Spying on Loved Ones

This project began with an autobiographical design probe that investigated how my partner and I communicate through shared domestic objects when one is at home and the other is not. Through the creation of a custom informational infrastructure by the deployment of simple sensors around the home, I was able to monitor and speculate around my partner’s usage of particular objects and spaces. While the project was initially grounded in a genuine concern for his well-being, as a research study and artifact it surfaced social tensions within performances of care. Caring was inadvertently reconfigured as spying, an absurdly obvious post-prototype reflection, giving rise to the concept of “leaky objects” to describe unintentional interpersonal communication through the leaking of implicit information by shared objects in an intimate relationship.

This leaking ascribes a curious animacy to the objects, data, and information involved, and an indistinct relation between each other and my partner, myself, and my research environment. Viewed as actants, these non-humans have their own efficacy and material agency, which complicates perceived power imbalances and entangles them as accomplices in care. While this particular probe is no longer active, next steps include further analyzing it and other devices designed for intimate relations of care to unpack non-human participation.


Karey Helms. 2017. Leaky Objects: Implicit Information, Unintentional Communication. ACM Conference on Designing Interactive Systems (DIS 2017), Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

Karey Helms, Barry Brown, Magnus Sahlgren, and Airi Lampinen. 2018. Design Methods to Investigate User Experiences of Artificial Intelligence. AAAI 2018 Spring Symposium Technical Report (The Design of the User Experience for Artificial Intelligence), Stanford, California, USA.

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

This work is a part of the Implicit Interaction project at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in the Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design.