Internet of Us (Future of Work)
Glasgow School of Art (GSA) Product Design (MARCH 2013)


The speculative project explores the shift from the top down approach of the industrial age to the distributed, shared, intelligent and networked ecosystems of the information age. It has an agenda which discusses economic, social and environmental sustainability.

"The office as a singular place is instead re-imagined as a distributed network of people and places, all linked together with the dynamic and location-aware capacities of 'passport'."

Internet of Things and Us

The initial starting point was the concept of people having the similar qualities as the ‘internet of things’.

'Connecting' by Bassett & Partners (a cut to describe 'the Internet of things') from Jamie Sunderland on Vimeo.

However, the 'Internet of Things' didn’t consider what we might want to do or make and which new ways of living we might aspire to or seek to avoid. It didn’t talk about us. Therefore during initial discussions about the project, I wanted to explore what the future of an ‘Internet of Us’ would actually look like.

The internet of things council recently set up their own consultancy, Internet of People. It suggests:

“Movements around the world are inspired by the nature of the internet: claiming transparency, civic engagement, and new accountable digital institutions. There are opportunities for proposing new business models and new forms of interaction between enterprises, governments, and citizens.”

I set out to explore these.

What does the 'Internet of Us' look like?

To understand the future context, it made sense to understand any economic, social and environmental changes first. I undertook wide research approach which involved a group brainstorm and informed a process called ‘research amnesty’.

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Research Amnesty proved to be a very efficient research method which had both width and depth. Since a great deal of time and effort had gone into the existing reports and knowledge, this method used it and built upon it. I wrote each insight, or question, contained in those documents onto post-its, and stuck them up. After I was through with the documents, I clustered the post-its by theme.

It brought up many great interest areas and insights to explore. As an initiative to explore and understand all of these holistically, I developed this map [PDF], laid out on scale and time and then analysed into initial narratives.

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Some of the most interesting areas were City API (opening smart cities for people to use), Patient Empowerment (enabling the patient to be an active participant in their role of healthcare), and Open Source Data (a proposed new data layer for businesses to build upon). Consequently, I thought there might be new ways to make decisions and new kinds of conflict that would have to be heavily considered.

Considering these trends at a distance, the topic of the City and city API would deal with the combination of the global trends of megacities, increase in soft power, increase in open source and citizen empowerment. How will citizens use the city? The other area of my interest is about the elderly population as well as other trends such as working local (due to a low carbon economy) and also the knowledge economy. I’m interested in how this will effect the future of work.

Selected Area - Future of Work

In the end I decided to explore the future of the workplace. For the majority of people work is an important part of life because it is were we can also learn and be at our most creative. For this area I will try to look beyond the screen and look at the social aspects. This is particularly interesting for me because of my previous experience in various workplaces at Google, Fjord and Mitsubishi Electric. Having seen the workplace for myself in Japan, which already has a large elderly population, I felt some empathy for designing for this area.

The future workplace happens in the context of a crisis economy and a knowledge-driven economy. The West has to focus on productivity, as there is a large, young workforce in Asia. How might this affect the older population and the way they work?

It was timely to look at work. At a time when Marissa Mayer, the newly appointed CEO of Yahoo, banned working from home and articles discussing tracking technology at the workplace surfaced on my twitter feed.

I figured, before I started to explore future work, I needed to have an opinion of my own to design for. I suggested that tracking should be allowed, but if behaviour is measured, then any tracked data should be a bit more transparent. It would up to the individuals, both employer and employee to decide how to use it.

The article states “It’s not illegal to track your own employees inside your own building”, but if the office is decentralised, what happens then?

Developing a narrative

From various brainstorming and reading, and also from building on the workshop we got from designer Jessica Charlesworth, I created the following narrative as a basis to start designing.

Duane Harrison Internet of Us Scenario from duaneharrison

Exploring this notion of tracking. I started to play around with arduino to get an early start and also develop the narrative alongside the prototype and technology. I mocked this small prototype as an office device and used it as a prop to test and role play different narratives. This narrative explores the device tracking other workers and also includes some intelligence from the device- the device suggesting things from other databases such as a calendar.

Duane Harrison Scenario Full from duaneharrison on Vimeo.

However, after analysing this narrative, I decided the notion of a separate device did not make sense. It implied hierarchy and also did not work with the other devices that the workers used, which could be used for tracking. Therefore I decided to explore a less hierarchical product situation. This followed the idea that employees had all the same devices. This device was inspired partly by a pager Amazon's staff have to use on rotation. My thinking also questioned the need for security fobs/cards. Could the data behind these fobs/cards be used for our benefit?

Future Work

The trouble with this kind of work is that it tends to raise more questions than it answers. But for me, that is the point. It is useful to know, in order to prepare for our own working future. Having done quite a bit of reading about the future of work, I was invited to write a small piece for an article on The Next Web about 'my dream company'. The two subjects were very much linked and I emphasised the ideas about longevity, innovation and openness- learning from others.

From this point, I explored in more detail, how these organisations would actually work and the role of the mentor.

Future organisations, Network Structure and Co-working

As the office space becomes decentralised to increase efficiency and productivity, the natural next step is to transform the organisational structure from to-down structure to a network structure. This transition is necessary for these organisations to stay competitive in the 21st Century.

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From my research and speculation, I imagine these as a network of small teams with large ability (which tools make possible) with the ability to test concepts directly and closely with customers.

I also came across this great talk from the twitter account of design researcher, Jaimes Nel- Networked Norms: How Tech Startups and Teen Practices Challenge Organizational Boundaries. The paper discussed how new teen social norms learned online will affect organisational structures. Many things stuck out, including the following:

"you’ll see engineers and entrepreneurs from supposedly competing startups sitting side-by-side in the same physical space, often occupying desks situated in an open-space configuration. There are no cubes or offices. Everyone is within earshot of everyone else. And if one needs auditory privacy, there are always headphones. They aren’t just sharing space, they’re sharing perspective. And code.”

This insight supported how decentralised and co-working and trans-institutional work equates to better work.

Creative Leadership, Mentors and Tacit Knowledge

I also explored creative leadership. I managed to find great notes on a talk from John Maeda about the subject, which can be found here.

The key points were around 1) collective intelligence practices are forming 2) rewards are important in the form of knowledge sharing 3) community members finding their own agency (how much do they want to step over the bounds) 4) criticism and resistance. Organisational leaders will be connectors, not directors.

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“Today’s learners will have up to 14 jobs before age 38”- this highlights the increasing competition for jobs and suggests a more part time or freelance approach to working.

I also speculated how their might be the role of mentors. As companies start to realise the value of these innovation facilitators, they would rely on them to boost parts of their organisation. The future facilitator will dip in and out of may projects and perhaps with many different organisations. For the facilitators, having multiple jobs at once will be the norm. Their view of work will be different from most of today’s workers where we work for one organisation. Perhaps they will have closer relationships with certain teams and at this point, they become a mentor. I think that being an outsider is a value because they can have strong opinions that might not be raised from inside.

This comes from the thoughts around the need for workers to innovate and how tacit knowledge is important for innovation to take place. The facilitator and mentor acts as someone who manages and advises teams for creativity. My research suggests he could act as a cross-pollinator and increase innovation. Take Leaps: The image shown on the top right is Patti Brennan’s Hierarchy of Imagination.

I saw this diagram on John Maeda’s blog on creative leadership. Artists take risks by manipulating and questioning why things are done the way they are. The leaps rely largely on their responses to these questions. The overarching point is that while leaders have great problem solving skills and good instincts, they can learn from artists by following their example to find good ideas in completely unstructured environments, activating the imagination, and improving their ability to join ideas. Imagination and creativity come less naturally to business leaders than elements further down the pyramid. Which leads me back to the idea of a...

Smart Fob

I imagine that this is where the ‘smart fob’ could play a big role in aiding creative work. The mentor has the tacit knowledge, but the fobs enable the mentor to know where people are (as they check -in), what the teams are doing (they could check-into objects too) and therefore can act and assist creativity.

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With a few problems and opportunities in mind, I set out to explore these in a short video narrative:

Duane Harrison Friday Final from duaneharrison on Vimeo.

What are the benefits of future work outside of the workplace?

Feedback from visiting tutors suggested I explore the benefits of work outside of the workplace. The video may have concentrated too much on the request and recording, rather than the positive points. So I set out to design out the existing problems with the benefits in mind.

In this future of work scenario I have thought up, it is a world of checking in and out, and constantly deciding whether to update or not. This is a world of constant conflicts and interuptions, not too disimilar from the scenario's in Lynda Gratton's book'The Shift', which explores her research into the future work environments.

What will I design?

I will have to evaluate and design for these conflicts and consider privacy. What if people check in at work? is it for business or may it be for private or personal visits?

I will have to evaluating conflicts regarding public. How public? and what happens if the fob gets stolen?

And if the worker does check in, who is it shared with? everyone? collegues or just anyone nearby?


I decided to tackle security first as I was aware this was a number one issue for large organisations which might allow workers to work outside, or to use their own devices. After speaking a HCI design student at the University of Glasgow, I explored what he said about devices being able to understand muscle movements to identify an individual. I used arduino and a proximity sensor to test how I could imitate this.

M4H02984 from duaneharrison on Vimeo.

Social capital and Map

But who checks in and how? After meeting a design researcher, I was advised to look closely at people’s intentions. I started thinking about social capital and what each worker could gain from it. Social capital describes the pattern and intensity of networks among people and the shared values which arise from those networks. Greater interaction between people generates a greater sense of community spirit.

While researching social capital I found that there were patterns and intensity of networks among people and the shared values which arise from the networks. These depended on levels of trust, membership, network & social contact. Network is closely linked to frequency, but level of trust not necessarily linked. The groups were around geographical, professional, social groups and virtual groups.

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The idea that the fobs had proximity and radius was interesting. Therefore the workers would know if the mentor was on the way to work. I then explored the intentions behind each party.

Intention grid and conflicts

By mapping out the system, it demonstrated how the devices or employer would want more data and more collisions, whereas the mentor may want more qualitative interactions. Having more data in many social interaction cases can make the interactions less valuable. This case might be like LinkedIn endorsements which have proved quite unpopular as people question its value. With a clear difference in the system, I wanted to explore a service/produce proposal which would be more subtle with data and retain value over time.

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Valuable Triggers

The example of a negative trigger might be these LinkedIn endorsements, whereby they are less valuable the more they are used. However an example of positive triggers might be when Facebook introduced that certain feature where it notified you if the other person has 'seen' your message. This transparency causes a trigger which increased interaction, but perhaps it forces it too.

UI design? Invisible design vs physical design

Facebook’s 'seen' is an example of a subtle trigger for conversation. In the mentor’s case, he may not be sure if the employee is sticking around. What if it could tell him an estimated or predicted time the person stays around? Snapchat invents a new form of communication. It is an easy kind of communication, like the dating interaction examples. Could this be designed into the smart fob? LinkedIn endorsements are less valuable the more they are used. Could we make the data less explicit? or have barriers for the data?

“As systems increasingly record our personal activity and data, invisibility is exactly the wrong model.”

I decided anything negative in the fob will be designed to be invisible, like security (it can read muscle movement), while anything positive such as the Facebook “seen”, a trigger which breeds more interaction, will be designed to be explicit. Displaying an estimated time, is more of a value trigger. Its on the mentors decision whether to go or not and this is something I could design into the interface.


A concept in my design was about proximity and how we manage it. Recently I have read Jan Chipchase's article on Google Glass.

My understanding is that he's suggesting that Google Glass and it's design principles focus on the wrong thing; the user. He suggests it is much more important to focus on the people around him and he looks into a lot of the social geography and effects. One idea he suggested for google glass was about:

"Proximate Transparency: Allow anyone in proximity to access the same feed that the wearer is recording or seeing and view it through a device of their choosing."

This for me, sounded relevant to my thinking for this project, and the future applications of design. It also feels like it is related to what the design researcher suggested to me -about making things keep value.

Therefore I felt it was right to primarily designing a system not a service. It is also not really visual (perhaps) and not that tangible, but it definitely can be suggested or designed. To me this seems like a new sort of design other than service design. I designed for the following features; People in proximity - The fob encourages a social environment, even without an office, as it shows people in proximity and can help open up interaction. Maximum - I was thinking to keep value of these interactions, the fob should only be able to follow a certain amount of people. Predictions - Furthermore to increase value of interaction, the fob could predict how long someone would stay in a given place.


I explored how important interactions such as the social triggers, such as People in proximity and Predictions could clearly appear on the glass display.

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Mock magazine article about 'Passport'

To realise the concept and consider about how to communicate it, I tried to think about how 'Wired' might approach 'Passport' as if they were writing about the newly conceived product and service in their magazine. This made me think about what visuals might suggest the notion of location-aware capacities and social capital. It also made me think about how they might analyse and discuss it.

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Passport builds on social capital. The service concept draws upon existing facilities throughout the neighbourhood and their creative and knowledge capacities. The office as a singular place is instead re-imagined as a distributed network of people and places, all linked together with the dynamic and location-aware capacities of passport.

The result of the project looks at a move away from the idea of management and towards creating conditions for behavioural nudges, self-organisation, and a deep influence on systems. 'Passport' is a physical product and an ambient service which helps play a role in this. It is a move away from the idea of management to the management of ideas.