D) 5 Connected Objects

A project developed by Lucien Langton

5 Connected Objects consist in a physical implementation (among many possible) of the Cloud of Cards Processing Library and exemplifies its use, client side. Linked to the 5 Folders Cloud (both server and software sides), the five physical objects work exclusively as its complements and have no independent digital functions of their own. They seek to propose a form of natural gestures interface (“clients” for the cloud) to locally access, monitor and manipulate ones data or files in the distant cloud, with a Cloud of Cards twist…

Indeed, directly linked to the results of the design research, as well as the ethnographic field study on the uses of the cloud, the purpose of the 5 Connected Objects is to materialize in daily environments the “ghostly” presence of one’s distant data. It is to incarnate as well the “digital anxiety” caused by various problems that can occur to personal files and data when dropped in a distant cloud (fear of losing one’s files, apprehension of erasing versions, of wrong sharing or access rights, of having private files being openly published, of undesired updates, of hacks, etc.)

As a consequence, the objects, and in particular their physical manipulation, can trigger automated procedures linked to these potential problems…

My Data Controllers (evolution, models)

Note: “My Data Controllers” (working title) is part of a home cloud kit, which was described in a previous post and that will be composed by four various artifacts, both physical and digital.

The kit will be distributed freely at the end of the project.


Continuing our design process, we milled the first prototypes of the five connected objects, which consist in tangible versions of the five main folders present in our alternative version of Owncloud (“A Personal Cloud”, working title as well).

As explained in this post, each object is based on the same elementary brick which brings and manages a natural interaction between the connected object, the personal cloud and its contained data, files and folders –therefore becoming a controller–. This elementary brick holds the Raspberry Pi, sensors and hardware necessary to physically interact with Owncloud. This interaction will be slow and discrete.

Furthermore than the identified objectives through the ethnographic field study and design sketches we’ve lead along the research, our approach to these networked objects was fueled by complementary meaningful references. The first one (image below) consisting in a different approach to the behavior users adopt in their interaction with the “technological home”, Shaker furniture:



“A Personal Cloud”: a home cloud kit for personal data (centers) / “reappropriate your dataself”!

We’re entering the final straight of the research project Inhabiting and Interfacing the Cloud(s) and we can give at this point a first glimpse of the four design artifacts we are working on at the moment. They will constitute the main outcomes of our joint experimental effort (ECAL, HEAD, EPFL-ECAL Lab) and a kind of “personal cloud kit” (explained below). These creations will be accompanied by two books: one will present the results of the ethnographic research about “the cloud”, the other will present the design research process and its results – both in pod/pdf.

We already pointed out in the recent post “Updated Design Scenario” where we were heading. Since then, the different projects were better identified and started to get shaped. Some got eliminated. Prototyping and further technical tests are running in parallel at the moment.



From the original “final scenario” sketch to …


… a “Personal Cloud Kit”, composed of various physical and digital modular artifacts.


What emerged reinforced from the main design scenario is that we seek to deliver four artifacts (some physical, some digital, some combined) which themselves will constitute the building blocks of what we’ll call “A Personal Cloud Kit”. All four parts of this kit will be openly accessible on a dedicated website (e.g. in a similar way to what OpenDesk is doing).

The purpose of this “home kit” is to empower designers, makers and citizens at large who would be interested to start develop their own cloud projects, manage or interact with their data or even to set up small scale personal data centers at their places (homes, offices, garages …)

Old web today, by Rhizome

(…) Today’s web browsers want to be invisible, merging with the visual environment of the desktop in an effort to convince users to treat “the cloud” as just an extension of their hard drive.

In the 1990s, browser design took nearly the opposite approach, using iconography associated with travel to convey the feeling of going on a journey. Netscape Navigator, which used a ship’s helm as its logo, made a very direct link with the nautical origins of the prefix cyber-, while Internet Explorer’s logo promised to take the user around the whole globe. (…)

By Rhizome.org

I&IC Workshop #6 with Sascha Pohflepp at HEAD: output > Cloud Gestures

Note: the post I&IC Workshop #6 with Sascha Pohflepp at HEAD: brief, “Cloud Gestures” presents the objectives and brief for this workshop.


The 6th workshop of our I&IC project lasted four days at the end of November and it was led by Sascha Pohflepp, with students from the Media Design program at the Geneva School of Art and Design (HEAD – Genève).


Cloud Gestures – A workshop with S. Pohflepp at HEAD – Genève from iiclouds.org design research on Vimeo.


Entitled “Cloud gestures”, the workshop addressed the representations people built when using cloud-based technologies, and, more specifically, the types of gestures they deploy when interacting with them. The group adopted a design ethnography approach to these issues, documenting everyday practices and designing artefacts that materialize the use of cloud computing services. This research direction aimed at generating insights, ideas and opportunities that will later be relevant for designing alternatives to existing systems.





The three projects that emerge out of this workshop all address cloud gestures in their own way. The short amount of time devoted to field research/data analysis only led to hypotheses. Nevertheless, they can be seen as relevant directions to be explored in further investigations.


Project 1: “SARA” (Vanesa Toquero)


The project explored the notion of predictions, and how data collected by sensors (and located “in the cloud”) could be used for anticipating future situations and behaviors. The student selected a group of users and asked them what gestures they did when they wanted to anticipate something, to make a decision, what happens if rain was coming, what happened if they were to receive tons of data. She videotaped this material, following their hand movement (people protecting their head, slapping their fingers, etc.). To some extent, this can be seen as a poetic depiction of anticipatory gestures, as such motion may be remotely connected to cloud technologies. The hypothesis the student wanted to explore consisted in investigating how predictions that could come from the cloud may materialize, or may be triggered by users.



The output of the project is a series of little films of people talking about the future, video of human users as seen from “a machine eye” that tracks the movement of one’s hands, and detecting their intentions. Such films show how our body language, the non-verbal communication we put in place, could be a relevant way to interact with machines and cloud technologies.


Project 2: Cumul0mainbus (Sara Bourquin, Hind Chammas)


The group approached a group of teenage students and interviewed them about their knowledge about the Cloud, social media and networked technologies. They ask them which action they do repeatedly when they use such platform… which led to a series of “verbs” described by the users: typing, commenting, sharing, liking, stalking, uploading, communicating, etc.

They then asked the teenagers to recreate them through gestures, which they videotaped in order to document these so-called “cloud gestures”. Interestingly, the group noticed how these users “use their own selves/their body as a reference” and that the gestures proposed were homogeneous between the people interviewed. The next step consisted in selecting the most salient gestures (classifying, sharing, organizing, blocking, stalking) that the group then recreated by filming them in two colors in order to create flip-books.



These flip books could be seen as a documentation of cloud gestures, a material depiction of everyday interaction with cloud technologies. The other end of the data center so to say. The project’s name – Cumul0mainbus – is a pun, a portmanteau word based on the name of a cloud type, and “main”, the French word for “hand”, revealing the intersection of gestural interaction and cloud tech.


Project 3: Cloud-up (Marianna Czwojdrak, Léa Thévenot, Eun-Seun Lee)


The group selected a diverse set of individuals and ask them to elicit their representation of the cloud on paper. In order to do that, they asked these people to “draw a life-cycle of your shared files”. As the question may be a tad too technical, they told them to represent what happens to their files as they use them. Their intention was to find out how people think about such issues, as well as discuss the temporality of digital content. One of the reason that motivated such approach was that “people did not understand what we meant by cloud”, as expressed by one of the group member.

The drawings produced were quite abstract. One of the user represented the Cloud as Egypt’s pyramid because “whatever I share, it’s shared with my family in Egypt”. Another described a series of steps that show what happen to one’s file from a computer to a server (the latter being represented as humans). This made the students realize no one really knew how the cloud work. An additional remark is that no one raised issues about surveillance.

The students then chose the three most interesting drawings and created textual interpretations of this material. Using this, they then created a series of User Interfaces that describe the cloud interface/functionality as envisioned by the person interviewed. Each highlight potential needs and interests regarding cloud functionalities:

  • Heaven/hell interface: you can decide whether your file would stay or vanish after a certain point in time
  • The cloud party: files are “drunk”/partying, there’s some partying time for the file and you need to be sober so that you can download them
  • ”Space wars”: when you upload/download files, they would duplicated themselves/leave traces in other places, so there are multiple instances of files (duplicates)

I&IC Workshop #6 with Sascha Pohflepp at HEAD: brief, “Cloud Gestures”

Note: as mentioned by Patrick last week, the I&IC project moved further and we’re now doing additional workshops. Here is the brief of the one proposed by Sascha Pohflepp to Media Design students at HEAD – Genève this week.


Cloud Gestures

Workshop brief, November 2015.
Sascha Pohflepp (plugimi)



Photo by Hanna Elisabeth

All that is solid melts into Airbnb

– title of an event at the Swiss Institute, September 2014



We are being ever more permeated by clouds. This migration of aspects of our life into the digital is only going to speed up as more and more aspects of it is being captured as data and mediated by services. But what is the cloud? Does it have a physical presence? What is its language? Can we resist it? Do certain people use it in certain ways? Are users always human? Does it ever rain? What are gestures of the cloud today ?

In this project we are asking you to assume both the role of a cloud ethnographer and speculative documentarian.

In the first step you will do field work to find out how exactly our lives that are evaporating into the cloud. Formulate a research question, position or hypothesis and observe people, focussing on gestures and metaphors. Ask them to describe how they imagine the cloud, how they conceive of the objects they are creating and the machinery that is running it. How they feel it is affecting their life and where it may be going.

Importantly, do not just consider what is in front of you, also think about the vast cascade of actions that a simple touch on a display might initiate. Some gestures may be invisible, some may take the shape of cities.

Collect as much as data as you can, this is important. Give thought to your method before you go into the field. Consider some of the examples you’ve seen during the introduction and adapt their techniques to your needs and interests.

For the second step we ask you to turn your data into a document of what you observed and its cloudiness. You are fairly free in terms of medium and what aspects you focus on. There will be something in your data that will serve as a focal point. Present your research in an unconventional way.



Elaborate on a small gesture and expand it or focus on the whole and distill it into one gesture. Be a true documentarian or reflect on our world by situating your insights in a speculation.

Re-enact (and document) behaviors; make the invisible visible or embody it; describe what you see in language or pretend you are observing a new language; pretend everything is the other way around; consider the largest gesture involved in what you have observed, consider the smallest; consider who is gesturing and towards whom; are users human?; create maps or destroy them; re-/assign gestures; reflect the all-too human; draw.



MONDAY Presentation + brainstorming session
TUESDAY Ethnographic fieldwork & data collection, processing
WEDNESDAY Data presentation and work on presentation
THURSDAY AM Finalizing presentation
THURSDAY PM Final presentation


Related work & reading

Slides of Sascha’s presentation (PDF)
Versuch_einer_Phaenomenologie by Vilem Flusser
Drawing a Hypothesis (video) by Nikolaus Gansterer
A Simple Introduction to the Practice of Ethnography and Guide to Ethnographic Fieldnotes by Brian Hoey

I&IC workshop #5 with Random International at ECAL: output > “The Everlasting Shadows” / Ghost Data Interfaces

Note: the post I&IC Workshop #5 with Random International at ECAL, brief: “The Everlasting Shadow” presents the objectives and brief for this workshop.


The fifth workshop we ran in the frame of the design research I&IC ended up on November the 20th. It lasted for a week (16-20 November 2015) under the creative direction of our guest researcher and interaction designer Dev Joshi (rAndom International‘s creative technologist), with the help of research assistants in interaction design Lucien Langton and Laura Perrenoud. It involved 3rd year Ba students in Interaction Design from ECAL, so as one 1st year student in Mas Design Research from EPFL-ECAL Lab.


The Everlasting Shadows – a workshop with rAndom International at ECAL from iiclouds.org design research on Vimeo.


The title and subject of the workshop was “The Everlasting Shadows“, as explained by Dev Joshi in a previous post, and commented by myself later on to the students that would be involved, before the week of work started.

The aim of the workshop was to address the (now common) situation of the data we leave or disperse behind us in clouds and online services of all sorts. Data that will then remain, sometimes dormant or even forgotten for a long period of time and to consider these traces as literally (forgotten) parts of ourselves –fragments? shadows? or even ghosts?– The purpose was to select a set of exemplary shadow data and then experiment how one could develop “interfaces” to connect (again) with these “shadows”, make them “speak” (“what would they say if they could speak ?“), visible or “alive” again. These interfaces could likely be spatial, immersive or “sheltering” in some ways. We chose to realize the workshop in the big cinema studio of the school for that reason.




Dev Joshi presenting rAndom International’s work at ECAL during his research workshop week (top) and talking to the students at the beginning of final presentations (bottom).


The ongoing work has been shortly documented along the process by Lucien Langton, but we can now take more time to come back to the proposals made by the students and document them.

All in all, most of the projects didn’t really develop experimental interfaces per se or tried to reformulate the cloud paradigm as it was envisioned, at the exception maybe of Bits and Tweets of Former Self, but focused on comments or narratives about the described situation. The overall week of research triggered engaged discussions among the students and seemed to focus – one more time – on the need to “make visible and graspable” in some ways the” invisible” cloud based processes and data.

The fact that the students experienced difficulties to develop concrete proposals, which is a situation observed since the beginning of the research project and in particular its workshop period, underlines and confirms our initial hypotheses (centralization, “putting things at a distance” that need to be further questioned).

As the “cloud” technological construct and metaphor is dedicated to become the main paradigm and future of (online) computing, at least for the coming decade(s) if we consider the amount of money investments made in this sector by big companies, it stresses the needs for simpler, graspable infrastructures and tools.


Pyro42 - (Benjamin Botros)



Pyro42 intro screen (top). Benjamin Botros introducing his “data narration” during final presentation of the workshop (bottom).


Based on the public data and statistics about a particular gamer who played during 3854 hours since 2005, data mined from the platform STEAM and its online gaming community, Benjamin Botros decided to built up one gamer’s digital life narrative. If Pyro42 didn’t really suggest any interface or ways to interact with such data, it nevertheless proposed a story in the form of a quite “surrealistic” and imaginative gaming life about this particular gamer “who collected a fair number of achievements” before “peacefully retiring” after having built “4 bio farms and 4 organic ranches”!

All of a sudden, data about wins and losses, flags stolen, cities and countries “built”, etc. take a different flavor full of heroic but also depressing moments…


Anamorphic Memory - (Edina Desboeufs, Pierre Georges)


Anamorphic Memory, the proposition made by the two students was more of a personal interpretation and metaphor than it was a concrete interface proposal about “ghost data” kept online in “cloudified” services.

Regarding the theme of “shadows” and past identities that would be left online in the form of data, Edina and Pierre decided to record moments of life taken in the cafeteria of the design school (ECAL). These recordings were made with a video camera without sound, shot under a unique point of view while sitting on a chair. Their project then developed a way to navigate these visual memories while overlapping their projection to the current state of the same location.

The project ended up in a form of anamorphic projection installation, in which the video shot in the cafeteria were beamed on a screen to be seen from the exact same position and visual deformation as from where they were taken at a different period in time. The seemingly overlapping of past and present times was the purpose of the work.


Embodied Archive - (Alexia Léchot)


“Tempo_B” is a temporary folder in the school (ECAL) where all students from different faculties can leave temporary files during their day of work, until they are erased at the end of the day. Alexia Léchot proposed to keep and curate some of these files so to give view and memory to what happens in the school during a week of workshop.

The installation she proposed took the form of a corner projection, immersive and diptych projection of these files which happened to look a bit like a big open book. A tracking camera was observing the x-y movements of any spectator on the floor within this corner and use them to navigate the archived content (old-recent).


Abandoned Lil_sug4r_92 - (Julie-Lou Bellenot, Lara Défayes, Pablo Perez, Karen Pisoni)



The pile of colorful waste (top) reminding us of F. Gonzalez-Torres’ pile of candies. Catapult on the left that throw paper on the pile (bottom).


A forsaken email account that had not been opened for years but continued to receive emails (mostly spams and publicity) – and therefore be filled, served as the base for this project. The email account was in function years ago when it was used by one of the four students involved in this proposal. A teenager at this time then.

Abandoned Lil_sug4r_92, only partly realized in the short time at disposal, proposed a kind of automated machine linked to that account and that would fold a piece of colored paper (spam = red, promo = yellow, newsletter = “blue”, etc.) for each email received, then throw it away on a nearby pile. It was a way for Julie-Lou, Lara, Karen and Pablo to show the waste associated with such accounts, rather than any meaningful identity or construct. The pile of colored paper eventually acted as an information design, showing by the colors in the pile which was the dominant type of useless emails/data kept online.


Bits and Tweets of Former Self - (Mylène Dreyer, Jasmine Florentile –from EPFL-ECAL Lab–, Lina Vozniuk-Berzhaner)




Lina Vozniuk-Berzhaner and Mylène Dreyer playing with their interface, the semi-transparent screen and tweets superimposing to their faces in front of the mirror (top, middle, bottom).


Probably the most developed proposal at the end of the workshop and the closest to the brief, Bits and Tweets of Former Self was a program that dug into the past content of a (potentially any) Twitter account (you would have to grant access and then login).

With the help of a mirror, selected past messages and sentences were beamed into air at the height of the face of the user of the device, reversed and scrolling. You couldn’t really see these messages until this person, facing another mirror placed on the wall  “catched” these “flying messages” with a sort of “mesh-screen” (semi-transparent) with which she was equipped and that she could move. While displacing this “mesh-screen” in front of her face, the messages started to appear… ephemerally. Further more, they became readable and superimposed to the user with their reflection on the facing horizontal mirror on the wall.



Many thanks to Dev Joshi for his involvement with the students, his personal interpretation of the Cloud theme and for the interesting exchanges we had about the subject of the research in general; Laura Perrenoud for helping the students, Lucien Langton for its involvement, pictures and documentation. A special thanks to the students from ECAL and EPFL-ECAL Lab involved in the project and the energy they’ve put into it: Julie-Lou Bellenot, Benjamin Botros, Lara Défayes, Edina Desboeuf, Mylène Dreyer, Jasmine Florentile (EPFL_ECAL Lab), Pierre Georges, Alexia Léchot, Pablo Perez, Karen Pisoni, Lina Vozniuk-Berzhaner.