentional unlearning at art school.

It wasn’t until after art school that I realised I had in truth learned a lot there; a sort of systemic learning as a background process. A cursory glance of this thesis’ table of contents might reveal that jumping from point to point nature as the clichéd fish-out-of-water. Rest assured this work does come to a conclusion, although the fish might still jump out to find some other waters that I don’t have control over.

The crux that I’m getting to in this introduction—to what will be a lengthy dive into different, seemingly unconnected topics relating to my research—is that I had little control over how it all evolved. The process was organic, unique to me, and is open to contest. This work involves as much design as it does art practice in that regard, or what I refer to as a playful attitude coming from my own gathered world view. A view that is inevitably manifested in my own design and research practice. A learning process about my research area and myself.

1.1.2 Surrounded by technology

Technology has always fascinated me. Terms like ‘nerd’ or ‘geek’ have been attributed to me over the years and I accepted long ago that I fit into the stereotype. From my collection of popular culture T-shirts, entire works of Douglas Adams and J.R.R. Tolkien (including The Silmarillion), to the complete collection of blueprints and cross-sections of every vehicle from Star Wars always in my desk drawer, I have enough sacred-geek artefacts to attest that claim. I am a geek and proud of it. Which could explain why I ended up in a PhD about the Internet of Things (IoT). Technology has surrounded me over the years. However, the first mention of my transition from art to design to futures has always met a mild shock.

If this research has taught me anything, it’s that there’s always more to things than what appears at first glance. It’s a matter of seeing in a particular light, through different lenses if you will. In this thesis I go through a series of lenses to see things differently, which I will elaborate upon in due course. What started with seeing the art of printmaking through a playful eye has found a place in my design and research practice. But, to justify all this I’ll have to go farther back than that particular chat after art school. Back into unearthing why this approach of embracing my playful attitude towards design made sense to me. Hence this introduction might meander slightly into a personal account of the past.

I do not intend for this to appear self-indulgent in any way, but rather demonstrate a traceable link to why elements of this research connected in the way they have. Hence, the following is a brief wander through the loose collection of events that place this research into context. The methods I use in my research aren’t radical, though their classification could be as unorthodox. So, it makes sense to me to have a slightly unorthodox introduction as well.

1.2 Of Pasts and Presents

At its core, there are three aspects to this work: technology, philosophy, and play. You might be wondering, what about design? For my purposes, I categorise design under an umbrella of playfulness as an attitude that allows freedom of exploration. I’m reminded of The Well-Played Game by DeKoven (2013) whose preface by Eric Zimmerman explains the book as exploring the “relationships between being playful and being human” (DeKoven 2013, Foreword, ‘Play is for Players,’ para. 1). My view of design is very similar as I utilise an attitude of playfulness throughout my design research process for tackling my presented problems. Paraphrasing Bogost the world is full of playgrounds and once you’re able to understand them “you’ll see them everywhere” (Bogost 2016a, chap. 1, ‘Playgrounds, where,’ para. 28). I’ve seen design and art as possible playgrounds where my playful attitude provides a means to address particular design challenges, and attempts to make sense of them in that manner. It all perhaps starts from my fondest memories of play as an activity.

1.2.1 Growing up around play

I remember our household having a Nintendo Entertainment System, specifically the later model from 1983 known as the ‘Family Computer’; more lovingly called the Famicom. I don’t agree with that name since we never played it as a family. Still, the game console was a wonder. Sporting an 8-bit processor at the time it was magical and a genuine improvement from our previous Atari 2600. I have vague memories of our Atari—specifically having it given away to a relative much to my distress—but fond ones of the Famicom, as I shared it with my two older siblings. It came with a futuristic-looking light-gun designed for a hand full of games. The one we had was Duck Hunt and involved players shooting ducks on the screen. Six years old me was always entranced by how this magic took place before his eyes; there were no bullets, yet the ducks fell! I recall once seeing my brothers open the controller because a button was stuck and its insides looked nothing like little me could have imagined, fuelling further wonder over how the light-gun worked with the game. I can’t say for sure, but it is one of the earliest memories I have of wanting to explore how these things that facilitated playfulness for me worked.

As the youngest, my school hours differed from my siblings, and returning home from school I’d secretly switch the Famicom on for a short while; even though setting it up was a hassle. This amalgamation of diodes, capacitors, rubber, metal, and plastic felt alive and a member of the family, at least for us children. We had later upgraded it to a Sega Mega Drive and my love affair with play and exploration of playfulness continued well into my teens. Those close to me would know that I’ve latched on to it still (if ever so slightly) as an adult. From Tamagotchi to Monopoly

We had amassed a small collection of game consoles over the years, those that survived were eventually given to a friend of mine to nourish his ever-growing collection (Fig. 1.1). In total, our household saw: an Atari 2600, our precious Famicom, Sega Mega Drive, a Nintendo Game Boy, Nintendo Game Boy Advance, a collection of E-Star E-23’s2 because sharing was an impossible construct, and an ill-fated Tamagotchi3 (my brother’s never fully engaged with the hype, though I loved mine). The act of play entrenched itself in my life from a young age, and as such, it fostered over the years into something more.

Many of my game consoles were eventually donated to my friend Talha for his growing collection. He kindly shared it with me for my thesis neatly knolled.

Figure 1.1: Many of my game consoles were eventually donated to my friend Talha for his growing collection. He kindly shared it with me for my thesis neatly knolled.

Somewhere in the midst of that era PC Gaming found its way into my life with my first foray in school. Under the guise of teaching ‘Computer Studies’ each student received 45 minutes with an old computer with hopes of giving them an introduction into personal computing. This was the start of the ’90s and the computers were ancient by standards then let alone today. My first school had Sakhr MSX AX1704 systems capable of Windows 2.x and MSX-DOS. We ran different programs and external software off of 5¼-inch floppy disks kept caged in boxes on our tables. The device that we fed the floppies into were half the size of the computer itself and connected with a thick heavy cable. Full disclaimer, these were often unsupervised classes and ended in us huddled together around someone playing Zork (a text-based dungeon crawler) which someone had snuck in on a disk and hidden in the floppy collection.

The ever-engrossing trend for personal computing at the time soon landed us a Pentium Computer having a processor that was 166MHz; by today’s standards that is under 1% of your average low-end processor. With accessible memory of 16 megabytes and 1 gigabyte of hard disk space, our Pentium was the best in the market at the time. It cost a fortune, not to mention repair costs after the motherboard died soon after it was acquired. The blame fell on a fly dying inside apparently causing it to overheat; somewhat a mystery that has never been understood to this day. The technician got a laugh out of it though joking about how the “Driver had died”, making a pun on core computer software algorithms with the same name as if the computer, though a machine, had a live operative inside it like a Mechanical Turk. This amused us at the time, but now when I think back the premise of life in the machine—a concept I touch upon in my research—was never truly alien to me. This memory has latched on to me and whenever I see the insides of a computer it comes back. The technicians playful association of the computer in that manner I would like to believe aided in my own associations of manifesting a playful attitude in my work with technology.

Our house became connected to the Internet around this time as well bringing about a sudden shift in our lives. Back then Internet-time was akin to pocket money allowance, you had to ration it out. The difference being you couldn’t borrow the Internet from a friend and running out of precious Internet in the middle of the month meant you couldn’t chat online anymore. Still, seeing the 8 lights on our external modem light up one by one to the cacophony of sounds that came from the Internet, was an exciting feeling. The ’90s was a fun place for the young geeky me who was beginning to understand what all this technology was. I had The Encyclopaedia Britannica on a CD which came with our computer along with some other discs. It defined the Internet as a network of computers connected with, what at the time to an 8-year-old me, felt like sorcery involving protocols and Gophers5. I’d like to delight in the thought that 8-year old me imagined actual gophers scurrying around in the Internet as the only plausible way of considering life in the machine and explaining how things worked under the hood!

Whether the Internet had gophers or llamas, our house was officially in the future. Initially, my father’s spreadsheets were all the machine saw, later only to be predominantly taken over with homework, email, IRC, and when allowed light gaming. I recall swapping game disks with friends in school and being fond of RTS’s (Real-Time Strategy) games, which were hard to come by as racing games like Need for Speed and first-person shooters like Doom were more popular at the time. Life soon included gathering information about how to upgrade your computers enough to play that new game from EA or Blizzard Entertainment, or how to run GameSpy so you could get in on that weekend Counter-Strike match with everyone from class.

But videogames were one among other experiences of play and playfulness in my life. Games have always been in my surroundings in some form. Having an affection for board games I ended up seeking them out as a child amassing a small collection of compendium packed board games (most of which were forms of solitaire). This might give an initial explanation to the use of board games in this research but more on that later as games fascinated me, to the woes of my parents, and played a pivotal role in influencing this work. Though on the subject I would like to point out that this research is not about creating games or play-objects such as toys. I mention games here in reference to one among the many play-objects that fascinated me growing up. It was the presence of potential playfulness that intrigued me then, and later on gave me confidence to embrace the attitude of play in my design research practice. Playful technology in shady places

Around this time, we had moved to our home in Lahore. I was entering Matriculation6 and my reach towards play in general changed. Though most of my time went into learning to navigate streets like I was in Frogger,7 Lahore retains a special connection for me. It helped in bringing about an interest related to this research long ago. Amidst dimly lit busy streets Lahore of the early 2000’s filled itself with stores in back alleys selling obscure electronics and computer gadgets. These stores all had the same formats: bad lighting; limescale on the walls; an uninterested man behind the till with an assistant who knew computer gadgets too well; and flashy laminated plywood cupboards housing computer gadgets and accessories piled on top of each other in a Jenga-esque manner. What drew me to them though was the baskets on baskets of computer discs and cheap gadgets.

There’s such a street in Lahore even today famous for being a haven for computer gadgets, hardware, software, electronics, and anything you can think of around technology. Last time I was there drones were popular, and subsequently you could see these machines flying about operated by vendors attempting to sell cutting-edge products. A tech bazaar called Hall Road where you can buy from handfuls of motherboard capacitors to massive drones. Stores stacked on top of each other in a cancerous growth, common to buildings and shops in Pakistan 8. If you needed anything for your computer you went to either Hall Road, or it’s more legitimate and regulated counterpart Hafeez Centre in the more affluent side of town.

Back then of course, Hall Road was a central location for finding CDs and beige coloured computer hardware at affordable prices. This was still when websites on the Internet used tables in their design language, so concepts like IoT and even wireless internet were ideas from science fiction. As far as the Internet went, we bought scratch-cards from local stores in Lahore that had two to three hours’ worth of Internet connectivity on them still requiring the use of our phone lines over Dial-up. Additionally, there were no comparable devices to the smart phones of today, in fact my first mobile was an Alcatel OneTouch Easy that had three lines of screen real estate given to me by parents who got tired of my wandering out exploring the city. Even imagining the kinds of feats IoT can do today at that time was unimaginable, yet still among the oddities I collected were things that I now see had questionable design decisions for these Internet-powered technologies.

My association with technology found a comfortable place in obscurity. I remember buying strange gadgets for my computer which connected by USB and did odd things. Such as a USB powered clock, as if I didn’t trust the one that came with Windows. Looking back just having it made no sense, it had to be reset every time the computer shut down. But, the most obscure one had to be a green coloured ‘ghost detector’9 that you attached to your computer screen. It flashed red making a crackling sound when there was ‘paranormal activity’ in front of it, which if I am to believe the device, meant I lived in an episode of the X-Files. This device I feel explains my interest in design and play rather fittingly. An object whose design intentions approach its playfulness towards fuelling ones curiosity, much like being a paranormal investigator with a spirit box roaming a haunted hospital. The true purpose behind the device could just have been monetizing paranoia, yet it equally resonated with an attitude of playfulness.

Of course, many of these gadgets were gimmicks and arguably designed in jest. However, they all spoke a language, one that I stumbled across years later after art school. These objects as obscure as they were, were so by design which I learned was a thing.

1.2.2 Art, Design, and Philosophy

Originally, I planned to be an astrophysicist; or something around those lines. A friend of mine and I both made up our minds to follow that path in life. This was before moving to Pakistan, and although I had the aptitude in school it never panned out in the end (though he succeeded much to my chagrin). I did go to visit the Cosmology Department at Punjab University once. Unfortunately, it was non-existent and more of a department on paper at the time. Pakistan wasn’t very invested in Space with their last attempts dying out in the ’70s. Going into art school instead might have had something to do with my mother being a fashion designer. Though ironically, she never pushed me in that direction. I intended to be a designer and failed the entrance interview for design at the National College of Arts, Lahore (NCA).

My application for fine arts though was a different story. Like most happenings in my life, it fell into place. This time turning into the best four years of my life at art school. After a BFA in printmaking the logical trajectory would be to move into further studio practice, curation, or even Art History. I had the experience and the connections from the years of practice as an exhibiting visual artist after all. However, I jumped ship from Art into an MA in Design Management 10. It was a big leap from printmaking, yet it made sense. “You don’t learn management skills as an artist”, was my reasoning. After learning of service design, participatory design, and co-design practice, I found myself questioning my decision. But I was in too deep at that point. So, as habit dictated, I let the pieces fall and sat back to watch. Designing fictions

The experience opened me to a view of Design I wasn’t aware of. Yet, what it lacked was the playfulness I had grown fond of in Art. This was until I stumbled across the CEDE Project at Lancaster’s Imagination Lab. As with my BFA, my MA thesis strayed from course slightly. I started down a path in design fiction.

The project was an exploratory dive into the possibility of a near-future with empathy-based human computer interactions in line with the concept of a Voight-Kampff11 machine. What drove me towards it, asides the little geeky voice in my ear that let out a childish scream of glee at the mention of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, was the prospect of using my hands to make something again. Of course, the science-fiction aspect did play a large part though. Some things you can’t disconnect from growing up, I have a 15-inch model of Darth Vader on my desk gifted to me by my wife on our wedding which should explain my disposition.

Jest aside, my interest in the human side of design—coming from my art background—was perhaps partly what drove me towards the CEDE Project. That possibility of a human inside the machine; like the psychic medium in my USB Ghost Tracker. After meticulous moulding in vague supervision sessions that left me amazed, enlightened, and perplexed at the same time, months later I had a thesis in design fiction. With a series of diegetic prototypes around empathy and computers I had made something that weighed itself in philosophy, culture, technology, and design. A design fiction in the form of an SDK called the Empathy Engine (Akmal 2015; Sturdee et al. 2016), exploring a potential near-future with a possibility to have devices empathise with users (to an extent).

The process took me back to my days of slaving over aquatints and etchings in my school’s printmaking studio back in Lahore. There was an essence of playfulness within the way I drew and etched figures in my artwork, and a playfulness in how I imagined the Empathy Engine inside of everyday objects. It justified the fish-out-of-water feeling I’d had. I might be jumping from one thing to the next, but there was a connection. This is also my argument for the attitude of playfulness that has scaffolded my PhD years. Doing a PhD

I had no intention of doing a PhD. The opportunity presented itself while I had started teaching after my MA. To be honest, this PhD started as research in design fiction, my initial proposal. I was exploring the potential for incorporating my art practice into design research. But over time it transformed as organically as did my path towards it. The first few concepts I worked on were diegetic prototypes around abstract concepts for human-computer interactions. At its core, this research has not strayed too far, and I still do reference speculative design. My focus though has drifted from a discussion solely on design fiction to one about incorporating unorthodox design practices that align better with my understanding of playfulness as an attitude towards design. PETRAS IoT Hub

I can’t begin an introduction of this research without mentioning my affiliated project. This work is part of and funded by the PETRAS IoT Hub Project 12. A consortium of nine (at the time of my enrolment) leading universities in the UK with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC)13, each exploring critical issues in IoT relating to privacy, ethics, trust, reliability, acceptability, and security. Part of IoTUK14 a government-funded programme seeking to advance the UK’s global leadership in IoT by increasing adoption rates and service quality through business and public sectors, PETRAS has presented a multitude of findings spanning over different tracks with Lancaster University among the institutes involved. The track my research has been focused on involves the aforementioned adoption of IoT. Human-Centred Design and Adoption of IoT

The above meandering tale of past events should set the stage for why ‘adoption of IoT’ intrigued me. The enchantment of technology escaping from the clutches of fiction into our lives. The playful attitude I’ve associated with my life and allowed to flourish in my work practices was evident in potential future speculative imaginings of IoT. As a millennial I’ve seen technology evolve in many forms. From buying scratch cards for Internet access to the always-on network, this transformation has been both exciting and worrying. The latter is in respect to ill-planned and in some cases malicious uses of IoT-enabled technologies. Take for instance Vizio’s smart televisions sold and used in the early 2010’s. These products were found to be discretely collecting data on their users by tracking usage and activities which were then sold to third-parties for marketing purposes (Coulton and Lindley 2019, 467). The present lack of discretion on Vizio’s part proved an infringement of ethical trade practices leading to heavy fines and public concern with ‘smart’ technologies 15. For all its science fictional qualities, IoT has an all too human element to it in its design approaches and decisions.

The current and perhaps most common method of creating IoT products and services involves Human-Centred Design (HCD) practices, though ironically these systems are not powered by humans. Concepts such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are often employed for these IoT-enabled devices and services to operate effectively removing the human from these processes. Though humans might be the users of these services (a concept debateable on its own), the design of these systems could acknowledge their independent natures. What I am ushering this conversation towards is that through this research and the coming chapters I intend to approach an alternative viewpoint towards IoT. One that exists in an attitude of playful appropriation of design. In the process I explore how play may exist in both the objects that create IoT and the humans that interact with it. My own perspective though is of play existing in the process where they both converge, and in this manner I hint at how HCD might not necessarily be the most applicable research through design approach for viewing IoT (at least where taking a playful attitude at design is concerned).

Being an art/design student now intrigued with the playful potential of design, the opportunity of exploring playful practices affecting and possibly altering the adoption of IoT presented itself through PETRAS. Through my research and this thesis I intend to present an argument for seeing design as a playful activity that may present alternative perspectives for technologies such as IoT. That said, this research may be about alternative design practices for IoT, but that statement is not enough to hold the weight of information contained. Research Statement

There’s a lot to unpack there, from what is IoT to what is design practice or research, and what classifies as an alternative. Each of these aspects will be addressed in the coming chapters. As a designer, my interest lies in how these systems in which IoT-enabled devices function can be better designed to overcome many of their problematic traits, which are starting to become more evident. The example of Vizio is but one among many which I explore in the coming text. That said, this thesis is a contribution towards the utilisation of Research through Design (RtD) as a means of developing new perspectives on the challenges within the IoT. It does not achieve this by proposing methods that may allow designers to design ‘better’ solutions, rather it proposes alternative approaches for framing the challenges of IoT including existing design practices within the field.

Often prefixed with ‘smart’ IoT devices are couplings of circuitry and sensors inside metal and plastic bodies designed to interact with and through the Internet. The describing of IoT-enabled devices in this unpacked manner stems from a core statement of this research: seeing IoT through philosophical lenses. Philosophy brings with it a specific manner of discourse which I attempt to utilise throughout. The intention in this regard is to present an argument around the use of play as a means to evaluate IoT-enabled systems for designers.

When I say ‘play’ I again am not referring to playing with the Internet or creating artefacts that do so. Instead, ‘play’ to me represents an attitude for manifesting curiosity-driven engagement within design practices. In this context it refers to appropriating a means for exploring and evaluating the processes of IoT-enabled systems. Philosophy certainly plays a large part in this discussion, as it becomes the vehicle for concretising playful appropriations of design practice. I go into further detail regarding this in Chapter 6 through a process of philosophical carpentry, an approach at enacting philosophical arguments through making. As a designer and maker the act of creation is present in this research through this carpentry approach, which incorporates explorations of Speculative Design and Ludic Design as frameworks within a methodological practice of RtD crafting the philosophy laden artefacts presented in later chapters.

Therefore, as a singular statement of research this thesis argues for an attitude of playfulness within the design process that for the purposes of this research facilitates alternative perspectives for the design of IoT-enabled systems. It does so by presenting a case for the manifestation of a playful attitude through curiosity-driven engagement within the design process. The philosophical concepts and practice of making are the vehicle for this discourse all conducted as a RtD project into exploring the relationship between IoT and HCD. This is a discussion about how playfulness and design go hand in hand to understand an alternative nature of the things that create IoT. How acknowledging different perspectives may present novel opportunities in designing for contemporary and future-focused technologies. Why Philosophy?

I could justify the use of design research practices—being a design student, and this a doctoral research in the field of Design—but why philosophy? The reason is to provide a fair and open ground for discussion. One that isn’t biased by design orthodoxies around human-centredness, instead, presenting a discourse around fundamental object-ness. This human and object discourse is the aforementioned lens spoken of and will be present throughout this text. The philosophical discussion has been considerably condensed as the intention here has been exploration around a focal point; design perspectives for IoT. Which causes me to remind the reader: by no means am I a philosopher.

I have an arts degree in printmaking and for that I explored different philosophical concepts to aid in art practice. But the level of philosophical discourse established in this work comes from careful readings of philosophy in specific areas of interest. As such, I present this alternative perspective to design for IoT in three states in the coming chapters: Seeing Things, Being Things, and Designing Things.

My penchant for philosophical intrigue could be the reason behind this crossing of paths in my research, but this view of philosophy in IoT is something that had already begun spreading its roots in the project as More-than Human Design perspectives. I contributed by building upon ideas that were presented at the time. More-than Human Design in a nutshell is an argument for acknowledging design beyond the boundaries of human involvement possibly towards broader more significant influences, such as considerations of climate change. It incorporates object-oriented philosophies in an attempt at stepping outside of the human and viewing the world from different non-human perspectives. Throughout the coming chapters I will be explaining the concept and it’s specific usage in this research further.

IoT as a phenomenon has certainly established itself in our current spectrum of technology. The sheer amount of these devices available makes it appear as if they have colonised our everyday lives (Greenfield 2017, para. 2). With a thirst of information, coupled with our excessive need for efficiency, IoT has evolved into a web of interactivity within our midst. Though these systems aren’t for everyone, they are present almost everywhere today in some manner or form, and as such have begun to offer unique challenges of their own. Amidst this argument of playfulness, philosophy, and design this research attempts to address some of these challenges in its unique light. I’ve briefly touched upon why philosophy came to be a part of it, and the coming chapters will clarify each core aspect in further detail. What this lengthy unorthodox introduction intends to relay is that an attitude of playfulness was an intimate matter associated with my work which I cannot separate this research from, as it allowed for an explorative means of design research where I was not bound by highly specific goals. Who is this thesis for?

At this point you might be wondering who this research might interest? As this work overlaps different topics (IoT, design, and philosophy), concerned readers would find their specific interests there. That said, this research certainly involves these core discussions but at its heart it retains a discussion for manifesting an attitude of playfulness within design practice. Many of the arguments and/or appropriations of concepts ahead would appeal to those who are curious about playfulness within an RtD approach. This playfulness manifests as both direct representations of play and as a general presence of giving oneself away to whim, ambiguity, and the obscure within the process of design. Many of the discussions ahead could not have been possible without entertaining their alternative perspectives in this playful light.

I should mention here that by no means in this work do I profess a hard set stance towards play in design, mainly because I don’t agree with play as having a strict representation. Chapter 6 dives into detail regarding what play represents in this work and I explore it from multiple perspectives. Towards the end in Chapter 10, I do further express my own views on play in light of this work. Throughout regarding play in this research, my intention remains to present it as an attitude within the design process.

1.3 In closing

This jog down memory lane twisting through streets of Lahore, printmaking, my collection of games, and all the science fiction I had to read to justify my Empathy Engine, is all more a means to facilitate a reason to why this research took the trajectory it did. Other methods could have been possible, but in this instance this particular approach brought with it a certain gravity. As a playful individual, my approach at RtD was equally playful and I cannot disassociate it’s influence on the research presented in this thesis. The coming chapter presents a scaffolding to understanding how this research is collected, with the promise of fewer wanderings amongst memory. Accompanied with that are core research questions and a methodological framework upon which this research rests. It also explains why the presentation of this work uses a non-traditional approach. Furthermore, it begins the first section of this thesis as a foundation into my world of IoT, philosophy, and playfulness.


Akmal, Haider Ali. 2015. “Empathy Engine: Researching Through Design Fiction.” Masters dissertation, Lancaster, UK: Lancaster University.
———. 2016a. Play Anything: The Pleasure of Limits, the Uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games. New York: Basic Books.
Coulton, Paul, and Joseph Galen Lindley. 2019. “More-Than Human Centred Design: Considering Other Things.” The Design Journal 22 (4): 463–81.
DeKoven, Bernie. 2013. The Well-Played Game: A Player’s Philosophy. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Fritts, Lauren. 2019. “Knolling: The Art of Material Culture.” Art Education 72 (1): 50–58.
———. 2017. “Rise of the Machines: Who Is the Internet of Things’ Good For?”
Sturdee, Miriam, Paul Coulton, Joseph G. Lindley, Mike Stead, Haider Ali, and Andy Hudson-Smith. 2016. “Design Fiction: How to Build a Voight-Kampff Machine.” In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 375–86. ACM.

  1. Knolling is a method of arranging things at 90° to each other. Introduced by Andrew Kromelow a janitor at Frank Gehry’s workshop, he named this method after Knoll furniture because it reminded him of its clean lines (Fritts 2019). American sculptor Tom Sachs who worked at Gehry’s workshop later adopted the term and incorporated the technique into his practice.↩︎

  2. More commonly known as the Brick Game it played a cloned variant of the original Tetris by Alexey Pazhitnov and a few other games with rudimentary graphics.↩︎

  3. Not really a game console per say, I mention it more because at the time my prickly dinosaur-like creature went everywhere with me till it ‘mysteriously’ passed away being lost to time. I mention it here as I believe its life should have meant something.↩︎

  4. I was schooled in Dubai though these computers were made by a Kuwaiti company which produced an Arabic version of MSX computers in the 1980’s and often provided cheap to schools. My school hadn’t upgraded their line up till the late ’90s.↩︎

  5. Gopher was an information fetching protocol used in the early days of the Internet. It presented websites as navigable menus full of hyperlinks. For more information, see:↩︎

  6. A formal examination stemming from British schooling techniques left in the Sub-Continent after British Raj also found among other British colonised parts of the world. It takes place towards the end of the 9th and 10th years of education and is considered as secondary schooling entering into intermediate studies. The UK abandoned this method for GCSE or Ordinary Level and Advance Level examinations. As a side effect because of this and an influx of American television in Pakistan, I was taught in British English but spoke with an American accent.↩︎

  7. A beloved Atari game from 1981 where you played a frog attempting to cross a busy road and river full of hazards. The predecessor to its contemporary Crossy Road.↩︎

  8. A very common format for how shopping districts evolve in Pakistan; very organic and multiplicious. For example, someone starts selling telephones and is the only one on the street, soon others copy only to have it escalate to a whole street full of shops selling telephones.↩︎

  9. Sadly, the actual one I owned is lost to the ages, but I’m pleased to know that the legacy of that wonderfully strange device is present in a much more modern package as the Ghost Rock. For more information see:↩︎

  10. My family was always confused why I chose Lancaster up near the Lake District (with, as my cousin said, nothing but sheep) rather than bustling London or Leeds where most of my relatives were. Though I couldn’t say I would rather stay away from family for a while, my justification was that things were allowed to fall into place which they did for the better.↩︎

  11. The Voight-Kampf was a test from Phillip K. Dick’s sci-fi novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ meant to distinguish between humans and androids by detecting empathy. Later adapted in the 1982 film Blade Runner by Ridley Scott.↩︎

  12. For more information, see:↩︎

  13. For more information, see:↩︎

  14. For more information, see:↩︎

  15. For more information, see:↩︎