Application - Haunted [Smart] House

Application: Haunted [Smart] House

About Applications

In the second half of the semester, students will build on the investigations earlier in the semester and work together to identify aa topic of interest interest. Working collaboratively, they will develop a proposal for speculative, critically-informed responsive mobile environment. The objective isn’t just to prepare a well-resolved prototype but to engage broader audiences in dialog around the work we produce in this course.

WIP Investigations are a series of small exercises designed to explore a conceptual space and culminates with a made artefact. The format is 3-week rapid explorations of a theme, idea or theory.

Over the last two module’s we’ve explored memory and technology largely at a small scale and for the individual. Now, we’ll shift the frame in a couple of ways. We’ll think beyond the individual to shared scenarios around mediating memory through technology. We’ll move beyond objects and start to think about broader scenarios in the world. We’ll imagine smart and augmented spaces at the scale of buildings, outdoor areas, parks and neighborhoods. Finally, we’ll shift the timescale and be much more prospective than in the last few projects.


Specifically, we’ll explore remembrance and how an increasingly networked world presents new opportunities to memorialize individuals, groups, or happenings. We’ll consider our digital legacy - digital stuff we leave behind - meets the physical world.

How might existing places of remembrance (cementaries), celebration (monuments) or memorial (museums) might be augmented, extended or enhanced through our digital legacy?

We’ll start by exploring these sites and asking how we currently enode memory in real and virtual places. From there we’ll begin to question how these sites of remebrance might take on new significance, hold new value or be reimagined in a hybrid world. In these sites how might they blend the physical and the digital to give new opportunities to remember, celebrate or immortalize a life?

What does it mean to be remembered or celebrated in a world of networked memories? How does digital legacy intersect with the spaces that already exist to celebrate/remember?

Revisiting our Course Objectives

This project gives you the opportunity to explore themes, ideas and concepts of interest to you but within the scope of this courses them. This makes it a timely moment to revisit the goals for this course:

“In the case of telegraphy and wireless, in other words, many believed telegraphs and crystal sets could be used to contact incredible and unseen yet equally ‘real’ worlds, be they extrasensory or extraterrestrial. The ethereal ‘presence’ of communications without bodies suggested the possibility of other similarly preternatural interlocutors, invisible entities who, like distant telegraph and wireless operators, could be reached through a most utilitarian application of the technology.… the telegraph and early wireless held the tantalizing promises of contacting the dead in the afterlife and aliens of other planets.” - Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media, p10

We often hear that the technologies in our everyday lives would appear to be ‘magic’ and potentially terrifying to people in the past—instantaneous communication with people all over the world, access to a vast, ever-growing resource of human knowledge right there in the palm of our hand, objects with ‘intelligence’ that can sense and talk to us (and each other). But rarely are these ‘otherworldly’ dimensions of technologies explored in more detail. There is an often-unspoken presumption that the march of progress will inevitably mean we all adopt new practices and incorporate new products and new ways of doing things into our lives—all cities will become smart cities; all homes will become smart homes. But these systems have become omnipresent without our necessarily understanding them.

“Today the cloud is the central metaphor of the internet: a global system of great power and energy that nevertheless retains the aura of something noumenal and numinous, something almost impossible to grasp… It is something we experience all the time without really understanding what it is or how it works. It is something we are training ourselves to rely upon with only the haziest of notions about what is being entrusted and what it is being entrusted to.” - James Bridle, New Dark Age, p7

They are not just black boxes, but invisible: entities in our homes and everyday lives which work through hidden flows of data, unknown agendas, imaginary clouds, mysterious sets of rules which we perhaps dismiss as ‘algorithms’ or even ‘AI’ without really understanding what that means. On some level, the superstitions and sense of wonder, and ways of relating to the unknown and the supernatural (deities, spirits, ghosts) which humanity has felt in every culture throughout history have not gone away. Instead, they have transferred and transmuted into new forms.

This course is part of an on-going design-research project, led by Dan Lockton and Daragh Byrne, that has already created an inventory of ‘spooky technologies’. Continuing this inquiry, we will examine people’s understanding of systems in their homes, such as connected devices, information flows, voice assistants, and highlight beliefs and superstitions that emerge around them. What are unsettling moments in the smart home—what do people assume when things breaks down? In tandem, we’ll examine work across art, design, and human-computer interaction, explore the history of the supernatural, myths, and superstitions, and extract possibilities, insights, and opportunities.

From this, we will prototype and experiment with working examples of spooky technologies. What happens when Alexa speaks in tongues? Can computer vision read your tea leaves? What would a haunted smart home be like to live in? Can we create new superstitions—or technologies to encounter beliefs, rituals and practices?

Learning goals

The final project is designed to give you agency to speculate using the frame of ‘spookiness’ and to consider the societial, cultural and spatial significances of everyday, smart, and networked technologies: As part of this exercise, you will:

  • Develop and be able to critically reflect on the role and effects of technology in everyday settings

  • Investigate sites (a room in the home) as a means to inform critiques of current and future possibilities for spaces and environments augmented with digital technologies;

  • Examine existing technologies and precedents that explore themes of spookiness, smart homes, critical devices, and responsive environments;

  • Speculate on how hybrid objects and spaces (blended physical/digital space) might be used to enhance scenarios of remembrance;

  • Realize a room-scale collaborative prototype for an immersive, responsive, experience

  • Work in mixed domain teams and to integrate considerations across art, design and technology to prepare critically-informed responsive mobile environments

  • Work collaboratively in an applied investigation to tease-out the broader considerations, issues and requirements in building everyday technoologies (social, cultural, personal, etc.)


Date Type Description
Tues, Apr 6 Intro Synthesis. Project Given.
Precedent - The Multiplexer Room
Thurs, Apr 8 Talk Guest Talk: Haunted Machines.
Tues, Apr 13 Concepts Review of Driving Questions.
Developing Imaginary Abstracts. In Class Exercise
Thurs, Apr 15 No Class Carnival Weekend
Tues, Apr 20 Prototyping Materalizing Alternatives
In Class Exercise
Thurs, Apr 22 Concepts Scenography and Diagetic Designs.
Group Work
Tues, Apr 27 Prototyping Draft Technical Prototype/Design Review
Desk Crits
Thurs, Apr 29 Concepts Draft Supporting Materials Review
Desk Crits
Tues, May 4 Prototyping Technical Prototype Revision
Desk Crits / Group Work
Thurs, May 6 Dry Run Internal Crit/ Dry Run
Feedback from invited guests. Discussion on staging.
Tues, May 11 Exhibit Digital Exhibition
Thurs, May 13 Reflection Debrief and reflection on exhibition.
Feedback from returning guests.

Deliverables and Deadlines

Due Date Deliverable Details
Thur, Mar 21 Think Piece Research a think piece on memorials in a networked age on Slack in #thinkpieces.
Tues, Mar 26 Proposal Create a proposal for your creative project (200 words + illustrations) and share on the Gallery
Tues, Mar 26 Case Identify and describe a series of signals for future conditions. Share on Slack in #cases.
Thur, Mar 28 Warmup Share your Warmup on Slack in #projects.
Tues, Apr 2 Map Develop an experience map/networked interactions to describe the experience through the memorial
Thur, Apr 4 Project Develop a rough cut to discuss during desk crits
Tues, Apr 9 Project Present your prototype in class.
Tues, Apr 9 Digital Crit Give feedback projects in class
Tues, Apr 9, midnight Documentation Deliver documentation of your creative project

Horizon Scanning

…. Read the full brief.

Creative Brief

Working in small groups, develop a digital exhibition to engage invited guests (and potentially wider audiences) in Spooky Technology. Prepare a series of related (and/or networked) prototypes. Read the full brief.

Designing Experiential Futures

Candy, Stuart, and Jake Dunagan. “Designing an experiential scenario: The People Who Vanished.” Futures 86 (2017): 136-153. Stuart Candy, Kelly Kornet (2017) A Field Guide to Ethnographic Experiential Futures, Situation Lab, DOI:10.13140/RG.2.2.30623.97448 Candy, Stuart. “Time Machine/Reverse Archaeology.” Retrieved 11.11 (2013): 2014.

Kelliher, A., & Byrne, D. (2015). Design futures in action: Documenting experiential futures for participatory audiences. Futures, 70, 36–47.

Tharp, B. M., & Tharp, S. M. (2019). Discursive design: Critical, speculative, and alternative things. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Ramos, J., Sweeney, J.A., Peach, K., & Smith, L. (2019). Our futures: By the people, for the people. London: Nesta. Kozubaev, S. (2018). Futures as design: Explorations, images, and participations. ACM Interactions, 25(2), 46–51. Mark Blythe. (2014). Research through design fiction: narrative in real and imaginary abstracts. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ‘14). ACM, New York, 703–712. doi:10.1145/2556288.2557098

Designign for Discomfort

Material Speculation


Below is a list of additional online material that relates to the module and provides a starting point for your explorations. This is by no means exhaustive i.e. you should read/research beyond it.

Primary Precedents


Haunted Machines include talk

Performance – superflux Digital Futures Forum

‘Museum of Failed Products’ for Bricolage’s Project Ameli

Digital Exhibits and Platforms

studio oio Workshop

Yonk ITP

  1. Hawaii 2050 Hawaii Research Center for Futures Studies for the State Legislative Assembly of Hawaii (2006).

This kickoff to a statewide public sustainability planning process immersed some 550 attendees in a set of rooms containing four experiences of divergent versions of the year 2050, each rooted in a different theory about how the coming decades might unfold. The experiential scenarios were followed by facilitated conversation about the potential implications of the various futures for present decisions.

This example is included as a landmark of design-led exploration of a range of scenarios, engaging as participants diverse members of the public as well as subject matter experts and elected representatives.

  1. Grow Your Own. Science Gallery Dublin (2013–2014).

The Science Gallery presents pressing science and technology topics, including contagion, biomimicry, hacking, and AI, through art-science programming. Here the curatorial team included leading experts in synthetic biology and biohacking working with prominent critical and speculative design creators. Programming included participatory workshops on DIY biohacking, installation artworks, documentary films, lectures, and events prepared in collaboration with researchers, designers, and entrepreneurs.
This example is included to illustrate how experiential futures can be used as a vehicle to engage experts and public audiences alike.

  1. The Museum of the Future. World Government Summit, Dubai (2015–2019).

An annual popup exhibition staged as part of a global conference of policymakers, the Museum of the Future was as a design-led companion to the annual World Government Summit. The 2016 iteration offers a thematically relevant example, about “exploring the future impact of current advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence on society… ask[ing] the world leaders and general public who attended: What does [this] mean for society, for government, and for our families? What conversations should we be having today to prepare for a better tomorrow?”

This case exemplifies experiential scenarios (physical speculative design installations in this instance) supporting and inspiring policy conversation at the highest levels.