Smart Objects and Social Networks Chair

Innovative networks of humans and objects


David Rose’s Enchanted Objects, MIT Media Lab


In his book “Enchanted Objects: Innovation, Design and The Future of Technology” David Rose invites us to explore other information and communication supports than our smartphones or computers. Welcome to the magical world of Enchanted Objects !According to David Rose, professor at the MIT Media Lab and serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, there are four main trajectories for the technology:

  • Terminal World: in this world, device design is screen-centric.
  • Prosthetics: technological prosthetics enhance one of our senses or one of our abilities as a human being, like vision or memory, for example. In this universe, we are like superheroes with extraordinary abilities. Wearables, we often talk about in the field of connected objects, are part of this.
  • Animism: technology takes human form. David Rose talking about humanoids and social robots.
  • Enchanted Objects

These different paths may converge and overlap. Tesla car, for example, is an enchanted object offering at the same time the benefits of Terminal World with its connected dashboard.

As you can see, David Rose is particularly interested by Enchanted Objects and based its research on this trajectory. He defines the latter as : Enchanted objects start as ordinary things – a pen, a wallet, a shoe, a lightbulb, a table. The ordinary thing is then augmented and enhanced through the use of emerging technologies – sensors, actuators, wireless connection, and embedded processing – so that it becomes extraordinary..” David Rose, Enchanted Objects

Magic as a metaphor

Human being in order to be used to a technology needs metaphors. In this way, David Rose has chosen to use our myths and our collective imagination to design his connected objects. Enchanted objects provide us the possibility to give life to our fictions.

« Enchanted Objects are real-world manifestation of these fabled desires. » David Rose, Enchanted Objects

The_Ambient_Orb2The Ambient Orb glows depending on stock quotes, weather forecasts, traffic conditions, or based on any information that you would like to monitor – He was inspired by the crystal balls and the philosopher’s stone to design it. The_Glow_Caps2The GlowCaps helps people to take their medication. To create it, he had been particularly inspired by the Remembrall of Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter.

Technology should not be too far from an experience that we already know to be adopted (concept of familiarity). The enchanted objects have precisely the advantage, by being originally ordinary objects already integrated into our daily lives, to provide markers that we already know. For example, everyone knows what is a watch and how to use it: a smart watch is adopted through the metaphor of “watch”. We must still be careful not to alter the primary functions of the object. Thus, a connected watch should always be able to give time to its owner whatever the context.

The fundamental and universal human desirs of David Rose

To create his objects, David Rose wondered what are the determinants explaining that a product finds its market. In this way, he was particularly interested in essential psychological drivers of human being. The synthesis of his research and observations came to six basic human desires:


  • Omniscience: The desire for knowledge without limit. Beyond the facts and the raw information, we dream of being able to predict the future.
  • Telepathy: The powerful desire to be connected to the thoughts and feelings of others and to be able to communicate easily and transparently.
  • Safekeeping: The desire to be always safe in a situation of trust and comfort.
  • Immortality: We want to live long and in good healthy.
  • Teleportation: We dream of being able to get around simply, fastly and live without being subject to physical constraints.
  • Expression: The desire to be creative and express ourselves in all kinds of ways: play music, drawing, cooking, dancing, photographing …

These six human desires deserve the attention of connected products designers because it partly explain the success or failure of a product. Adding connectivity must allow to come to meet one of these desires. Otherwise, there is a high probability that the connected object does not meet the market and be relegated to gadgets, as it happens to many connected products.

The Enchanted Objects Objects as Ambient Displays respect our attention

In a world where we are exhausted by information and constantly solicited, sometimes we are paralyzed by the mass of information rather it helps us to act or simply to inform us. It becomes necessary to find technologies to summarize information without distracting us. The enchanted objects as ambient displays permit that precisely: we receive information, within a split second, but we don’t really have to think about it. In this way, this type of object respects our attention. To keep in mind: one of the risks of this technology is to be intrusive without users awareness. Therefore, end-user must be in control of the information collected and transmitted.


Necessary time to absorb information, David Rose, Enchanted Objects

The seven significant characteristics of Enchanted Objects

The Enchanted Objects have seven characteristics on which designers should make the most of:

  • Glanceability: this ability, as we have mentioned above, help us to be informed at a glance.
  • Gestureability: these objects have the form of everyday object with which we are therefore already familiar and know the interest and use.
  • Affordability: the majority of enchanted objects do not require a large memory for storing videos, or the latest microprocessor. The reduction of electronic components prices used to connect any object for a moderate price.
  • Wearability: thanks to the miniaturization of components, any object (or almost) can be connected, such as a pen or a garment. It is easy to carry around small objects.
  • Indestructibility: the enchanted objects intend to replace everyday objects and thus should be stronger than a smartphone screen. Imagining that all our items are connected later, we will want to be surrounded by objects that last as furniture, refrigerator are supposed to last. It is inconceivable to have to change our entire house as regularly as our smartphone.
  • Usability: Usability (or ergonomics of use) is one of the main variables of the design of the user experience. Enchanted objects offer the possibility of a very simple and intuitive use by being incarnated in already familiar objects.
  • Loveability: the enchanted objects have great potential to create emotion. Emotional engagement may be developed through different ways: a cute appearance, a beautiful object finely finished or through the way it share information and interact with the user …

It is difficult to push hard each of these attributes simultaneously. Improve the Indestructiblity nature of an object may be done at the cost of its Wearability nature (being less light for example). We must try to find the optimal balance depending on the product you want to create.

Essential ingredients to design a successful Enchanted Object

According to David Rose, to succeed to create an enchanted object its designer must follow this recipe:

  1. Take an ordinary object that you enhance its functionalities and you connect to the Cloud.
  2. The end user should not need to register anything manually. Data capture must be passive.
  3. It must be impossible to avoid this enchanted object. In order to do this, he must deliver ambient manner information or make recurring returns to its owner.
  4. The enchanted object must create emotional engagement and / or social motivations.

→ In order to know more about David Rose and his research

David Rose at TedxBeaconStreet :

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