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Mike Kann

MPhil work

What Furniture Wants: The Role of the Internet of Things and Embedded Intelligence in the Domestic Space

Inspired by Wieser’s concept of Calm Computing, the dream of embedding intelligence into everyday objects has been pursued since the early 1990s. Today there is a larger networking infrastructure, lower costs of technology involved and greater public familiarity with physical computing, meaning that it now seems inevitable that in the near future the physical objects that we interact with on a daily basis will have a virtual presence.

My practice-based research will investigate this upcoming shift to a time when objects that act in the physical and digital realms will be the norm, sensing and acting upon their environments and embodying the concepts of the Internet of Things and Embedded Intelligence. In particular, this work is concerned with how this change in the fundamental nature of objects will affect our use and relationship to our possessions, specifically those in the domestic space. What new insights to our relationships and interactions with our possessions might emerge when objects can sense their use, analyse and cross-reference this data and act with agency in the physical world?

Of particular interest is furniture, an intimate and key component to our daily domestic lives.  We interact with these objects in a regular and highly routine-based structure, meaning that these ‘smart’ objects will be able to gather data on our use of them, cross-reference this with relevant online-data sources and infer information about our moods, behaviours and states of mind. Understanding and applying this information will be of key importance to understanding the relationship we have with our furniture, as well as other objects in the home - not only do we interact directly with furniture as objects, but we also use them to store and display our possessions.  Is there a way the information contained in our transactional relationships with our objects be expressed to direct and mediate on our relationship to our personal objects, as well as the furniture that stores them? 

This work is positioned as a counter-thesis to current introverting approaches to the field, which concentrate on the virtualisation of the physical and creating online data linked to physical objects.  Rather, this work intends to translate the data of our physical and psychic transactions with objects into physical outputs from the same objects, developing powerful animistic, totemic objects that act through and of themselves, expressing themselves in the physical world with a sense of agency. Through this, a type of kinaesthetic materialisation of our relationship with objects can be articulated that relies upon tactility and physicality, creating an extroverting type of technology that locates interaction with these objects in the physical and focusing on the things in the Internet of Things, rather than the Internet.


  • Michael Kann
  • MPhil


    School of Design


    Innovation Design Engineering, 2013–

  • Mike Kann is a furniture designer specialising in the design and delivery of projects for private clients and exhibitions; he works at the intersection of traditional design and manufacture and cutting edge technologies and materials.  Since graduating with an MA in Furniture Design from Central St. Martin's in 2009, the focus of his work has been the exploration of how to reflect a client's tastes in commissioned pieces and creating effective storytelling in and through objects.  Mike recently became a Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers, combining a focus on the tradition of furniture with the modern uses of technology.