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An Internet of Soft Things

Unit(s) of assessment: Art and Design: History, Practice and Theory

School: School of Architecture, Design and the Built Environment


The Internet of Soft Things project asks how a radically connected world can be designed to benefit human wellbeing, and in particular, what types of experience will be enabled by smart textile interfaces as an important part of this vision of the future.

One in four of us is likely to experience mental health problems at some time in our lives, and wellbeing has come to be seen as a 'grand challenge', crucial to the future of our cities and even our security. In the UK, the coalition government committed to measuring national wellbeing through an Office for National Statistics programme, and anxiety is understood to be more than a 'mere curiosity'.

However, social stigma often leads individuals to hide difficulties instead of seeking help: in the past, the vast majority of clients using the mental health charity MIND would have been through psychiatric services and still be taking medication.

Research Aims

The primary aim of An Internet of Soft Things is the development of a participatory design methodology for the IoT informed by relational approaches in psychotherapy.

Our team of interactive textile developers, computer scientists and psychotherapists are working with Nottinghamshire Mind Network to:

  • Inform non-medicalised mental healthcare communities about the issues and opportunities for individuals in a networked society
  • Inform the participatory design community about different philosophical modes of practice in psychotherapy
  • Evaluate person-centred theory for its potential contribution to a new participatory design methodology for the IoT

Addressing the Challenge

Today the charity finds that this is changing, with increasing numbers of people walking in off the street. Managing the anxiety and distress of individuals so that they are at lower risk of becoming disturbed or dysfunctional (and therefore prescribed medication) has become an important part of MIND's work.

While in the past evidencing the cost benefits of non-medicalised approaches to mental wellbeing has been difficult, research undertaken in Western Finland presents compelling figures for talking therapies (for example, presenting cases of schizophrenia are claimed to have been reduced by 90% over the last 25 years).

Making a Difference

Design will be able to engage more meaningfully with calls for wellbeing through a better understanding of people's potential for growth and capacity for meaning making and a new ability to design for people's ongoing creativity and empowerment. There are parallels between the scale of mental health issues and a purely technological vision of the Internet of Things (IoT); that is, that it occurs everywhere, but is often concealed. If the statistic of one in four people experiencing mental health problems is powerful, it becomes even more pervasive if we consider the mental wellbeing as a continuum upon which every one of us sits (and moves).

This project will build on recent research in smart embroidered interfaces to explore the potential benefits of an Internet of Soft Things for mental health and wellbeing. It will draw on recent research in wearable technology, which has challenged many of the initial assumptions of 'ubiquitous' computing, namely, that it should be concealed, and that we should not be aware when we are acting through it.

These assumptions have led to a belief that no new things or forms need be developed, as technology would merely be hidden within the objects already familiar to us. In fact, what the last two decades of wearable research have shown is that an expressive use of technologies works better with the way we manage our social identities through things. There is therefore scope to explore a range of existing new experimental forms for personal networked design concepts while addressing the pressing need for more robust and reliable textile interfaces.


  • Nottinghamshire Mind Network is working with NTU as the primary Project Partner, aiming to contribute to the development of wellbeing and mental health provision without stigma in the UK.
  • We aim to benefit non-medicalised care practices through the collaborative design of meaningful networks of things, using knowledge from smart textile and wearable technology research in new ways to develop an Internet of (Soft) Things.
  • Practical outcomes will include toolkits for future client work at Notts Mind Network, staff development and a service design concept for a new city-centre venue in Nottingham.

Working With Us

We are happy to hear from anyone involved in the mental health and wellbeing community, whether you are a service user, are delivering or developing new services, or are involved in research in these areas.

As part of the project, a number of public events will be held and we would be very pleased to see you there and to hear your thoughts.

Look out for us at:

  • Nottingham Mental Health Awareness Weeks
  • the annual ITAG Conference held annually in October in Nottingham
  • the Arcintex symposium being hosted by Nottingham Trent University in February 2015

Please visit the site for more detailed updates, or sign up to our mailing list.

Please contact Professor Amanda Briggs-Goode by email.


Books and Book Chapters

  • Kettley, S. and Lucas, R. (IN PREPARATION). Design in Mental Health: a literature review of design thinking in UK and European mental health, November 2017
  • Kettley, S., Kettley, R. and Lucas, R. (2017). Towards a Person Centred Approach to Design for Personalisation. In I. Kuksa and T. Fisher (Eds.). Design for Personalisation. Routledge.   pdf (abstract)
  • Kettley, S. (2016). Designing with Smart Textiles. London: Bloomsbury Fairchild.   blog post
  • journal papers
    Møller, T. & Kettley, S. (IN PRESS). Wearable Health Technology Design: A Humanist Accessory Approach. International Journal of Design: Special Issue on Designing for Wearable and Fashionable Interactions.
  • Briggs-Goode, A., Glazzard, M., Walker, S., Kettley, S., Heinzel, T., and Lucas, R. (2016). Wellbeing and Smart Textiles: Reflecting on Collaborative Practices and the Design Process. Journal of Textile Design Research and Practice, Vol. 4, Iss.1.
  • Kettley, S. (2016). “You’ve got to keep looking, looking, looking”: Craft Thinking and Authenticity. Journal of Craft Research 7 (2) pp. 165–185 Intellect Limited.  pdf

Peer Reviewed Conference Papers

  • Cosma, G., Brown, D., Battersby, S., Kettley, S., & Kettley, R. (2017). Analysis of Data Obtained from Users of Smart Textiles Designed for Mental Wellbeing. In Proc. IoTGC 2017: IEEE International Conference in Internet of Things for the Global Community, Funchal 10-13 July 2017.
  • Valero-Silva, N., Kettley, S., & Kent, A. (2016). Mental Health Service Design: Methodological and Ethical Challenges in Stakeholder Engagement. In Proceedings of the British Academy of Management Conference, Newcastle University 6th – 8th September 2016.
  • Kettley, S., Lucas, R., & Sadkowska, A. (2016). Tangibility in e-textile participatory service design with mental health participants. Proceedings DRS2016 Design + Research + Society: Future Focused Thinking, Brighton UK, 27-30 June 2016.
  • Briggs-Goode, A., Glazzard, M., Walker, S. & Lucas, R. (2015). An Internet of Soft Things. Futurescan 3; Intersecting Identities. Association of Fashion and Textile Courses (FTC). Glasgow School of Art, 11-12th November 2015.     blog post pdf (abstract) pdf (presentation)
  • Kettley, R., Lucas, R., Jones, I. & Kettley, S. (2015). Practice-led Critical Reflection on the Ethics of ‘An Internet of Soft Things’. Interactive Technologies and Games Conference, Nottingham, 22-23 October 2015.     blog post pdf (presentation) pdf (abstract)
  • Kettley, S, Kettley, R. & Bates, M. (2015). Participatory Design and the Humanist Landscape (workshop). The 2015 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2015), Sep. 7-11, Osaka, Japan. blog post  [cfp]
  • Kettley, S, Kettley, R. & Bates, M. (2015). An Introduction to the Person-Centred Approach as an Attitude for Participatory Design. The 2015 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2015), Sep. 7-11, Osaka, Japan.   [paper] [ppt] (for movie see this link)
  • Kettley, S, Kettley, R. & Bates, M. (2015). An Introduction to IPR as a Participatory Design Research Method. The 2015 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2015), Sep. 7-11, Osaka, Japan.    [paper] [ppt]
  • Kettley, S, Bates, M., & Kettley, R. (2015). Reflections on the heuristic experiences of a multidisciplinary team trying to bring the PCA to Participatory Design (with emphasis on the IPR method). The 2015 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing (UbiComp 2015), Sep. 7-11, Osaka, Japan.   [paper] [ppt]
  • Glazzard, M., Kettley, R., Kettley, S., Walker, S., Lucas, R., & Bates, M. (2015). Facilitating a non-judgemental skills based co-design environment. Proceedings of the 3rd European Conference on Design4Health, Sheffield 13-16 July 2015.   blog post pdf (presentation) pdf (paper)

Talks, Presentations & Panels

  • Open Lab research group, Newcastle University, April 2017
  • Research Through Design Conference, invited Design panel member (Sarah Kettley, with Tobie Kerridge, James Auger and Kristina Andersen), Edinburgh, March 2017
  • Crafts Council Make: Shift Conference, Manchester, November 2016; invited panel member (healthcare and wellbeing), (Sarah Kettley, chaired by Jeremy Myerson)
  • Kettley, S. (2016). An Introduction to the Person-Centred Approach as an Attitude for Participatory Design. Welfare Design research group (with Jayne Wallace), Design School Kolding, Denmark, 28th October 2016.    pdf
  • Kettley, S., Townsend, K., Walker, S., Harrigan, K., & Battersby, S. (2016). The Electric Corset and Other Future Histories. Bradford Textile Society, 18th October 2016.  blog post  pdf
  • Kettley, S. (2016). Towards Relational Design. Inaugural lecture, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham. 13th July 2016.  blog post  pdf
  • Kettley, S. (2015). Nottinghamshire Mind Network eTextile Research Group. Art, Design and New Technology for Health: The Sackler Conference 2015. Victoria & Albert Museum, London, 19 June 2015.  blog post pdf
  • Interaction Design Research Group, University College London, March 2016
  • Engineer It!  blog post
  • The 170 Celebration Debates – Design and Personalisation: Does it empower or exploit? Nottingham Conference Centre, Nottingham Trent University, 24 September 2014