Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

The Digital Footprints of Everyday Things

  Dimitrios Darzentas (2012 cohort)   www.ddarz.net


The following research focuses on the investigation of the value of singularised physical objects and how that value may be influenced by taking into account the traceable provenance caused by their footprint in a ubiquitous computing enabled world. The chosen context is that of Wargaming Miniatures as they encompass a wide array of properties that are suitable for the investigation, both in their inherent makeup as well as in the community that surrounds them.

Research Question

Currently, the research question that will serve as the motivating force can be distilled thus:

“How can the detailed tracing of provenance, heritage and history of physical objects, affect their value?”

This question can be further disambiguated into the following sub-topics: • “What comprises the provenance of an object and how is it formed?” • “How is this provenance preserved, transferred and recounted?” • “How do interested parties examine and evaluate the provenance of an object?” • “What effect does the provenance of an object have on its value and how is value defined?” • “What would be the impact of detailed traceable provenance on the value of objects?”


Over their lifetime, physical objects accumulate value (monetary, sentimental, etc.,) via their provenance. Straightforward examples include unique items such as pieces of artwork or particular antiques. More often than not in such cases, the monetary value of these items is for the most part created by their individual histories. Objects known to have belonged to historical or famous individuals, or to have been used in historical events etc. are thought by society to be of much greater value than others. Entire disciplines and industries exist surrounding this phenomenon, but it is also observable on much smaller scales, and in situations that the majority of people can relate to, in the form of sentimental value. Most people attach greater value to personal objects, and it seems an intrinsic part of human nature to grow attached to the objects that surround us in our daily life, assigning personal value to them, in the form of memories, experiences and associations. Examples could include mementos, souvenirs and meaningful gifts, such as family heirlooms. Commonly, people will cherish such objects and express this in terms of sentimental attachment and emotional meaning rather in the form of monetary value.

Currently, the world is moving, with increasing rapidity, towards an age where the vast majority of the physical objects that surround us have a digital identity, or presence, that creates a digital footprint or trace over their lifetime. As concepts like ubiquitous computing and the internet of things gain ground, physical objects are increasingly becoming able to collect data over, and about, their lifetime. There is a shift from the extrinsic collection and application of data to objects by their owners or users, to an intrinsic ability for objects themselves to capture and create data and “tell their own story”. The required technology is being continuously developed, refined and miniaturised and the only real limit to its use is the imagination. The resulting data can form rich narratives from the point of view of the objects, creating performances that may potentially influence the way we interact with the objects around us.

For the purposes of the research, the chosen physical object medium that will be used is that of Wargaming miniatures. These objects feature distinct advantages with regards to the concept as they represent and embody elements such as identity, experience, abilities and point of view. Furthermore they are surrounded by a large and active community that comprises of Creators, Collectors and Games.


For the purposes of exploring the evolving phenomenon described above, an approach had to be utilised devised that was based on a flexible theoretical model and utilised a coherent practical context.

The theoretical framework of trajectories has been explored thoroughly in the case of User Experiences[1] and it is potentially applicable in the form of object trajectories. Similar to the trajectory of a user’s experience, the trajectory of an object through space, time and interactions can be envisioned and explored. In a sense the ’stories‘ that the objects have to tell, as for instance, in the case of the popular 18th century literary concept of It-Narratives, can be illustrated utilising the concept of historic trajectories[1].

On the practical side, it was determined that this research would benefit from being carried out by examining objects in a context that lends itself to the concept. There are innumerable options for choosing the object to use as a vehicle for this research. Virtually every physical, and digital, object surrounding us is eligible as the object of interest. The context that has been chosen to begin the investigation of object trajectories is that of Miniature Wargaming.

Miniature Wargaming constitutes a handy and convenient medium for the purposes of this research for a variety of reasons. As an activity, it stands as a timeless and effective form of entertainment and training. The explicit and implicit codification of rules and possible actions could potentially act as a useful guideline for the data gathering process.

Practically, miniature Wargaming involves physical objects in the form of figurines and constructs that facilitate gameplay. These present interesting elements as they represent very complex entities that inherently possess many of the qualities that can facilitate the exploration of object narratives and provenance. They represent such properties as identity, abilities, and experiences and throughout their existence gain provenance, history, and personal meaning. Players display personal investment by creating and heavily customising the miniatures, curating them and, in some cases, maintaining detailed provenances of their lifetime. The ‘it-narratives’ of the involved objects, augmented by their intrinsic identity, are potentially a powerful method for expressing the trajectories of these objects. The rich data the miniatures represent are expected to be of great value in deriving conclusions for this avenue of research.

Therefore, miniature wargaming displays and encapsulates ideal characteristics for the investigation of assigned object value but crucially includes many technical advantages. The nature of the physical miniatures is well suited to potential physical augmentation, such as integrating data gathering sensors and digital identifier, and there are numerous endeavours, both academic and commercial, focused on digitally augmenting Wargaming that can be of great assistance during the research. Furthermore, the value and meaning that their owners assign to them is also vital characteristic. In effect, Miniature Wargaming is a collector and hobbyist practice, with accompanying vibrant communities, community practices and evolution which is expected to provide a rich source of information and a scaled context to investigate effects and hypotheses.

The combination of the theoretical framework of object trajectories and the practical context of Wargaming sets the stage for a concentrated research endeavour that can potentially be expanded and applied to many other domains and applications. Similar gaming and collecting contexts can be examined and the further reaching domains of cultural heritage and historical artefacts can be investigated. The following section identifies a number of potential domains to which the results of the proposed research may be applied.

Methodology and progress

The first step to of this research was to conduct an ethnographic investigation of the Wargaming community in order to understand the practices and the motivations and potential requirements of the community. So far, this investigation has delivered substantial results, with many of the hypotheses regarding the community and their treatment of the miniatures, being validated and indeed expanded. Themes of curation and narration are evident throughout as well as those of creation and customisation and lifelong tracking. The relationship of the miniatures to their creators and/or owners is both complicated and colourful, leading to a rich repository of data and a strong launching point for further studied and technological development. The results are being published in CHI 2015.

Expected Contribution

This research would aim to attain a deeper level of understanding of the oncoming changes to the physical objects that surround us. The relationship between object provenance, history and meaning (effectively its trajectory), and its sentimental and monetary value, would potentially be identified. This could have effects on a wide variety of domains ranging from design and manufacture to legislation and social practices.

Additionally, entry into the complex concept of object trajectories could establish an identifiable and utilisable context and frame of reference for further academic and entrepreneurial endeavours in the domain. The approaches and findings of the research will be formed in such a way as to be generalisable to other applications and contexts. Indicative examples of such could include tangible areas such as medical records, traceability applications in the food industry, etc. and others such as trajectories of design, ideas, movements and archiving. As the definition of what constitutes an “object” is loosened, so can the number of potential applications grow, from the physical to the digital and beyond.


  1. Benford, S., Giannachi, G., Koleva, B., and Rodden, T. From interaction to trajectories: designing coherent journeys through user experiences. Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM (2009), 709–718.



  1. Steve Benford, Adrian Hazzard, Alan Chamberlain, Kevin Glover, Chris Greenhalgh, Liming Xu, Michaela Hoare,Dimitrios Darzentas. Accountable Artefacts: The Case of the Carolan Guitar. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’16). ACM. 2016 Accepted – In Press
  2. Steve Benford, Adrian Hazzard, Alan Chamberlain, Kevin Glover, Chris Greenhalgh, Liming Xu, Michaela Hoare,Dimitrios Darzentas. Experiencing the Carolan Guitar. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’16). ACM. 2016 Accepted – In Press
  3. Darzentas, Dimitrios Paris; Hazzard, Adrian; Brown, Michael; Flintham, Martin; Benford, Steve. Harnessing the Digital Records of Everyday Things. In Proceedings of the 2016 Design Research Society conference, (DRS 2016) Accepted – In Press
  4. Dimitrios Paris Darzentas and Lachlan Urquhart. 2015. Interdisciplinary Reflections on Games and Human Values. In Proceedings of the 2015 Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play (CHI PLAY '15). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 805-810. DOI=http://dx.doi.org/10.1145/2793107.2810259

This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/G037574/1) and by the RCUK’s Horizon Digital Economy Research Institute (RCUK Grant No. EP/G065802/1).