The Decay of Digital Things

Thursday evenings
May 1, 8, 15 & 22
6:15p – 8:15p
Studio 1
0 units

In the biological world, Decay is a physical phenomenon where materials break down into simpler forms of matter and energy. But in the culture of making objects, decay is a multidimensional problem. As a new pattern of wear appears over our world that is data rich, networked, and responsive, we find that the physical decay of objects fail to match their behavioural, cultural, or digital decay.

In this four week workshop, we will use the lens of Speculative Design – an approach where the tools, techniques, and output of design are applied in forecasting and hypothesizing about alternative ways of being – to ask “What if” in critical and concrete ways, exploring the role of digital decay as it relates to existing business, technological, and social norms. We might ask what happens if a sensor-packed running shoe is discarded: does its low energy microcontroller continue to broadcast its movement and location, even though no one is listening?

We will explore what happens when an object is conscious of its own decay and eventual death. Decay is increasingly manifest in software, social expectation, and interactions both physical and digit. This decay takes the form of obsolescence and apathy: a world of forgotten things with short lifespans and nowhere to go afterwards. Does the major upgrade to an operating system from skeuomorphic to flat interface language represent more than just a fresh coast of paint, but also a sealant against the cultural rot setting in through our shifting understanding of interaction under glass. And what happens when that rot gets in anyway?

At the end of this class, we will work towards a series of prototypes and provocations to be exhibited at a pop up show in San Francisco or Palo Alto. The teaching team and mentors from the IDEO Digital Shop will be working with students individually and in groups to help build the experiences: developing from idea, to design, to execution. Student work will be publicly displayed in a pop up exhibit and archived in the longer term at

Software-enabled objects and spaces are uniquely positioned to navigate their existence from creation to disposal. Living and building in the digital hub of the western world, can we enable a graceful ecosystem of creation, decay, and rebirth in a software-infested and thing-saturated world?

Teaching Team
Andrew Lovett-Barron, IDEO
Maryanna Rogers, The Tech Museum
Elizabeth Goodman, Confectious

Enrollment limited to 10-15 graduate and undergraduate students. Applications due April 14 at 11:59pm. Apply here: