A Future Domestic Landscape


Students of the MFA Programme in Interaction Design unveil their fictional design projects portraying homes of the future. Challenged to do it differently, they went above and beyond conventional design thinking.

Text: Jens Persson, February 2018

Interaction designers are time and again asked to guess what the future might hold. In fact, the essence of the job itself is to create the future, through innovation. By studying people and their behaviour, the designer's mission is to predict needs that people don't yet know they have. In a recent project, truly challenging their prophetic abilities, the second-year-students of the MFA programme in interaction Design were tasked with creating a product for a home 20 years from now, in 2038.

Looking back 20 years, to the mid-90s, the internet had seriously started making its mark in the homes of ordinary people. The dial-up modems' robotic melodies penetrated the thickest of walls as people searched AltaVista, WebCrawler and other then pioneers of the young internet. The explosive effect that the advent of the internet has had on society and human behaviour is almost inconceivable, touching on so many aspects of peoples' daily lives. From influencing global politics on a major scale to allowing us to locate the best coffee on the Lower East Side with a single swipe of the finger.

In the term project 'A Future Domestic Landscape: Faceless Interaction in 2038', students were asked to imagine what a home might look like in 20 years. Each of the 15 students created a unique scenario where they envisioned a future beyond the screen-based designs that we find around us today, such as smartphone apps, interactive surfaces or web services. The test here was to go a step further, above and beyond the horizons typically imagined by designers. For this project, that meant you had to time travel. And you had to build the time machine yourself. A daunting challenge, as one of the students, Lene Rydningen, would soon find out.

Lene Portrait 2016 BW Kopia Lene Rydningen utilized the emotional power of scents and smells in her design fiction project.

"To imagine a meaningful product a couple of decades from now you first have to create the world in which this product is supposed to exist. You have to construct a believable society that is rooted in today's realities but still goes beyond the technologies and restrictions of now. Once you have created this world you can start to look for problems to solve within it, to find areas where you can make things better through design.", says Lene Rydningen.

Like most masters students at UID, Lene is away from what she calls home. In her case, home is in Tromsö, Norway. That's where most of her family and friends still live. Therefore, asking the question of what actually makes a home is not new to her. Drawing on her own experiences she started to play with smell, a sense very powerful in invoking strong feelings tied to family, childhood and home. But how do you go from that to developing a product that's actually feasible in a house or an apartment in 2038?

Faceless Ember Twenty One Smells Probe Lene Rydningen 111217 75In her project, Lene Rydningen played with a number of smells and their abilities to invoke different emotional responses. 

"I've always been interested in how scents and smells rooted in your past can bring out such strong emotions in people, myself included. And yet it's something that is almost not used at all. Instead we look through photo albums when we want to rekindle fond memories. So, I started playing around with how I could bring out these feelings through smell and ultimately came up with a memory switchboard that can release a number of different smells based on the favourite people or things in your life"

"The goal of the product is to cheer up or comfort people and the system is based on face recognition. Through 'deep learning technology' and A.I. the product, called Ember, acquires enough information to recognize your different moods based on facial expressions and then releases smells that will either calm you or lift your spirits when you need it. That might be the scent of your grandmother or your dad's baking depending on the memories you've chosen"

 Wip 1 Kopia The Ember prototype in the workshop, prior to assembly.

During this project in design fiction, the students abilities as story tellers were tested, and most found it an unusually demanding experience. Normally, design students work with the restrictions and possibilities of today. When asked to produce a vision of the future it rarely extends beyond a five-year period. Here, without any clear boundaries, they were forced to think bigger, not only about what the world might look like in 2038 but what role designers might play in us getting there.

Faceless Ember Product Family 75The finished product set of Ember experience prototypes.

"To me, this project became something of a wake-up call. It helped me zoom out and it made me realize that as a designer I have the opportunity to be part of something bigger, that I can play a role in shaping the very future that I was trying to imagine. It was without doubt the hardest design project I've ever done, I think we were all lost in the beginning actually. But in the end it sparked a discussion that I know will affect me going forward"

Explore all projects on the 'Future Domestic Landscape' website
The platform showcases the collective output of the Faceless Interaction Design course, a 10-week full time course for the second year MFA Interaction Design students at Umeå Institute of Design, running from 2015-17.