I’m sure anyone who has ever had to call a tradesman into their home may well recognise that pre-quote sinking feeling - often accompanied with a lengthy inhalation and pained ’sympathetic’ expression.

Ben White
Ben White
12th May 2017

As someone who likes to try and take on most DIY jobs out of both curiosity and reluctance to shell out unless absolutely necessary (I mean, how hard can it really be?), I have discovered the painful line between learning on the job and professional experience more than once.

As a result, I have learnt to temper my curious spirit somewhat and appreciate that we have sensibly created systems which draw lines around tasks that probably should require professional expertise - heating, plumbing, electricity etc - frankly things that for an amateur dabbler hold the potential to be disruptive (at least) and possibly a little dangerous.

But as domestic-focussed technology advances, the number of devices in our homes that rely on ‘traditional’ services (hardwired home infrastructures like pipes and electrical cables), is also increasing. The siting of these devices is often dependant on the physical location of available service endpoints - such as the position of a mains socket or light fitting - something pre-determined in a structure and previously the territory of extension leads, the enthusiastic DIYer or a professional tradesman.

However, we have designed ingenious ways of interacting with these devices so that the controls are in the ‘right’ place for us. Using wireless inputs we have essentially managed to bridge the location divide and place controls wherever they are needed, but this doesn’t tackle the issue of being able to place devices wherever is ‘best’ for their use and for our aesthetic needs - even Alexa needs to source her power from somewhere. In addition, by replacing many physical controls with wireless solutions, what we have gained in ‘ease’ we are losing in tactile control - the physical interaction with objects in our homes seems somewhat under threat, and whilst I love (and indeed use) many of the current solutions, I can’t help but wonder at what point we decide that app-controlled lighting and fireplaces (this really is a thing) are more novelty than function.

But what if those devices or their controls where in the ‘right’ place and those places were determined by us? No tradesman, no sinking feeling, and maybe one or two less controller apps? Well, enter Conduct, a collaborative project between Flavor Paper and UM Project. Essentially an interactive wall covering, Conduct combines conductive wallpaper and functional devices enabling users to see the connections between devices and physically control them - physical touch completes the circuit and operates a lamp, fan, speaker, light box and hinged mirror.

Whilst Conduct is only an interactive installation (currently at NYCXDesign), its’ carefully crafted design demonstrates the potential for a more ‘user-controlled’ approach to traditional services such as electricity - a modular system such as this could enable the (re)siting of ‘endpoints’, allowing devices to be placed and controlled in the ‘right’ place as determined by the user. Conducts’ design of the wiring and interactions is beautiful, but also pushing an aesthetic point - this could potentially be otherwise visualised or ‘hidden’ whilst retaining the core functionality as the technology utilises conductive, water-based inks.

By exposing the ‘hardwiring’ of our electrical systems, Conduct emphasises how much we rely on existing systems to power our ‘new’ technology - the rate of change and advancement in our traditional technologies moves at a much slower pace than our mobile app-based world and there are physical limitations as a result of this hardwired legacy. The interesting question seems to be how we can address this with new solutions - as we move quickly forwards ‘replacing’ traditional interfaces and controls, how can we design interfaces between new and old, helping to future-proof, provide adaptability, cost-effectiveness and still look good?

Oh, and just maybe avoid that good old fashioned sinking feeling?

This was originally posted on my own site.