Designing IoT Systems that Support Reflective Thinking: A Relational Approach
Maliheh Ghajargar, Mikael Wiberg, Erik Stolterman


Systems are, to a large extent, about relationships between people, activities, objects, technologies, and places. A systems approach focuses on how things are interrelated, and what the different parts can accomplish together. In similar terms, reflective thinking is also relational. We think often with each other when we talk about and share our experiences and memories. We are also increasingly using smart objects for our everyday activities. However, designing IoT (Internet of Things) devices typically relies on artifacts rather than relationships. In this paper, we present a modeling technique for the design and analysis of IoT artifacts and systems that is fundamentally relational in its approach. Having outlined the need for relational approaches to designing IoT systems, we first present three examples, where we demonstrate how our relational approach allows for the analysis of existing smart objects designed to function in different relationships with the user, user activity and the situation. Accordingly, we present these IoT systems from the perspectives of the augment me, the comply with me, and the engage me relational models. Having presented these three examples that illustrate how IoT systems can be analyzed as systems of relationships, we then present the prototype of an IoT artifact intended to support reflection in the user. With this fourth example, we introduce the make me think relationship, and also show how our modeling technique can be useful for design of new IoT systems.
Accordingly, we suggest a modeling technique that can be used as a tool for designing and analyzing IoT systems. We believe this modeling technique can contribute to a relational approach toward IoT. We conclude this paper suggesting that our proposed modeling technique cannot only help to model relationships between a user and a smart object, but can also be scaled, allowing for the modeling of more complex IoT systems, where there are an increased number of users using many smart objects in different places, but still integrated as a complex system.

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