Application - Haunted [Smart] House

Application: Haunted [Smart] House

tldr: Brief - Working in small groups, develop a digital exhibition to engage invited guests (and potentially wider audiences) in Spooky Technology. Each group will prepare one prototype with supporting diagetic props and materials. Collectively, these prototypes will relate and/or network with one another through an immersive space.

About Applications

In the second half of the semester, students will build on the investigations earlier in the semester and work together to identify aa topic of interest interest. Working collaboratively, they will develop a proposal for speculative, critically-informed responsive mobile environment. The objective isn’t just to prepare a well-resolved prototype but to engage broader audiences in dialog around the work we produce in this course.

Over the last two module’s we’ve explored how spooky technology can be a resource for critical inquiry around technology largely at a small scal. Now, we’ll shift the frame in a couple of ways. We’ll move beyond small objects and start to think about broader scenarios – we’ll prepare smart and augmented spaces at the scale of rooms and buildings.

Specifically, we’ll explore an imaginary smart home – one in which IoT devices are haunted by supernatural beings; where specters, familiars, or gremlins are fundamental components of of smart devices. We will use this imaginary home as a ground for critical making. Taking cues from ‘Networked Anxieties’ by Pierce and DiSalvo and ‘Material Speculations’ by Wackery et al, we’ll continue to explore otherworldly design opportunities applied to tangible, ubiquitous and responsive technologies. First, we’ll imagine a series of alternative superstitious smart home products. We’ll situate them within a room of our haunted house. We’ll develop an immersive interactive installation, sited in this room, where guests can encounter this alternative product and how it would be experienced. We may even network interactions between these rooms. We will ultimately stage an open invitation for guests to tours this haunted house. Through this performance and installation, we will hope to build dlalog and reflection on our increasingly networked world and raise issues for public conversation through a supernatural, otherworldly, and spooky frame.

Revisiting our Course Objectives

This project gives you the opportunity to explore themes, ideas and concepts of interest to you but within the scope of this courses them. This makes it a timely moment to revisit the goals for this course:

“In the case of telegraphy and wireless, in other words, many believed telegraphs and crystal sets could be used to contact incredible and unseen yet equally ‘real’ worlds, be they extrasensory or extraterrestrial. The ethereal ‘presence’ of communications without bodies suggested the possibility of other similarly preternatural interlocutors, invisible entities who, like distant telegraph and wireless operators, could be reached through a most utilitarian application of the technology.… the telegraph and early wireless held the tantalizing promises of contacting the dead in the afterlife and aliens of other planets.” - Jeffrey Sconce, Haunted Media, p10

We often hear that the technologies in our everyday lives would appear to be ‘magic’ and potentially terrifying to people in the past—instantaneous communication with people all over the world, access to a vast, ever-growing resource of human knowledge right there in the palm of our hand, objects with ‘intelligence’ that can sense and talk to us (and each other). But rarely are these ‘otherworldly’ dimensions of technologies explored in more detail. There is an often-unspoken presumption that the march of progress will inevitably mean we all adopt new practices and incorporate new products and new ways of doing things into our lives—all cities will become smart cities; all homes will become smart homes. But these systems have become omnipresent without our necessarily understanding them.

“Today the cloud is the central metaphor of the internet: a global system of great power and energy that nevertheless retains the aura of something noumenal and numinous, something almost impossible to grasp… It is something we experience all the time without really understanding what it is or how it works. It is something we are training ourselves to rely upon with only the haziest of notions about what is being entrusted and what it is being entrusted to.” - James Bridle, New Dark Age, p7

They are not just black boxes, but invisible: entities in our homes and everyday lives which work through hidden flows of data, unknown agendas, imaginary clouds, mysterious sets of rules which we perhaps dismiss as ‘algorithms’ or even ‘AI’ without really understanding what that means. On some level, the superstitions and sense of wonder, and ways of relating to the unknown and the supernatural (deities, spirits, ghosts) which humanity has felt in every culture throughout history have not gone away. Instead, they have transferred and transmuted into new forms.

This course is part of an on-going design-research project, led by Dan Lockton and Daragh Byrne, that has already created an inventory of ‘spooky technologies’. Continuing this inquiry, we will examine people’s understanding of systems in their homes, such as connected devices, information flows, voice assistants, and highlight beliefs and superstitions that emerge around them. What are unsettling moments in the smart home—what do people assume when things breaks down? In tandem, we’ll examine work across art, design, and human-computer interaction, explore the history of the supernatural, myths, and superstitions, and extract possibilities, insights, and opportunities.

From this, we will prototype and experiment with working examples of spooky technologies. What happens when Alexa speaks in tongues? Can computer vision read your tea leaves? What would a haunted smart home be like to live in? Can we create new superstitions—or technologies to encounter beliefs, rituals and practices?

Learning goals

The final project is designed to give you agency to speculate using the frame of ‘spookiness’ and to consider the societial, cultural and spatial significances of everyday, smart, and networked technologies. As part of this exercise, you will:

  • Develop and be able to critically reflect on the role and effects of technology in everyday settings

  • Investigate sites (a room in the home) as a means to inform critiques of current and future possibilities for spaces and environments augmented with digital technologies;

  • Examine existing technologies and precedents that explore themes of spookiness, smart homes, critical devices, and responsive environments;

  • Speculate on how hybrid objects and spaces (blended physical/digital space) might be used to create discursive designs;

  • Realize a room-scale collaborative prototype for an immersive, responsive, experience

  • Work in mixed domain teams and to integrate considerations across art, design and technology to prepare critically-informed responsive mobile environments

  • Work collaboratively in an applied investigation to tease-out the broader considerations, issues and requirements in building everyday technoologies (social, cultural, personal, etc.)

Brief and Goals

The remainder of the semester is used to build a set of responsive, networked prototypes for deployment for public conversations. The organization of schedules, build time, and delegation of tasks was accomplished by the student teams. At the end of the semester, students worked together to identify a shared approach for a critically-informed responsive mobile environment, prepare a working prototype, and deliver supporting process and outcome documentation.

Brief: Haunted [Smart] House. Working in small groups, develop a digital exhibition to engage invited guests (and potentially wider audiences) in Spooky Technology. You will imagine a world where IoT devices are haunted by supernatural beings; where specters, familiars, or gremlins are fundamental components of of smart devices. Each group will realize a plausible but alternative IoT product or service that builds in the supernatural, the mystical or on superstitions. You’ll situate this discursive (and working) prototype in a room in an imagined (and haunted) smart home. The device will raise issues for public conversation through a supernatural, otherworldly, and spooky frame. Groups will develop supporting materials and props to create an immersive and interactive experience for guests. The prototypes will relate - conceptually or technically – to other experiences within the house.

Drawing on your explorations in the course, your interests, speculate on and imagine alterative smart home products with alternative values. Materialize these devices for public engagement and speculate on future possibiltiies for blended spaces. You are required to develop an initial proposal for your hybrid interactive space or installation.

You should develop at least one prototype that demonstrates your ideas around the issues with everyday technology and that uses a spooky line of inquiry in a productive way to reveal them. The possibilities are wide and varied. But you should:

  • Make - i.e. test your ideas and give them a form.
  • Research - i.e. uncover theory, ideas, and precedent projects that inform your approach.
  • Gather - i.e. find inspirational resources from speculative designs, design fiction, science fiction, etc..
  • Experiment - e.g. don’t just prototype the device and interactions but simulate/construct the data it might produce or use;
  • Document - e.g. test your ideas on yourself or others, how do you or others experience and encounter the device, what are your reactions and responses, document how you respond to it, what values it offer, and why it might matter to you or others.

Unusual approaches, left-of-center thinking and impracticality is encouraged!

Note: Hardware, technologies and other resources can be requested.


  • The project must realize a working interactive prototype, that can be performed in blended space (physical and digital components)
  • The poject must be situated in a defined room within an imagined home. No two projects may occupy the same room.
  • You must work collaboratively.


Date Type Description
Thur, Mar 31 Intro Project Given.
Precedents Introduced. Teamstorming + Topic finding.
Tues, Apr 5 Concepts Review of Driving Questions.
Developing Imaginary Abstracts. In Class Exercise.
Synthesis Think Piece Assigned.
Thur, Apr 7 No Class Carnival Weekend
Tues, Apr 12 Concepts Materalizing Alternatives: Rough Cut Artefact or Conceptual Designs
Desk Crits and Group Work.
Thur, Apr 14 Prototyping NodeRed and prototyping networked interactions
Tues, Apr 19 Concepts Scenography and Diagetic Designs.
Group Work
Thur, Apr 21 Prototyping Refining Technical Prototypes (PCBs, power considerations, etc.)
Tues, Apr 26 Concepts Internal Crit w/ Rough Cut Revision & draft supporting materials
Feedback from invited guests.
Discussion on staging.
Thur, Apr 28 Prototyping Desk Crits / Group Work.
Wrap on the course.
Tues, May 3 Office Hours Optional feedback and support.
Wed, May 4 Exhibit Installation of Prototypes.
Thur, May 5 Reflection Debrief and reflection on exhibition.
Feedback from returning guests.

Deliverables and Deadlines

Due Date Deliverable Details
Tues, Apr 5 Proposal Create a proposal for your creative project (200 words + illustrations) and share on #projects
Tues, Apr 12 Rough Cut #1 Develop a Rough Cut Artefact or Conceptual Designs to discuss during desk crits
Tues, Apr 26 Rough Cut #2 Internal Crit w/ Rough Cut Revision & draft supporting materials
Wed, May 4 (TBD) Exhibition Install your work as part of an interactive exhibit.
Thur, May 5 (TBD) Reflection Debrief on the installation’s success with returning guests.
Sun, May 8, midnight Documentation Deliver documentation of your creative project


Proposal Development

  • A detailed conceptual design, covering (GROUP ACTIVITY):

    • situating the design for the project (context, scenarios, cases, etc.) relative to prior work
    • situating the design of the project within a room within the home
    • the goals and rationale for the approach
    • articulating informed position that integrates theory , research in the area, and precedent projects
    • low-fi and high-fi design materials (mockups, concept videos, diagrams, experience maps, sketches, etc.)
  • A think piece that researches relevant topics, cases, perspectives on the exploration space (INDIVIDUAL ACTIVITY)


  1. An interactive prototype - You should create at least one full scale prototype of an element within the space to demonstrate the interaction with it. This should be of reasonable fidelity to give form your your proposal, but will reflect your skills with prototyping interactive systems.

  2. Supporting diagetic props and materials. You should build the world around your interactive prototype by developing supporting materials that draw us into that world. This might include user manuals, product guides, marketing materials, etc.

  3. A performance: in lieu of a final exam we will instead invite guests to an installation where they can encounter your prototypes, and discuss and debate the issues they materalize.

  4. Digitial Documentation, comprised of

  • A catalog description of the work. To include a project title, credits (a 100 word bio), 500 words max description of the project, and 1 high resolution representative image.

  • A Process statement comprised of 1,000 words max describing your process, experiments and iterations and a minimum 10 media artifacts (mostly images) that represents various stages of the development of your concept.

  • A technical documentation that details how the final outcome was realized with sufficient detail that anyone knowledgeable with the same tools could repeat the outcome. This must include at least one diagram: e.g. an experience map or network diagram displaying the interactions between physical and digital components. It should also include a bill of materials, a list of technical resources used in the development of the project, and relevant resources to replicate the outcome (code, 3d files, etc)

  • A critical reflection that uses documentation of the visitor experience with your installation to articulate what was successful and what could be refined about your

  • A roadmap: the final piece of your documentation is to generate a well considered roadmap to take this project forward. In this you will describe an ideal — but feasible — implementation of your project that could be completed in a 12 week timeframe.

  1. Revised Think Piece. Each person in the group will edit and refine their think piece as part of final submissions.

Performing Technology Concerns

  • Michael Skirpan, Maggie oates, daragh Byrne, Robert nd Lorrie Faith Cranor. Is a Privacy Crisis Experienced, a Privacy Crisis Avoided?: Exploring immersive theatre as a way to educate audiences and study their perceptions of privacy and technology ethics.

  • Tennent, Paul, Stuart Reeves, Steve Benford, Brendan Walker, Joe Marshall, Patrick Brundell, Rupert Meese, and Paul Harter. “The machine in the ghost: augmenting broadcasting with biodata.” In CHI’12 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, pp. 91-100. 2012.

Designing Experiential Futures

Discursive Design and Design Imaginaries

Designign for Discomfort

Benford, Steve, Chris Greenhalgh, Gabriella Giannachi, Brendan Walker, Joe Marshall, and Tom Rodden. “Uncomfortable interactions.” In Proceedings of the sigchi conference on human factors in computing systems, pp. 2005-2014. 2012.

schraefel, mc, Aaron Tabor, and Elizabeth Murnane. “Discomfort design.” Interactions 27, no. 2 (2020): 40-45.

Immersive Theatre

  • biggin, r. Immersive Theatre and Audience Experience. Palgrave macmillan, basingstoke, 2017.

Haunted Houses in Technology Research


Below is a list of additional online material that relates to the module and provides a starting point for your explorations. This is by no means exhaustive i.e. you should read/research beyond it.

Primary Precedents

‘Museum of Failed Products’ for Bricolage’s Project Amelia.

Read more in No Proscenium or view this episode of PBS “Immersive World” shows details about the performance:

Interfacing the Multiplexer Room: Speculative Spatio-Mediated Assemblages for the Digitally-Interfered Home. Policarpo Baquera (2020-2021).

Other Examples

The Future Energy Lab. Superflux(2017).

One of the things we find in our work that is really challenging for people to do, is to move from a place of feeling safe, and certain, to being able to embrace uncertainty, and not freak out about it. To give them some sense of control, to give them a means to work with the future.

And this was one of the key challenges we addressed in our work with the Government of UAE. The Ministry of Energy and the Prime Minister’s Office invited us to help them to not only develop a mechanism to experience numerous possible futures around energy, but more importantly, to stress test the opportunities and broader systemic consequences of each future with Cabinet Ministers and key decision makers. The ambition was that such collaborative futuring activity would help inform the country’s energy policy all the way till 2050.

Future Energy Zone from Superflux on Vimeo.

Grow Your Own. Science Gallery Dublin (2013–2014).

The Science Gallery presents pressing science and technology topics, including contagion, biomimicry, hacking, and AI, through art-science programming. Here the curatorial team included leading experts in synthetic biology and biohacking working with prominent critical and speculative design creators. Programming included participatory workshops on DIY biohacking, installation artworks, documentary films, lectures, and events prepared in collaboration with researchers, designers, and entrepreneurs.
This example is included to illustrate how experiential futures can be used as a vehicle to engage experts and public audiences alike.

The Museum of the Future. World Government Summit, Dubai (2015–2019).

An annual popup exhibition staged as part of a global conference of policymakers, the Museum of the Future was as a design-led companion to the annual World Government Summit. The 2016 iteration offers a thematically relevant example, about “exploring the future impact of current advancements in robotics and artificial intelligence on society… ask[ing] the world leaders and general public who attended: What does [this] mean for society, for government, and for our families? What conversations should we be having today to prepare for a better tomorrow?”

This case exemplifies experiential scenarios (physical speculative design installations in this instance) supporting and inspiring policy conversation at the highest levels.

Other Resources