Books read in 2017

38. A Gentleman in Moscow. Amor Towles.
37. The Destructives. Matthew De Abaitua.
36. Higher education meets private use of social media technologies: An explorative study of students’ use. Pernilla Josefsson (thesis).
35. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. Robert D. Putnam.
34. Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live. Akiko Busch.
33. The Stuff of Bits: An Essay on the Materialities of Information. Paul Dourish.
32. Art as Experience. John Dewey.
31. Things That Keep Us Busy: The Elements of Interaction. Lars-Erik Janlert & Erik Stolterman.
30. The Alice Network: A Novel. Kate Quinn.
29. Before We Were Yours. Lisa Wingate.
28. About Face 3. Alan Cooper.
27. Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy. David A. Mindell.
26. Norse Mythology. Neil Gaiman.
25. Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic & the Domestic. Esther Perel.
24. Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Rebecca Solnit.
23. Studying Those who Study Us: An Anthropologist in the World of Artificial Intelligence. Diana E. Forsythe.
22. The Handmaid’s Tale. Margaret Atwood.
21. Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex. Mary Roach.
20. A Man Called Ove. Fredrik Backman.
19. The Circle. Dave Eggers.
18. Problems of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction to Epistemology. Michael Williams.
17. Alone Together. Sherry Turkle.
16. Closer: Performance, Technologies, Phenomenology. Susan Kozel.
15. Thinking Machines: The Quest for Artificial Intelligence – and Where It’s Taking Us Next. Luke Dormehl.
14. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. Yuval Noah Harari.
13. The Design of Implicit Interactions. Wendy Ju (thesis).
12. Design Research Through Practice: From the Lab, Field, and Showroom. Ilpo Kalevi Koskinen, Johan Redstrom, John Zimmerman, Stephan Wensveen, and Thomas Binder.
11. The Goldfinch. Donna Tartt.
10. Telling About Society. Howard Becker.
9. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman.
8. Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life: A Philosophical Inquiry. Albert Borgmann.
7. Who Moved My Cheese?. Spencer Johnson.
6. The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action. Donald Schön.
5. Of Mice and Men. John Steinbeck.
4. Daily Rituals: How Artists Work. Mason Currey.
3. Sciences of the Artificial. Herbert A. Simon.
2. Designing for Interaction: Creating Innovative Applications and Devices. Dan Saffer.
1. Obfuscation. Finn Brunton and Helen Nissenbaum.

TEI 2018 – Studio Call for Participation

Sociomateriality: Infrastructuring and Appropriation of Artifacts

Novel materials and innovative applications can sometimes outweigh a reflective perspective on the roles that objects and materials can play in social life. In this Studio, we want to bring together researchers and practitioners who are interested in exploring design outcomes from a sociomaterial perspective. By having prototypes at the center of the Studio activities, we intend to create prompted speculative fictions that link the material outcomes of design practice to social agency and cultural effects.

This studio will offer an opportunity to examine how objects might participate in social spheres as well as act as material bridges to their design process. We will do this through both hands-on examination of design objects, and inquiry into the infrastructuring and appropriation of these artifacts. The themes that will be examined are agency, material participation, and cultural performance of things. We encourage participants to bring their own prototypes.

We invite scholars and design practitioners from a variety of fields to register on the TEI 2018 website. For any questions, email the workshop organizers at

For any questions, email the workshop organizers at:

More information you can find at the Studio webpage:

Tom Jenkins – Georgia Institute of Technology
Vasiliki Tsaknaki – KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Karey Helms – KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Ludvig Elblaus – KTH Royal Institute of Technology
Nicolai Brodersen Hansen – TU Eindhoven

PhD’ing – Taboo, Tinkle, Algorithms, and Home

For an autobiographical project building off Leaky Objects, in which I’m allowing myself to undertake a significantly slow design process, this week I read Geography of Home: Writings on Where We Live by Akiko Busch. The book is a collection of beautiful musings organized by room and touches upon notions of comfort, dichotomies between possessions and spaces, clutter, deeply personal rituals, thresholds, processions, and changing functionalities. So much I love in this book while mapping the geography of our tiny home which defies all traditional expectations and conditions. Last year before moving from London to Stockholm, we read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, an amusing read that we nevertheless abided by and asked everything we own, “Do you bring me joy?” Not only did we end up giving away bags of stuff, but it also prompted many meaningful discussions regarding and aligning views on possessions and a home, in addition to musings around if someday everything will be connected, will all our possessions? And why do we keep them, and do we deserve them if possession implies care, custody, and guardianship? More and more through many of my ongoing projects and initial concepts, I realize I’m interested in overlaps between privacy and care, and perhaps comfort too.

A project I recently started with MSc students is investigating predicting pee habits, which to many is a taboo topic due to the invasive nature of the proposed interaction and an aversion to recognizing private bodily functions. A subsequent discussion with my supervisor on researching taboo topics led to the reading of the paper Accountabilities of Presence: Reframing Location-Based Systems and the website Between the Bars: Human Stories from Prison. In the paper, the authors research paroled sex offenders who are tracked via GPS to explore the intersection between mobility, presence, and privacy; while the website offers a digital platform to share handwritten content from people in prison who do not have access to internet. In both cases, what could be considered extreme or fringe users are researched or designed for, and equally interesting for different reasons, they also serve as interesting case studies that either directly learn from or address the messy realities of society. One of my biggest peeves – designers don’t address the messiness of life nearly enough. So while pee might not be prison, it is definitely an everyday and occasionally very messy, mundane, and universal reality that should not be ignored as I believe there is much to be gained from deviating from designing only delightful experiences.

On a fun, related note, I recently found out that Engelbart conceived what he called the “tinkle toy”, a small waterwheel in a toilet bowl that would spin when pee was run over it, serving as a potty-training aid for boys as the interaction was designed to be an incentive to pee in the toilet. From Markoff’s What the Dormouse Said: How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry.

A week or two ago, it was difficult to miss Algorithms as culture: Some tactics for the ethnography of algorithmic systems on Twitter. Found it incredibly informative and a nice compliment to Dourish’s The Stuff of Bits: An Essay on the Materialities of Information, which I started last week for implicit interaction book club. The paper also led me to these slides The algorithm multiple, the algorithm material: Reconstructing Creative Practice – in which I was thrilled to see my former UVa architecture professor and brief employer Jason Johnson of Future Cities Lab mentioned.

Lastly, this morning I found this open source software by Rebecca Fiebrink for real-time, interactive Machine Learning that hopefully I can use with Arduino.

PhD’ing – Wonder, Autonomy, Frameworks, and Infrastructures

Trying something new with the aim of semi-regular updates regarding what I’m reading, working on, and thinking about.

Framing Wonder by Ann Light

Last week had a short chat with Ann Light from the University of Sussex regarding my work and attended her guest lecture Framing Wonder: Beyond Design for Existential Crisis (sketch notes above). Dark yet very inspiring talk and highly recommend her related paper Design for Existential Crisis from CHI17. Both the talk and her paper inspired me to look into care ethics and feminist theory regarding my work.

For a recent paper and my ongoing multi-disciplinary project work, have been thinking a lot about Terry Winograd’s Shifting viewpoints: Artificial intelligence and human–computer interaction, in particular how to work across philosophical and methodological differences.

Based on a colleague recommendation, recently listened to Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy by David Mindell, a very accessible contribution to discourse on the meaning of autonomy. Throughout the book, within each of many case studies, he repeatedly challenges listeners (readers) to ask, ‘Where are the people, which people are they, what are they doing, and when are they doing it?” as he proposes an emphasis on human-computer relationships rather than the idea or potential of replacement. My favorite of his examples regards remote control of Mars rovers from Earth bound operators and the coinciding debate if presence can be felt at such a distance and with significant time delays – is remote presence real presence?

Last week discussed Things That Keep Us Busy: The Elements of Interaction by Lars-Erik Janlert and Erik Stolterman in a research book club with a focus on Implicit Interaction. I found the book an easy read as it was very much like a collection of papers (which most of it draws from). While I appreciated the provision of definitions, frameworks and objective perspective – as in taking the object’s instead of the user’s perspective – overall there was much I disagreed with, in particular the notion that implicit interaction decreases interactivity, and found it difficult to maintain a narrow perspective that doesn’t regard the social or systemic implications. Perhaps also, it seemed to contrast philosophically with Dewey’s Art of Experience which I am reading for a PhD course on the theoretical foundations of UX, and as a design researcher situated in a technical university am over-resisting the application of frameworks upon a field dependent on embracing the subject, chaotic, and messy nature of the world.

Attended a great talk by my friend Lorenzo at IxDA Stockholm’s event Questions and answers in the design process with Nordic Morning. Great nuggets regarding the materialization of cultures to engage people in discourse and materialization of infrastructures to enable designers to transform them. Definitely calls for a revisit of his paper Materializing infrastructures for participatory hacking.

Lastly, in addition to a bunch of course grading, this week I’ll be continuing concepts derived from a recent project workshop on designing with data and starting a new project with three KTH master’s student on prototypes to probe the notion of training when approaching Machine Learning as a design material. A related paper includes UX Design Innovation: Challenges for Working with Machine Learning as a Design Material.

EuroIA 2017 – Smart Implicit Interactions

Two weeks ago I had a lovely time speaking about my current research interests and questions surrounding Smart Implicit Interactions with industry practitioners at EuroIA 2017 in Stockholm!

Karey Helms speaking at EuroIA 2017

Thanks EuroIA for the INTENSE photo above and Inge Nahuis for the sketchnotes below!

Sketchnotes from talk at EuroIA2017

DIS 2017 – Workshop Reflections and Design Fiction

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 – Poster Presentation of Leaky Objects

Last week at DIS 2017 in Edinburgh I presented a poster (pdf) for my work-in-progress Leaky Objects: Implicit Information, Unintentional Communication. Very thankful for the discussions and feedback!

Leaky Objects poster at DIS 2017 by Karey Helms

Leaky Objects poster by Karey Helms, KTH Royal Institute of Technology

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

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

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)

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.