Author Archives: Martin Irvine

About Martin Irvine

Martin Irvine is a professor at Georgetown University and the Founding Director of Georgetown's graduate program in Communication, Culture & Technology. He is interested in a wide range of interdisciplinary topics, including media theory, semiotics, cognitive science approaches to language and symbolic culture, computation and the Internet/Web, philosophy and intellectual history, art theory, contemporary music, vintage guitars, and all things post-postmodern.

Web and Internet Design Case Studies (in-class)

De-blackbox and uncover as much of the design principles, system architecture, and socio-technical system dependencies for:


(1) Netflix as a streaming digital video “content” service: via a “smart” TV with installed “app,” via a Web browser window on  PC screen, in the Netflix smartphone app.

(2) The use of dynamic data sources on a news media site (New York Times, CNN).

(3) YouTube as a Web service.

(4) Google Arts & Culture (Google Cultural Institute): a very complex socio-technical system. The technology layers and modules are the easy part. How can this Web project (platform? database? interface?) expose the complexities of the functions that they are trying to provide?


Affordance + Constraint + Interface Exercise

After reading Murray and Norman, and in light of last two weeks:

Let’s analyze the affordance, constraint, and interface designs of a standard mobile device “app,” and what it would take to redesign any feature or function, or add to them.


How much of the design question is constrained by device features and limitations (size, internal architecture, OS, software)?

Institutional, social, cultural constraints: the whole system for design questions

How much of a design problem is constrained by institutions, policies, regulations, user community cultures

App designers are given iOS or Android “APIs” to address “native features and functions” of the device. How many “native functions” are there in a smartphone that you can list?

You can’t add a new function like an x-ray enabled camera. Why?


Comments and feedback for week 5

Everyone had useful examples to think with this week.

I wanted to provide some general feedback that will help you think through the important design questions involved in learning how to de-blackbox and critique social-technical systems, going beyond what we users observe and interact with.

Remember to bring everything back around to design questions within a complex system, and not question of analyzing branded branded products, apps, or service.

  • De-productize first, and ask what pre-existing functions, uses, technologies, and social conditions have to be in place to enable the specific product.
  • All our tech and media products are instances of re-implementable designs and models of combination. What are they for a specific example?
  • What we usually find in a “new” technology is in a continuum of designs for re-implementable functions.

To help re-train the way we need to think (as opposed to echoing marketing, hype, and PR), try always inserting phrases like these when making a technology product, app, or service the subject of a sentence:

X [tech example] is a complex modular system designed to ___________ . ”

designed to be __________ .”

designed to do __________. “

And after it’s normal to think this way, you can always just say “X is designed to _______________ .”