For my next major project, my task is to create a social object using physical computing as an agent.

But, what is it a social object?

“The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else.”

Hugh Macleod

The cartoonist Hugh MacLeod is the man who popularized the term to the world and probably its most explanatory article in regard is “Social Objects are the future of marketing”. He gives a clear and broad description of social objects, underlining their role in marketing and also explaining some related concepts like the social factor. Here I reported the seven examples of social objects which he listed.

Example A. You and your friend, Joe like to go bowling every Tuesday. The bowling is the Social Object.

Example B. You and your friend, Lee are huge Star Wars fans. You two invariably geek out about Darth Vader and X-Wing fighters every time you meet. Star Wars is the Social Object.

Example C. You’ve popped into your local bar for a drink after work. At the bar there’s some random dude, sending a text on this neat-looking cellphone. So you go up to him and ask him about the phone. The random dude just LOVES his new phone, so has no trouble with telling a stranger about his new phone for hours on end. Next thing you know, you two are hitting it off and you offer to buy him a beer. You spend the rest of the next hour geeking out about the new phone, till it’s time for you to leave and go meet your wife for dinner. The cellphone was the social object.

Example D. You’re a horny young guy at a party, in search of a mate. You see a hot young woman across the room. You go up and introduce yourself. You do not start the conversation by saying, “Here’s a list of all the girls I’ve gone to bed with, and some recent bank statements showing you how much money I make. Would you like to go to bed with me?” No, something more subtle happens. Basically, like all single men with an agenda, you ramble on like a yutz for ten minutes, making small talk. Until she mentions the name of her favorite author, Saul Bellow. Halleluiah! As it turns out, Saul Bellow happens to be YOUR FAVORITE AUTHOR as well [No, seriously. He really is. You’re not making it up just to look good.]. Next thing you know, you two are totally enveloped in this deep and meaningful conversation about Saul Bellow. “Seize The Day”, “Herzog”, “Him With His Foot In His Mouth” and “Humbolt’s Gift”, eat your heart out. And as you two share a late-night cab back to her place, you’re thinking about how Saul Bellow is the Social Object here.

Example E. You’re an attractive young woman, married to a very successful Hedge Fund Manager in New York’s Upper East Side. Because your husband does so well, you don’t actually have to hold down a job for a living. But you still earned a Cum Laude from Dartmouth, so you need to keep your brain occupied. So you and your other Hedge Fund Wife friends get together and organise this very swish Charity Ball at the Ritz Carleton. You’ve guessed it; the Charity Ball is the Social Object.

Example F. After a year of personal trauma, you decide that yes, indeed, Jesus Christ is your Personal Saviour. You’ve already joined a Bible reading class and started attending church every Sunday. Next thing you know, you’ve made a lot of new friends in your new congregation. Suddenly you are awash with a whole new pile of Social Objects. Jesus, Church, The Bible, the Church Picnics, the choir rehearsals, the Christmas fund drive, the cookies and coffee after the 11 o’clock service, yes, all of them are Social Objects for you and new friends to share.

Example G. You’ve been married for less than a year, and already your first child is born. In the last year, you and your spouse have acquired three beautiful new Social Objects: The marriage, the firstborn, and your own new family. It’s what life’s all about.


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“Social communities do not form only around people but also around objects of interest such as cars, photos, cities, news pieces, future of mankind… The concept was put forward by Jyri Engeström in 2005 as part of the explanation of why some social networks succeed and some fail. Communities formed around social objects can be very passionate and active. They can not be owned or controlled.”

Miikka Leinonen,

My area of interest is sustainable design. What I would like to create is a social object able to help the environment and, most of all, to create a community of people who through this object would get a different attitude towards the environment.

Energy saving and its reuse is probably the area which I’d like to focus on. An influencer on this issue is certainly my brother, an energetic engineer and environmental activist, who is extremely concerned with energy saving and environmental issues like waste disposal. He told me about the concept of Smart Grids a few years ago and as I have always been the creative one of the family, but at the same time the dull one regarding scientific stuff, he showed me this very elementary video to explain me the subject. I can say that it worked, I got really interested and afterwards I promised myself to deepen my research in the field, probably designing something for it.

Devices such as Nest are the direct development of Smart Grids, they are set to revolutionise the way we consume power – and have the ability to re-set our vulnerable ecosystem. There are quite a few similar projects and I already named some of them in a previous post:  Sensorflare, NeurioEzcontrol, InsteonTadoº. Some are more concerned about the environment, some other less, but they are all based on the Smart Grids.

An huge project in regard is  Energising Estonia by Ericsson, which is currently deploying a smart-metering network all over the Baltic country in partnership with leading energy distributer Elektrilevi, and consumers are starting to enjoy the benefits. Thanks to the digital connectivity an enormous number of big data will be produced, which opens up to many new scenarios and possibilities. First of all because not only electricity networks can provide big datas, but also other sectors, such as gas, water or heat. Secondly, because afterwards with all these collected Big Data there can be many outcomes and new technologies.

A company which is very inspiring for their research and developments is Cisco, worldwide leader in networking aiming to transform the way people connect, communicate and collaborate. Since 2013 they started to focus on the Internet of Everything (IoE) working on many social changing projects, some of them already realised and many others still ongoing. Here is an interesting infographic with their challenges for 2015.

Cisco 2015 predictions

Before I named Nest and some similar projects, which are mainly focused on managing the house life, however my idea is to apply this sort of technologies on small and large scale, for privates and companies and most of all make it social. Not only as social object, but related to social networks as well.

“Nobody ever said they love their water company”

Jules Coleman, co-founder of

Services are usually ignored by people, for a simple reason they are boring, everybody uses them, but nobody seems to notice them unless they don’t work. For this reason with my project I’d like to spread a different attitude towards services, making them different, more exciting and challenging. Giving a new dimension to services, maybe bringing them on the same level of a game, a personal challenge, so that people would enjoy them, reflect about them and see them in a different way.

An inspiring project from this point of view is Smart Citizen, a platform which aims to create a network of people concerned about the environment. Connecting data, people and knowledge, the objective of this project is to serve as a node for building productive open indicators and distributed tools, and thereafter the collective construction of the city for its own inhabitants.

A similar project is Urban EcoMap, an interactive decision space that empowers individual citizens to make informed decisions about their daily lives, along with how to participate in the vitality of their communities. They aim to build awareness, fostering a sense of community, and provide actions for citizens to take to enable the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in cities.

Sustainable design is a field in large development which is attiring increasingly attentions, due to relatively recent acknowledgement of the critical environmental situation of our planet. Eli Blevis, an Associate Professor of Informatics in the Human-Computer Interaction Design at Indiana University, has claimed that sustainability should be a central focus of interaction design and he named it Sustainable Interaction Design (SID). In his paper Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse, he proposes (i) a rubric for understanding the material effects of particular interaction design cases in terms of forms of use, reuse, and disposal, and (ii) several principles to guide SID. The paper illustrates—with particular examples of design critique for interactive products and appeals to secondary research—how two of these principles may be applied to move the effects of designs from less preferred forms of use to more preferred ones. Finally, a vision for incorporating sustainability into the research and practice of interaction design is described.

Another relevant paper is from the Loughborough University, Design for sustainable behaviour: strategies and perceptions, which presents selected findings of doctoral research exploring how design could be used to influence user behaviour towards more sustainable practices.

Finally, published by the MIT Press Journals there are various books regarding regarding the subject. Two of the most famous are Design’s Role in Sustainable Consumption, by Ann Thorpe and The Designer’s Role in Facilitating Sustainable Solutions, by Daniel Christian Wahl and Seaton Baxter, who propose that transdisciplinary design dialogue, guided by the underlying intention to create healthier and more appropriate solutions to the complex challenges of sustainability, can be a powerful tool for societal change.