DIS 2017 – Workshop Reflections and Design Fiction

June 26, 2017

As previously mentioned, I attended, and thoroughly enjoyed, the workshop at DIS17 on People, Personal Data and the Built Environment. Not only was the topic relevant to my project, interests, and background, but I also found the strict structure (and quick introductions) very effective and thus resulting in meaningful discussions at the end of the day.

The below image is a fraction of a future IoT system followed by a corresponding fictional narrative created with Albrecht Kurze.

Internet of Things workshop at DIS17

Unfinished Business
2022 – five years after 2017 – a public space odyssey

It is the year 2022, five years after the government started to implement the dynamic waiting management system in public buildings. To simultaneously reduce waiting times while keeping visitors preoccupied, the system routes visitors on an adaptive, and often the least efficient, way through the building. As this has unsurprisingly resulted in many lost visitors, a place-based location-aware voice-controlled guiding and help-and-get-helped system was introduced, in which visitors can leave voice messages to aid other lost visitors.

Dave was born in 1950 and retired in 2017, the same year his wife died. Every time he enters public buildings, he is asked to confirm the usage and data processing terms of the building, as smart building are being classified as interactive data processing units by the 2019 extended GDPR. These temporary consents are based on minimum viable data and are thus only valid for a single visit as all data collected is automatically deleted or anonymized upon leaving.

Dave pretends to apply for a hunting license but actually just wants to hear his wife’s voice in a message she left in the help-and-get-helped system after the system’s implementation. As the system is gender intelligent, he needs a female to find his wife’s message. Furthermore, the message is not locationally linked nor directly addressable because of dynamic shuffling and the anonymization policy.

Claire was born in 2001 and has been applying for a family planning permit for the past five days. As the system is implicitly regulating family planning, prioritizing lonely widows and widowers for which Claire is not, it sends her on an impossible route. As she is not successful in her quest for a permit by the end of each day, the temporary data consent causes her to restart the whole process the following day, resulting in a never ending journey.

But this one special day Dave and Claire met, two lost visitors, trapped some way in and by the system. They decided to help each other and resolve their unfinished business.

DIS 2017 – Workshop on People, Personal Data and the Built Environment

June 11, 2017

Yesterday I attended the workshop Workshop on People, Personal Data and the Built Environment at DIS 2017. Was incredibly inspiring and perhaps the best workshop format I’ve experienced as of yet! Below is my position paper.

Karey Helms workshop submission for DIS17 conference

Implicit Interaction: Information, Intention and Infrastructure (position paper PDF)

In this position paper I present three in-progress design projects that are initial explorations into Smart Implicit Interaction, which is investigating data as a design material and a new paradigm of interaction for the Internet of Things. The first project, Context Clues, critically examines our existing interactions and exchange of implicit information across digital mediums. The second project, Manuals of Misuse, is an Internet of Things design brief in which students are exploring the peripheral intentions embedded within everyday objects to design novel connections while exposing hidden patterns of behavior and engagement. The third project, Phygital Layers, is an architectural study seeking to understand the implicit relationships between physical, technological and social infrastructures within domestic environments. While all three projects differ across scale and medium, they offer potential avenues of investigation into designing for people, data and the built environment.

EuroIA 2017 – Upcoming talk on Implicit Interactions

May 31, 2017

Very excited to be giving a 20 minute talk on September 30th at EuroIA in Stockholm on Implicit Interactions: Implied, Intangible and Intelligent! Below is my talk abstract.

Karey Helms - talk on Implicit Interaction

As our physical and digital environments are ubiquitously embedded with intelligence, our interactions with technology are becoming increasingly dynamic, contextual and intangible. This transformation more importantly signifies a shift from explicit to implicit interactions. Explicit interactions contain information that demands our attention for direct engagement or manipulation. For example, a physical door with a ‘push’ sign clearly describes the required action for a person to enter a space. In contrast, implicit interactions rely on peripheral information to seamlessly behave in the background. For example, a physical door with motion sensors that automatically opens as a person approaches, predicting intent and appropriately responding without explicit contact or communication.

As ambient agents, intelligent assistants and proactive bots drive this shift from explicit to implicit interactions in our information spaces, what are the implications for everyday user experiences? And how do we architect dynamic, personal information in shared, phygital environments?

This talk aims to answer the above questions by first introducing an overview of explicit and implicit interactions in our mundane physical and digital environments. Then we will examine case studies in which unintended and unwanted consequences occur, revealing complex design challenges. Finally, we will conclude with example projects that explore a choreography between explicit and implicit interactions, and the resulting insights into architecting implied, intangible and intelligent information.

DIS 2017 – Accepted Works-in-Progress (PWiP)

April 28, 2017

Both very unexpected and exciting to have a work-in-progress accepted to DIS 2017 in Edinburgh. I wrote about an ongoing autobiographical design project that was started this spring along side a few other explorations to kick-start my PhD at KTH this year. Very thankful to Kia Höök who talked me through my insight at a KTH Interaction Design writer’s camp in March and the reviewers who gave great feedback on how to continue developing it into a full paper.

Leaky Objects autobiographical design project by Karey Helms

Leaky Objects: Implicit Information, Unintentional Communication (PDF)

This paper introduces the concept of leaky objects to describe this phenomenon in which shared objects unintentionally reveal implicit information about individual or collective users. This leaking of implicit information changes our individual interactions with objects to through objects, enabling expressive communication and ambiguous speculation. The aim of this paper is raise awareness of this phenomenon through an ongoing autobiographical design probe in which remote interpersonal communication through a connected object is being explored, and raise questions regarding the potential implications for designers.

Design Brief – Manuals of Misuse

March 20, 2017

Below is the design brief that I wrote for the master’s level course in which I am a Teaching Assistant. The course is Interaction Design as a Reflective Practice.

Manuals of Misuse design brief for Interaction Design as a Reflective Practice

Design Brief

Technological forecasts often predict that someday in the future everything will be connected. What is everything? And why is connected so often synonymous with tangible interactions being transferred to mobile applications or voice-based assistants? Additionally, these solutions primarily focus on efficiency and automation, signaling a shift from engagement to a frictionless relationship with technology. Is this shift necessary, or do our physical things have overlooked abilities, hidden meanings or magical uses?

The project Manuals of Misuse investigates these questions by examining our everyday interactions with faceless objects and reimagining how they might be misused to playfully control or meaningfully communicate with other things, people or places.

You will do this by:

  • Reflecting upon the intended interactions of an everyday object of your choice
    What is the essential use of the object and the ideal scenarios of interactions?
  • Communicating how the object is meant to be used, interacted with and part of an ecosystem
    What information is needed to communicate to a novice user, product partner, or manufacturer?
  • Investigating how the object is or could be misused – used for purposes not intended by the designer
    What are the object’s properties and/or affordances that result in these misuses?
  • Generating novel design concepts of playful, meaningful or magical misuse
    What modifications, interactions and technologies are required to make this possible?
  • Creating a stand-alone, multimedia experience that conveys your reimagined misuse
    What is needed to communicate the essence of your concept and prompt further investigation?


  • Reflection: Upon our mundane, micro interactions with everyday objects. How to we use things and why do we use, or misuse, them? What can we learn from misuse and how does it inform how open or closed we design for appropriation?
  • Communication: Of design intent, technical specifications and user experience to diverse audiences through various mediums.
  • Playfulness: For engaged action and meaningful interaction.
  • Documentation: For reflection and communication.

CHI 2017 – Attending Two Workshops

February 15, 2017

Very excited that I’ll be attending two workshops at CHI’17 in Denver! Below are links to the workshop descriptions and my position papers.

Workshop 1 – Making Home: Asserting Agency in the Age of IoT (description)

Design Fiction interaction deign project by Karey Helms

The Family Circuit: A New Narrative of American Domesticity (position paper PDF)

As the world endures and approaches a string of energy crises, The Family Circuit: A New Narrative of American Domesticity, aims to critique and challenge society’s relationship with energy by provoking individuals to examine their current habits of energy consumption, consider the future implications of these actions, and question their willingness to make sacrifices for a cleaner environment. This is accomplished through the development of a fictional near future society in which individuals are required to produce all the electrical energy that they need or desire to consume. Within the daily narrative of a fictional family of five, the events of their domestic lives have been extrapolated to create a liminal world where mundane, yet peculiar diegetic prototypes create tense situations, uncomfortable behaviors, and unforeseen consequences. The project raises questions regarding local to global contextual considerations, behavioral change within the home diegesis, and hyper-localized hacking.

Workshop 2 – Designing the Social Internet of Things (description)

Internet of Things interaction design project by Karey Helms

Phygital Party Mode: A Relationship with Relationships (position paper PDF)

In this position paper, I present an exploratory autobiographical design project, Phygital Party Mode, in which visitors’ interactions with my website remotely control an Internet of Things light within my apartment. I reflect upon my relationship with the project as a ‘thing’ and explore the themes of active versus reactive agency, conditional relationships and designing the behaviors of objects. Finally, I end with discussion questions that address a transfer of agency due the democratization of the Internet of Things, the transformation of relationships with and because of connected ‘things,’ and the empowerment of people over objects.

Industry to Academia, London to Stockholm

December 9, 2016

This week marks a big transition as I leave the complexities of enterprise UX at Zebra Technologies to pursue a PhD in Smart Implicit Interaction at KTH in Stockholm as part of a newly formed research group. My academic statement of intent below perhaps best expresses the culmination of my past experiences leading to my forthcoming journey. And the photo is of course just one of the many fond memories I will take with me.

karey helms, zebra technologies london design team

Statement of Intent

“You think that because you understand ‘one’ that you must therefore understand ‘two’ because one and one make two. But you forget that you must also understand ‘and’.” ~ Sufi teaching story (Meadows, 2008)


On my first day of architecture school, we were asked to diagram where we come from and where we are now using a only a series of lines and dots on index cards. At the time, I was baffled by the task of reducing a complex, dynamic, and intimate answer into such simplistic, static, and impersonal elements. While this assignment ultimately ignited my interest in the pieces and processes of emergent systems and how the unique relationships between individual components inform and define the greater whole; more importantly, it cultivated analytical and divergent thinking. I learned how to isolate core components from a system, define explicit interactions in a space, situate functions within a context, and map parametric flows across time. Though eventually, my career pivoted from architecture to design as my intent transitioned from delight to meaning, and thus my thinking transformed from analytical to synthetic.

The primary differentiator between my experiences in architecture and design has been the latter’s focus on creative problem solving, or the convergence of disparate elements, activities, and intents to foster meaning. People have become the focus and embodied interaction the goal as I have strived to understand how space becomes place and appearance becomes presence. As an Interaction Designer, I design how people interact with, through, or without technology – an infinite and inclusive definition that ultimately focuses on people and prepositions, as it is the relationships that concern me. But as objects, environments, and worlds become ubiquitously intelligent, networked, and augmented, these relationships become increasingly dynamic, contextual, and intangible. I believe that negotiating these evolving relationships – to ultimately design meaningful new interaction modalities – is an exciting, challenging, and significant opportunity. Thus, I am interested in architecting the synthetic.

Pervasive and with unbounded potential, the “Internet of Things” is the key catalyst and instantiation of this paradigm shift towards implicit interactions. Moreover, as IoT infiltrates the mundane moments of our daily lives, it has the ability to transform our quality of life and achieve efficacious new futures from life-saving wearables to intelligent infrastructures. Though due to its systemic and embedded nature, both participative frameworks and contextual interventions are needed (as interaction is reciprocal), and thus both designs and the environments by which designers and users occupy, must be regarded. This duality necessitates divergent and convergent thinking, with a careful consideration of constraints, contexts, and intents. Therefore, through critical practice, ethnographic research, and situated prototypes, I aspire to explore what could be and what should be the intelligent dialogues of mediated, smart environments.


Over the past decade I have been afforded opportunities professionally, academically, and independently to cultivate the necessary skillset for the pursuit of a PhD in Interaction Design. Following the completion of my BS in Architecture, for over four years I was primarily self-employed as an Interaction Designer and Front-end Developer, working directly with clients from contract to concept to deployment. During this time, I was fortunate to work with a vast array of clients, expanding my formal digital design skills encompassing personas, user flows, information architecture, visual design, and UI development. Though more importantly, the empirical knowledge gained – pertaining to interpersonal and leadership skills, rigorous self-directed scheduling, and end-to-end digital product management and development – has been most invaluable.

My return to academia for my MFA in Interaction Design at Umeå University in 2012 was sparked by a desire to merge my physical and digital backgrounds within a formal user-centered education. My time in Umeå was marked by diverse and immersive collaborations with both peers and industry partners alike, who provided boundless intellectual stimulation while broadening my perspectives. I learned how to think critically and share imaginatively, perhaps best demonstrated in my speculative design thesis. Driven by a passion to critique and challenge society’s relationship with energy, I constructed a near future fictional society in which citizens are required to produce all the energy they desire to consume. Through liminal spaces and diegetic prototypes, I provoked polemical and productive dialogues, which were an engaging end to a wonderful graduate experience.

Following Umeå I moved to London and became a Senior Interaction Designer on the Innovation and Design Team at Zebra Technologies, an enterprise Internet of Things company. Within the constraints of business co-creation and the freedom of internal initiatives, my work investigates a product shift from isolated hardware and software to integrated systems and agents. In particular, I seek to design appropriate solutions at relevant fidelities that can enhance the cognitive and physical abilities of situationally disabled users in data-centric environments. For example, I am the Design Lead in a long-term co-creation project with a global transportation and logistics company seeking to improve organizational and workflow processes through custom 3D imaging technology and edge analytics. Besides traditional UX deliverables, my role includes ethnographic research, empathy mapping, stakeholder communication, service design, and a constant negotiation between implementable and transformational near future visions.

In addition to my role at Zebra, I actively engage in personal side projects which I playfully call “self-centered design.” Within these hypercritical explorations, I prototype manifestations of invisible interactions from the mundane moments of my daily life to gain insights into embodied interaction and socio-technical systems. Two ongoing projects are “Phygital Party Mode” and “Burrito.” The former is a phygital representation of online visitors’ interactions with my portfolio via Google Polymer, Firebase, Arduino, and Philips Hue technologies. Burrito is a manifestation of my marriage in the form of a bot that makes judgements on our relationship based on a mutually defined algorithm. Though perhaps a bit bonkers, both prototypes have resulted in instrumental insights that technically and creatively impact my professional development.


My motivation to be a doctoral student is a combination of passion for the subject, drive to innovate in an immersive environment, desire to collaborate on a highly capable and motivated research team, and aspiration to contribute to academia via teaching. Throughout my educational background thus far, I have been fortunate to learn, collaborate, and contribute within competitive academic environments that seek and attain meaningful innovation. At both the University of Virginia and Umeå Institute of Design, I experienced firsthand the productive synthesis of cross-disciplinary participation and student-faculty engagement. These relationships were not only instrumental in my own development, but more importantly, contributed to the progress of meaningful experiences, emerging technology, and imaginative new futures. With diligent analysis and thoughtful synthesis, I would love to continue this trajectory at KTH with an inspiring team at a leading institution, and can guarantee that in addition to my credentials, I bring a healthy dose of gumption.

Meadows, Donella H. (2009). Thinking in Systems: a Primer. London, UK: Earthscan.

Interact 2016 – Insights in Self-centred Design

October 22, 2016

This week I spoke at Interact 2016 – slides and script below – a rather intimidating lineup alongside digital and physical architects whom all I greatly admire. I’m very grateful to Nomensa for the opportunity – not only is every talk an immense learning opportunity in public speaking, but I value even more the work prior – for the rigorous synthesis and curation of empirical insights is a process all designers should engage within as a practice of communication and reflection. Enjoy!

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