Interfacing the ‘internet of things’

This is a design brief, one of many themes that the Touch project is investigating.


The ‘internet of things’ is a vision of a world full of interconnected things that participate in a wider network of the internet. The idea has been driven by the proliferation of wireless networks and the increasing use of RFID in logistical applications, many see it as the inevitable result of the insatiable drive for efficiency in the globalised marketplace.

So far applications have been limited to logistics and inventory management; outside of the experience of most people. But if every product is tagged and tracked there are certainly implications for people at the consumer / user / human end of the supply chain. Although many have speculated on how the ‘internet of things’ might be interfaced from this perspective, there has been very little interaction design work towards user-needs, prototypes or testing out ideas.

With the introduction of the first NFC devices in 2004 some people started thinking of the mobile phone as a human interface for a machine-readable, internet of things world. This was driven by a desire to have more agency over ubiquitous technologies like RFID and to perhaps reverse some of the dominant structures of privacy and control imposed by RFID systems.

Do NFC devices have a role to play as an interface for the internet of things? If NFC devices become commonplace how might they be used as interfaces for products, services and brands?

In this project you should look at specific users, contexts or situations and create ideas for the way in which trackable, identifiable objects could engage with them. You could also take existing things as a starting point for new interfaces, keeping use and context in mind.

The design process here may be in danger of being fragmented, including methodologies from interaction and service design, as well as business, marketing and technology. It will be very important to lay out specific values, goals and contexts at every level in order to keep strong constraints on the project.


ITU Internet Reports 2005: The Internet of Things. “The report takes a look at the next step in “always on” communications, in which new technologies like RFID and smart computing promise a world of networked and interconnected devices that provide relevant content and information whatever the location of the user.

Internet of things: working bibliography. Anne Galloway traces the history of the ‘internet of things’, a lot of good sources.

Siorpaes, S, et al. Mobile Interaction with the Internet of Things. Embedded Interaction Research Group, Media Informatics Group, University of Munich / DoCoMo Eurolabs. PDF

Roduner, C. The Mobile Phone as a Universal Interaction Device – Are There Limits? Institute for Pervasive Computing, Department of Computer Science ETH Zurich. PDF

Near field interactions. Workshop on user-centred interactions with the internet of things at Nordichi 2006, October 14 and 15, 2006 in Oslo, Norway. PDF

Read more about these design briefs.

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One Comment

  1. Posted 16 November 2009 at 10:34 | Permalink

    Thank you Timo for the article and excellent links.
    The big problem for me is that the typical RFID technology is one-way only. While it might be sufficient for asset identification (what this technology was originally designed to do), it is not good enough as a standard. We need a wireless communication standard that is bi-directional and machine-com. compatible, to enable companies around the world to develop real-world problem solving NFC devices.
    Interesting to take a look at a company from Stamford, US called Precyse Technologies ( ) - this guys talk about a ‘cell phone” designed for assets and are actually offering an ” Asset Network ” technology that is bi-directional and secure. Not only RFID or RTLS…
    A step in the right direction!

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