Designing products for human desires


Age-old human desires such as omniscience, teleportation, and immortality underpin universal narratives that can be embodied in enchanted objects.

Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things by David Rose


Enchanted Objects describes products that author David Rose hopes will populate our lives in the future. Enchanted objects are “seamless and transparent”, not overbearing. They do not scream for attention.

Enchanted objects are ordinary things that are imbued with technological powers and connectivity. They resist the urge toward technological density and piling on of functionality.

When considering the future populated with these objects, Rose asks “what should we build?” Given the benefits of these augmented everyday things, which human desires will help us understand and guide new product development?

The enchanted objects that will succeed will be the ones that carry on the traditions and promises of the objects of our age-old fantasies, the ones that connect with and satisfy our fundamental human desires.

An ordinary object. Something we already know how to use. Imbued with a fantastic power that fulfills one of our most fundamental human desires…

Six Human Drives

When thinking about enchantment, Rose identifies six primary human desires which drive technological and product development. He sees a dialectic between fictional and real-life objects driving the creation of new products and technologies. As fictional enchanted objects are written and included in narratives, their real-world counterparts are spawned and develop along their own lines. Designers of enchanted objects develop new products which embody these desires and allow us to tell their stories in our own lives.


We want to know everything. Many of our technological augmentations today serve and fulfill this need. The desire to know all is exemplified in Wonder Woman’s lasso–a truth-telling device. Rose’s contribution to satisfying this vector of desire is the ambient orb, a “single pixel browser”, which displays a range of values through color. The orb is present and continuously displays information–it serves a single purpose and is unobtrusive. Rose likes single-purpose devices like a large LED unit that glows red when you use too much electricity in your home.


Understanding others and connecting effortlessly with people in our lives are areas in which technology plays a key role today. The fictional archetype is Cerebro, the X-men’s cavernous computer which enables Charles Xavier to peer into people’s minds. Closer to home are smart phones and social media feeds. Rose’s examples are a coat which hugs you, a photo frame which lights up when a linked frame is squeezed by your friend, and a doorbell that signals the imminent arrival of a loved one.


We live in a dangerous world. Technology has always been applied to safety and security. Harry Potter’s cloak of invisibility and Star Trek phases that can be “set to stun” are the fictional half of the dialectic here. Real world examples include automotive heads-up displays, ambient umbrellas that indicate rainy forecasts, door locks that recognize individuals, and tasers.


Extending our lives has been a desire of all human societies. Devices to help guide exercise and diet are proliferating on the market today. Future concepts include a cup with a mass spectrometer embedded can tell you the contents and caloric profile of your drink and utensils which sense salt intake. The challenge with most health-oriented technologies is achieving behavior change. Rose believes that having an enchanted object in your hand or on your table will support the immediate feedback loop to change your habits.


Easing our physical movement through time and space has been the dream of explorers through out time. Flying carpets are incarnated today as self-driving cars and on-demand transportation services.


We are fundamentally expressive beings. We seek to project our personalities and uniqueness on the world through various forms of expression. Legos, which were once just plastic bricks, now can be combined with motors and sensors and can be assembled into programmable devices. Artistic expression is augmented through devices while musical expression gains popularity through karaoke and Guitar Hero games.

Rose sees our stories and myths as animating and breathing life into the development of these super-charged objects and devices. The stories that capture our desires and dreams are told in new products and capabilities. Enchantment is the process of capturing these stories and bringing them into our lives as helpers and daily fixtures.


Enchanted Objects: Design, Human Desire, and the Internet of Things by Rose, David (2014) Hardcover


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