Stephanie Rieger on design fiction and the Internet of Things

Generate San Francisco: Stephanie Rieger

Find out why the Internet of Things is all about people, at Generate San Francisco

Stephanie Rieger is a designer, researcher and closet anthropologist with a passion for the many ways people interact with technology. She is also co-founder and principal at yiibu, a design consultancy that explores the human impact of embedding technology into everyday life.

This focus on the human side of technology will form the basis of her talk at Generate San Francisco on 15 July. In The Internet of Things is for People, she aims to shift the conversation away from things and back to people and, in doing so, she hopes to also arm you with tools to better understand, and find your place, within this complex but fascinating landscape; book now so as not to miss out!

net magazine spoke to Stephanie ahead of her talk; here's what she had to say.

You co-launched yiibu in 2006. What was your original aim, and has this changed at all?

yiibu's aim was always to design for mobile – although it was never really about the technology. Even in 2006, we were fascinated by the use, re-appropriation, and ultimately evolution of technology at the hands of users. Although mobile is now well-established, much of our work still involves working with teams to determine how their technical, design and commercial requirements intersect with both established and emerging user behaviours.

What do you do day-to-day?

Lots of reading, thinking and discussing, interspersed with epic bursts of writing and design. I'm also the resident bug-catcher. Hardware or software, if there's a bug I'll probably find it.

Tell us a bit about an interesting project you've worked on recently.

We just soft-launched a side project called oorümchi that aims to explore the intersection of just-in-time media and virtual reality. Although the current narrative around VR often assumes full immersion, we believe there's an opportunity to design smaller, low-commitment experiences that are modelled after today's highly mobile and social web. For example, what is the VR equivalent of a small, meaningful, easily shareable social thing like an animated GIF? How can VR learn from progressive enhancement to deliver more universal experiences?

What do you think is the role of design fiction in the industry at the moment? Do you use this approach in your day job?

Design fiction is an emerging technique, but an increasingly important one. As software seeps into the world, products are not only growing in complexity, they must also comfortably co-exist within rapidly evolving ecosystems and mental models. Design fiction is a means of prototyping these more complex scenarios.

Rather than describe the most optimal future, design fiction challenges teams to envision and raise questions about their product's place in the world. What will it mean to co-exist with the product? Who will the product help? Who could it hurt? We increasingly use this technique to help socialise and explore these challenging issues well in advance of building a product.

Why does the Internet of Things interest you in particular?

I often speak to conference delegates who feel the Internet of Things isn't something they should really worry about, because they primarily design or develop for the web. This may have been true a few years ago, but aspects of IoT are now seeping into all areas of product design. My aim with this talk is to break through some common myths and help you think about IoT in a way that's more relevant to your day-to-day work.

It feels like the IoT has been slow to arrive. What do you think has caused this?

IoT touches so many areas that most people don't really know what it is. Industrial IoT is growing quite well, but at the consumer level many products still feel like a solution in search of a problem. I'm hopeful new technologies such as Web Bluetooth and the Physical Web will enable far more experimentation. Faster prototyping, more frequent iteration, and more ad-hoc consumer testing should mean more carefully designed products, with better market fit, and more time for consumers to understand how these products could fit into their lives.

Don't miss Stephanie's talk at Generate San Francisco on 15 July. Can't make it? There are conferences coming up in September in Sydney and London, with leading industry figures there to share their insights. Find out more at the Generate site.

This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 280; buy it here!

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