Illustrator: Anıl Emmiler

Hacking Everyday Objects

Published in ATÖLYE Insights · 15 min read · August 17, 2018

What if we could change the function of everyday objects with technological interventions?

Authors: Atılım Şahin, Community and Prototyping Lab Lead, Mertcan AVCI , Prototyping Lab Associate

Translation: Parrotize

`How great would it be if our lamps understood what we were saying?

Or if the teddy bear we tucked in at night nudged us awake in the morning?

Or if we made an electronic drum set out of abandoned potatoes rotting in the closet?`

We started our workshop series "Hacking Everyday Objects" at Prototyping Lab with this principle in mind. Hacking Everyday Objects aims to transform daily objects by using technology. In doing so, it aims to reduce our distance with technology. At 4 weeks and 12 hours long, the program's first edition took place in March 2018, with the second edition the following May. We change the content of the workshop at every step and continue to develop it with the feedback we receive from participants.

In this article, we will look behind the scenes of Hacking Everyday Objects. In the first part of this article, we will be focusing on the origins of the workshop, including how this program strategically positioned itself in the Prototyping Lab. Afterwards, we will elaborate on how all these are turned into a workshop in practice.

We hope these learnings will be inspiring for people working on creative coding and digital prototyping.

ATÖLYE Prototyping Lab

Prototyping Lab is one of ATÖLYE's three main components (Workspace, Prototyping Lab, Event Space), and since 2018, we have decided to emphasize both spatial and content change. Our goal, in parallel with digital transformation processes, is to take a step towards a process that would allow more digital production to take place.

We started with changing the name of the space from Makerlab to Prototyping Lab. One of the main reasons for the name change is that the word "Maker" and activities of DIY (Do It Yourself) culture are mostly recognized as only producing for a hobby, especially in Turkey. For further insight into maker culture and their equivalents in Turkey, you can read our article Do it Together: Maker Culture and Turkey.

With this step, we decided to dedicate more space in Prototyping Lab to physical prototyping which is when both digital and physical prototyping are used together. In designing our Hacking Everyday Objects workshop series, we hoped to fill this gap and allow for this physical prototyping.

Technology in Everyday Life

The changing speed of technology is faster than we can comprehend. It is a dilemma that even though technology has literally infiltrated our cells, in our modern world our ability to understand what is happening in the background of technological developments is gradually diminishing. New technological advancements make us feel more governed every step of the way.

"Everything depends on our manipulating technology in the proper manner as a means. We will, as we say, "get" technology "spiritually in hand." We will master it. The will to mastery becomes all the more urgent the more technology threatens to slip from human control."

- Martin Heidegger

The idea of technology is superior to us, is making us see technology as something unreachable that cannot be manipulated. Fear and bias against new technologies, technophobia, comes from people's fear of losing control of technology. We can even forget that technology doesn't work without human intervention. The moment we stop trying to understand technology, we do not give our control to technology, but to the people who understand it.

We created Hacking Everyday Objects with the aim of reducing our distance with technology.

With our practical examples at the workshop, we discovered with participants how easy it is to adapt some technological executions to everyday life.


Hacking and hackers are usually used to indicate the process of intervening in softwares informally. But we use hacking to mean changing "something's" features - modifying it to do something else besides it's main purpose. In other words, we interpret objects and their functions differently and hack them to give them new functions.

When we used "hacking" in this context, we didn't only mean a technical intervention to an object, but also to evaluate the object holistically with different layers of meaning and make a relation with it. This perspective requires us to look closer at our interactions with objects. As a result of this structure, this workshop is different from the Arduino 101 course we deliver to develop technical skills.

People - Object Interactions

The Hacking Everyday Objects workshop series is based on a detailed analysis and redesign of the interactions of everyday objects. Therefore, we made more use of the methods and tools of the interaction design discipline while creating the workshop structure. In this context, it may be possible to accept the workshop series as an accelerated interaction design training focused on object interactions.

The field of interaction design is an area that addresses the design of computer technologies as part of our everyday life culture and suggests that design processes should be conducted by evaluating emotional ties with the functionalities we associate with products.

Bill Moggridge ve Gillian Crampton Smith

Bill Moggridge and Gillian Crampton Smith

"If I were to sum up interaction design in a sentence, I would say that it's about shaping our everyday life through digital artifacts - for work, for play, and for entertainment."

The book of Designing Interactions by Gillian Crampton Smith, which can be considered the booklet for those working in the field, includes not only the everyday life that is found in our workshop but also summarizes the fields in which we want to produce.

Within the workshop, we want participants to work with what they use in their everyday lives, and we usually want them to design technological interventions with the help of the Arduino platform. Focusing on everyday objects allows participants to adapt technological interventions to their daily lives and reduces the distance between themselves and technology with the help of the tools they use. This approach also prevents the design of technological interventions to be turned into external solutions that can be integrated into any object by being manufactured on their own. So we direct participants to make changes to their own objects rather than creating a new object. When participants start finding solutions on the object they choose, we make sure to question why they chose that object.

Asking questions like "Could this intervention be done on a different object?" or "What makes this object special to do this intervention?" allows us to more easily determine the location of objects in the design process. When these connections cannot be established, we direct participants to try a different 'opening'.

Also, it'd be fair to mention, parallel to Gillian Crampton Smith's definition of Interaction Design, we preferred a method that is not solely focused on problem-solving throughout the workshop process.

We direct our participants to find an "opening" rather than search for a "problem" to be solved.

We can confidently say that in the designed interventions, the most important thing that enables us to see the fun sides and focus on our emotional bond with the object is this approach in which we don't entirely focus on the problem.

Workshop Flow

Day 1: Creative Thinking Development Studies

We don't expect participants of Hacking Everyday Objects to select an object before coming to the workshop. On the contrary, we'd like to go through the selection process together with the help of some exercises on the first day. To do this we use "brainstorming" and "bodystorming" exercises that support perceiving objects differently. In the first half hour of the workshop, we share what we understand about general context and hacking. After we analyze some of these examples, we get too creative thinking development studies. In order to create these exercises, we have benefited from the work of 'Hacking The Gestures of Past Future Interactions', 2013, which Atılım prepared as his thesis at Malmö University Interaction Design and Istanbul Technical University Industrial Product Design graduate programs.

Association Exercises

We start our first exercise by standing up and walking around the environment. In the first 10 minutes of this 20-minute exercise, we ask participants what went into choosing their descriptions. For example in the first round when we say the table is a horse, we justify it like, "This (a table) is a horse! Because it has 4 legs."

This metaphor is executed as fast and spontaneously as possible without giving participants time to think on the object. Cognitively, we know when you think slowly you get into logical reasoning, but when you think fast, you use intuition and habits over experiences. (Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, 2011) In this exercise, what we aim is for our participants to map the relations that they caught intuitively on objects.

When we executed these exercises, one of our most important discoveries was when participants tried to define some object as something else using metaphors, they were seperated into 4 main topics.

1. Object materials (sponge - pillow: softness)

2. Object forms (Table - horse: Has four legs, hammer - T ruler: has both shape)

3. Object function (Bench - stool: Sitting on their top, ball - rabbit: both jumps)

4. Our emotional bond and lived experiences with objects (massive cupboard - my father: both are unpermissive)

Function Exercises

In the second exercise, we discover how our descriptions on function differ between objects. In this exercise, we focus on one of the most used items in daily life a pencil. As a group, participants try to answer the question "What can you do with a pencil?" by finding as many different alternatives as possible.

Backscratcher, splint, shadow clock, ruler, tongue depressor, chopstick, tape rewinder, buckle, spoon

When we give an object a description based around a specific function, we can say we don't see it as an object anymore, we see it as a tool. Using a pencil as a hair tie, a penetration tool, a lever, or for another alternative purpose drives us to think about what new functions we can assign to it. This way of thinking is also the basis for the hacking we aim to pursue in this workshop.

To make relationships to objects stronger and to encourage reflecting on alternative object functions, in the next step of the exercise we ask participants what other objects can meet the alternative purposes brainstormed for the pencil. (Ex: Tying hair - hair tie, penetration - chopstick, nail, drill, lifting etc.)

Tools to execute tape rewinding function: Blade, Scissors tip, noodle stick, screwdriver, finger, tongue depressor, eraser

Hacking with 3D Printer

After internalizing hacking as an approach, it is possible to make it practical using different techniques. Even though the focus of our workshop is mostly based on electronic intervention, in order to broaden the horizon of participants, we also incorporated a 3D Printer to hack.

We ask participants in groups of two to select a random object from their bags and put it on the table. Afterwards, we do a design thinking exercise with the help of the canvases that we've prepared. Participants identify how their partners use these objects and understand the problems they face with in their use, with the help of our canvases. Using insights gained from this research, they design an intervention that can improve the use of the object by using 3D Printing.

In this process, participants experience 3D modelling, file preparation and production for 3D printing. We print the designs that partners of participants customized for their object. Thanks to the information in this exercise, participants can easily take action when they need to use a 3D printer while hacking the objects they will select in the coming weeks.

Day 2 - Intro to Electronic Prototyping

In the second week of the program, participants experience Arduino platform and sensor systems that they will use in hacking. Following the theoretical explanation, sensor card exercises lead to thoughtful hacking approach with digital interventions.

Code Hacking

What we especially pay attention to in Intro to Arduino, is instead of teaching participants to write codes from scratch, we teach them to read codes and manipulate them. Throughout the lesson we follow the questions like "How do we find a library that is suitable to sensor or module? How do we read the example codes in the library? How can we adapt the library codes to our own system?"

People who have never coded before can easily become involved in the process and quickly learn. People work on the sample codes and learn how to hack them. With the Arduino sets and basic sensor packages provided, they practically work with the examples provided to them.

Sensor Card Exercises

After providing basic coding information to participants, we do sensor card exercises, in order to prepare them and guide them in selecting their objects.

Using the IoT card set, an open source development from the Department of Computer Science, at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, we assign group work for brainstorming and developing different concepts under each team. In this group work our own development Sensor Cards and Cause-Effect Canvas are used for guidance.

After all these guiding exercises, we finish the day by handing out Object Hacking Canvases to participants. We ask them to select at least 3 objects before class, with the help of the canvas guides.

Day 3 - Object Selection and Hacking

Before participants come to the third week, we evaluate the objects they've selected and prioritize the options that can give the most effective results in the shortest time. We then guide participants about what Arduino types, sensor systems or modules they might need to acquire. We group people that are working in similar subjects and get them together to work and research on the code developing process.

Participants start to the day by presenting to the object they are going to hack. After feedback is given by everyone, each participant makes a road map on their hacking processes. The road map includes which code libraries they will need and which sensors they should test first. At this point, we decide what should be the first prototype of the participants and we suggest they proceed by adding to it.


At the end of the third day, participants will have completed their code diagrams, documented the tools they will use, and sampled codes and libraries. Essentially, they will have prepared the first edition of everything that's needed to hack the objects.

Day 4 - Designing The Final Products and Presentations

In the fourth week, participants make their last interventions to finalize their products. Some participants come with their first prototypes and add new functions to it, and other people with more complicated systems try to make their first prototype work. We also care about cable management to enhance the appearance of the final product. That's why we guide participants who work on prototyping to hide the cables rationally (by using 3D printed boxes, etc.)

The constraint we have for final presentations is offering a product that works no matter the prototype fidelity. We can summarize the processes of some of the products developed by the participants in the process as follows.

Loudspeaker - Cansu Kırcan

The loudspeaker, which caused it to get out of the pool during the water-ballet training, has become operational with the gestures.

The Mask - Damla Günaydın

The mask, hanging as an ornamental material beside the door, was transformed into a system that senses movement and gives a reminder message when leaving the house.

Air Cleaner - Güneş Sayın

Manually operated air cleaner converted to a system that works automatically by adding an air quality sensor.

Education & Next Steps

With the feedback we received after the workshop, we realized that we were successful in responding to one of our main concerns - reducing the distance with technology. Almost every participant gave feedback stating they weren't thinking it would be so easy to work on sensors and make ideas into prototypes.

''Before the workshop, I wouldn't even imagine making an object smart. Right now, I feel like I took a bachelor education for that. I am excited for the next steps.''

Güneş Sayın / Participant

"After 4 weeks I became qualified with something I had no idea previously. I feel excited to have this knowledge and I am now motivated to build the stuff in my mind."

Yusuf Mert Koyuncu / Participant

We experienced that the methodology we developed was making serious differences in opening new intellectual channels. Participants told us that what inspired them the most were brainstorming exercises and applying canvases we developed. This has given us an important awareness of how we will deal with bringing the theoretical pieces together in the implementation of such workshops. Advancing coding courses such as Arduino 101 only through coding came to the forefront as a less efficient teaching method compared to this kind of process. We noted this as the first thing that should be remembered when applying such workshops. We realized only through this method could we capture technology in a way where everyone could contribute.

To see our approach of not focusing on problems affecting the process effectively was a great lesson for our future interaction design processes. Even though we believe design provides solutions to conceptual problems, prioritizing design processes based on problem finding can cause fun interactions to be put in the background. Instead of searching for a "problem" that needs to be solved, searching for an "opening" that can be intervened upon, is more important. This is especially true for interaction design processes like Hacking Everyday Objects.

We also believe that the following chart we have come up with during the workshop will be helpful for people which are working on the theory of Human-Object interactions. It expresses the 4 ways of interacting with the objects.

We plan to develop an IoT based workshop series with the experience of all these workshops and participant demands, as a sequel to this workshop, based on hacked objects communicating with each other. Follow us to keep up with both Hacking Everyday Objects and the new workshop we plan to develop.

We hope this article will give inspiration to people who produce content in this field. Any feedback regarding both the workshop and article welcome.