People share spaces such as cafes, airports, libraries, and classrooms for hours everyday. Often times, these people sitting right next to each other never even think to interact. They almost always have shared interests, some common ground on which they could interact. The Social Seat helps people converse and connect in a easy, interactive, and playful way using a physical chair that indicates one's’ willingness to talk, and common topics. This paper will discuss how the concept came to fruition and how we researched the market to find consumer preferences and needs.
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Before designing the Social Seat, an in-depth survey was conducted face-to-face with 12 students to assess how they interacted with each other. University students were chosen for this study as they represent a demographic that involves social interactions on a daily basis. In addition, it would be more accessible for researchers to conduct testing of the first prototype with people in the vicinity (i.e the university campus). Students were given the following prompts addressing their use of social networking, meeting new people and creating meaning relationships:
- How much do you rely on social media to make friends?
- Do you use social media often to meet strangers?
- Do these interactions eventually become meaningful relationships?
- Is it possible to create meaningful relationships through social media?
- How do you usually find people who share the same interests as you?
- Do you need to meet the person face to face in order to have a friendship?
- What conditions need to exist for you to be comfortable to meet new people?
The following quotes are snippets from the ethnographic research we conducted:
“ How do you network people and things without being too invasive? ”
-Akshaoy, Bioengineer Grad Student
“ Take a look at the people who rented out each library book before you, they share your interests ”
- Daniel, Art History Graduate Student
“ I prefer to meet the person face to face. Somehow it seems impersonal chatting with the person online for me to have a relationship. ”
- Sean, History Graduate Student
Based on these interviews, we found several underlying sociological themes (insights) that were used to design the Social Seat:
- Humans prefer natural interactions over forced social gatherings.
- People like to connect and interact with people, especially of the same interests.
- People like open interactive spaces.
Using these themes, the we pinpointed an issue which the product will address: People need a natural and noninvasive way to meet and talk with new people with shared interests.
Social Seating and its current applications
The concept of choosing who to interact with based on physical location has been used in various fields. In Education, the seating arrangement in the classroom has been studied, since it can affect a child’s cognitive and social development.1 In town planning, the placement of public places aids in the social wellbeing of the elderly, as well as in encouraging socialization.2 Social seating is a social-networking service in which users have the option of choosing seats based on their social network or personal preferences. It is currently being used in several airlines such as KLM and Malaysia Airlines in which customers are given the option to book a seat through social networking sites such as Facebook.3 Customers can select a seat based on various personal preferences such as shared interests. Due to the increased demand of social seating, some airlines have even extended its services for bookings of rooms and tickets for other types of transportation. How effective social seating is remains unclear, with regards to meeting new people, as the technology is quite recent and no published research is available. In fact, companies in the field have had mixed success: “Planely no longer exists; it ran out of funding after three years in business. Another example, SeatID, has become BookingDirection.com and now deals with hotel bookings. Satisfly was bought by online travel agency Travelstart”.4
The Social Seat is an interactive chair and social networking system. Upon sitting on a Social Seat, the user “bumps” his/her smartphone, activating a unique color sequence on the back of the chair that identifies the person, and connecting the user to other Social Seat users in that location. He/She then uses the Social Seat app to locate other users with common interests, mutual friends, jobs, etc.
Users find each other by their unique color sequences, eliminating the need for names and pictures and therefore maintaining privacy.
Implications and Considerations
There are several implications to the Social Seat. Business security is extremely important when it comes to social networks. Once social networks become popular, these platforms need to create a barrier to entry to the market so they cannot be easily beaten by competitors, and this means they need to strengthen connections between users, and gather as much information from them as possible.
1 Evertson, C., Poole, I., & the IRIS Center. Effective room arrangement. 2002.
2 "Design Guide 001." (n.d.): n. pag. Inclusive Design for Getting Outdoors.
3 Mostvitch, Katia. "BBC - Future - Now You Can Pick the Perfect Plane Seatmate." BBC News. BBC, 29 Jan. 2016.
4 Mostvitch, Katia.2016.