Author Archives: Jiaxin Liu

Comparative Analysis between Smart Phone Cameras and Digital Cameras

In Which Sense Smart Phone Cameras Cannot Replace Dedicated Cameras?

Jiaxin Liu

CCTP 820 Leading by Design

Instructor: Dr. Irvine Martin


With the rapid development of digital technologies and optimization softwares that can mimic the look and “style” of film camera, the smart phone cameras seem can replace digital cameras now. And hence my research question is whether smart phone cameras can replace digital cameras? For which kinds of customers, the cellphone cameras can replace the digital cameras? And for which kinds of customers, the cellphone cameras can never replace the digital cameras? Therefore, this paper is basically a comparative analysis between digital cameras and cellphone cameras. And my argument is, for normal customers, the cellphone cameras are more portable, convenient, and useful; the optimization softwares in cellphones can help reprocess to “perfect” the size, color, and quality of image. However, for the professional photographers, the graphic artists, and anyone who chase the high-quality of image, the smart phones cameras are not enough for them, they still need DLSR to take hight-quality photos. I will collect the past data, survey, and case studies, and I will prove my argument through analyzing those data, survey, and specific cases.


Nowadays, the smart phone camera companies are constantly working on simulating the standard camera: to create the filters consumers are using to processing images, to improve the quality of images, and also to develop the optimization softwares to mimic the “look” and the feelings of film camera gives people. It’s irreversible trends that smart phone cameras are taking the market and fewer people will choose the heavy and thick, and relatively expensive digital cameras, especially DLSR. And thus some people argue the smart phone camera can replace the standard camera, and they’re more portable and easy to process. But that from a normal consumer’s level, not for the real photographer, I want to explore in which degree smart phone cameras cannot replace standard cameras from a designing perspective.

In this paper, I would like to firstly introduces the shared history of smart phone cameras and digital cameras, to demonstrate the common ground for them, and to explain why some people argue smartphone camera can be the replacement of digital camera. And in the second part, I will demonstrate the trends of the rapid development of cellphone cameras and how smartphone camera developers are working on softwares that stimulate the standard camera, and explain for which kinds of customers the cellphone cameras can replace digital camera by analyzing the data I collected and surveys. However, for a few of customers who prioritize the quality of image, for example the professional photographers, the cellphone cameras can never be the replacement of Digital Single Lens Reflex (DLSR).

And therefore, in the next part, I will distinguish the difference between smart phone cameras and DLSR, and explain why cellphone camera can not replace professional using case studies and also data analysis. The major difference between them: consumers’ control over ISO, aperture (i.e. the smart phone camera has fixed aperture, but photographers can change aperture based on their position on their DLSRs), and shutter. In addition a high-quality DLSR have more ability to capture more light information. With a DLSR, the professional photographers can have deeper focus to create the artistic effect and smaller aperture to capture fast motion. As DLSRs, they have larger size sensors which allow professional photographers to take extremely high definition photos. In the last, I also want to point out the design difference in the outlook of smartphone camera and DLSR. A well-designed camera will “meld” into people’s hands and allows a line of sight connection with people’s subject. The design of digital camera follows the affordance design principle, people can “intuitively” know how to use it when they hold the camera and look the landscape through the viewfinder.

The Common Ground for Digital Cameras and Smart Phone Cameras

Tracking back to the history, the word photography was derived from two Greek terms: phos and graphe. The first term means light, and the second means writing and drawing (Osterman, n.d.). And thus from these two root words, photography can be literally interpreted as using light to write and draw. Painting, writing, and drawing, or we say 2D image substrate technology, simulate the monoptical projected image. And light is the essential element in the photo-making process. According to Dr. Irvine, “photography is based on a lens projection from light reflected off a three-dimensional spatial source, the photographic image will always embody a direct analogy with the human eye (n.d.)”. For human beings, photograph is necessary for them to record their significant moments in time, and for the human world, photography as part of semiotic system is necessary to record the history.

Light as one root has an irreplaceable role in photography. All cameras, including digital cameras, film cameras, and cellphone cameras, are sharing the same optic principle. In the 11th century, the principle of Camera Obscura was found by Arab scholar Alhazan. The principle of Camera Obscura as figure 2 shows the image can be projected through a small hole on the wall in a large room. For Camera Obscura, the image of one object will be projected through a small hole in a screen, but in a reversed and inverted version. Lights travels in a straight line, the light rays reflected from a object travels straightly through a small hole in a membrane. And because the light rays reflected from the object is below the hole travels upward through the hole and continues a high point on the wall, the light from the high point will travel down to a low point on the wall while the light from the low point will travel up to a high point on the wall; and also the light from left or right will do the same (Sagers & Patterson, 2010). In the 19th century, the Camera Obscura box had been developed into photographic camera, and the hole in the membrane functions as the aperture in the lens of modern cameras.

In the modern time, photography is being fitted into digital sense. With the appearance of binary code, the digital photography is the process of assigning numbers in a binary code to form an image from light. For the digital image, pixel is the smallest unit that forms a picture can be shown on the screen. Though the technology to record an image has changed, but the principle of managing light to record correct exposure of an image remains the same. In 1975, the first digital camera was invented by Steven Sasson, an engineer working for Eastman Kodak. This camera weighs 8 pounds, and the shutter speed is much slower than most camera today. It would take about 23 seconds to record a 10,000 pixel photograph. However; it is a milestone in the history of cameras and is being considered as one of the most important cameras in the world, because it is the pioneer for taking the first digital image in black and white (Sagers & Patterson, 2010).

During the 20th century, the digital cameras has been developed: flash, color photographs, telephoto and wide angle lenses. But the basic parts for any digital camera remains the same: lens, IRIS or diaphragm, shutter, and medium (Ron, 1944). Different objects will release different light rays, and the lenses focus and capture the light rays and turn them into image. Diaphragm or IRIS determines the amount of light can be entered in the medium, this device is to control the depth of field. Shutter speed determines time of exposure (White, 2007). The medium is the materials in where the light rays can be transferred into recored images.

With the development of digital technologies and smart phone, people find that they can make high-quality photos with their cellphone. The design of digital cameras are more heavy, less portable, and relatively expensive for the consumers. The goal of taking photos for the normal consumers is to record and preserve the significant moment in their life, but now the smart phone can do the same thing with a smaller cost. We can take Apple and Huawei as examples to see what smart phone companies have done for improving their built-in cameras. In 2007, the traditional digital camera company treated iPhone camera as a joke when it firstly launched. In 2010, Apple started to pay more attention to the cellphone cameras because this year Instagram came out and created a trend of recording lives thorough taking photos. Comparing to digital cameras, smart phone cameras are more accessible to normal people. And smartphone itself can work as the interfaces for smart phone cameras and Instagram. Photos taken by cellphone cameras can be directly imported to Instagram. In the same year, iPhone 4 came out and it’s the first time for cellphone cameras to add an additional front-facing VGA camera and a backside rear-facing camera, a 3.85 mm f/2.8 lens and an LED flash. The rear-facing camera is capable of recording HD video in 720p, which is equivalent to a point-and shot camera at that time.

And Apple keeps developing its camera after tasting the big success of iPhone 4. The iPhone 7 Plus has improved its lens, it has two lenses—a 28-mm 12-megapixel lens and a 56-mm12-megapixel telephoto lens. Apple also managed to pack a lot of premium features—longer exposures, better aperture, and the ability to shoot digital negatives, which professionals call DNGs. A DNG is, essentially, a photo file that captures all the visual information possible for further manipulation, such as enhancing shadows or removing highlights. The new iPhone uses circuitry, software, and algorithms to create images that look and feel as if they came out of high-end cameras.

Apple is not the first and only smart phone company that put efforts on improving cameras, Huawei has been working with Leica for a long time. Huawei has shown its ambition by trying to creating the best “cellphone camera ever”.  The following photo was taken by Huawei P9. We can tell that the the lens can capture more light information, and thus the color is more naturally. There is one feature I want to highlight is the “pro” mode: a fanciful name for manual control mode. It simulates the professional cameras and allows the users to set ISO (from 50 to 3200) and shutter speed (from 1/4000th sec to 30 sec) (Tan, 2016). The appearance of this kind of smart phone cameras reveals the future of smart phone cameras. Their features will become more similar to the professional cameras.


From these cases, we can see how smart phone companies have done to improve their cameras. According to the data from NPD Group, 27 percent of photos shot this year was taken by smart phone cameras, while in the last year, the number was 17 percent. Accordingly, photos shot by digital cameras was dropping from 52 to 44 percent. The figure shows the comparison between the growth in smart phone cameras use and the decline in digital camera. This phenomena shows the rapid growth of smart phone cameras has started to disrupt the use of traditional digital cameras. People now have more faith in smart phone cameras and in the future the comparison between cellphone camera use and digital camera use will become more sharpen.

In the meanwhile, the optimization software has greatly influence. The camera is also an interface for the apps (optimization softwares) to further process the recorded images. For example, photoshop and light room allow people to adjust the brightness, whiteness, effects, and even change the detail of the photo. And therefore, even the cellphone cannot take high quality photos, they can use photoshop or light room to reprocess the photo.

How professional cameras functions different from Smart Phone Cameras

The idea of “Making a photograph” is promoted by Ansel Adams. Instead of passively “take” a photo as to record an image, he argues a well-designed photograph is art which is crafted by the photographer by his or her own genre (Ansel, 1935). The photo here is not waiting to be taken. A professional photographer should have a plan and know what is he or she really want. Namely, it should be an intentional artifact. And the photographers have created a visual culture. Photography reflects numerous human culture: realism, modernism, and postmodernism. It’s not only a visual culture to allow people to appreciate its beauty aesthetically, but have more deeper social meanings. It helps people to memorize. The photography has already rooted in the human society, has deeply connection with culture and politics, namely, becomes a cultural symbol in the human history. For example, this figure was taken in Vietnam War. It’s art, but also associated with politics and society. This photo is to help people remember the horrors of the war. Only the professional camera have the chance to capture one important  moment and record it in a relative high quality, and makes people feel its historical depth.

For professional and amateur photographers, the quality of photo has the priority. The professional cameras, for example DLSRs, they usually have larger sensors. They can gather more light and offer more depth of field control. One of the main criticisms of smartphone cameras is the lack of shallow depth of field. The tiny sensor with wide-angle lens design deliver images with extensive depth of field, frustrating photographers who are used to using shallow depth of field for creative effects. Here I would like to take Canon 5D Mark III as the case. The sensor of 5D Mark III is exactly 50 times bigger than iPhone 6. That large sensor allows photographers to get images that are physically impossible with a phone. The ISO value can reach 6,400 while the maximum value for iPhone 6 is ISO 800. Therefore from this comparison, the constraint of cellphone camera can be tell. Through cellphone camera, the photographers cannot really control the value of ISO, aperture, and shutter in a large degree. And hence the quality of image recorded by cellphone is not as good as DLSR. And for these professional photographers, the use of DLSR has already become a habit, and an obsession. Their control over the design of camera makes them have satisfactions.


Getting a glimpse of the current situation, the cell phone cameras have gradually become the preferred way of recording images for normal customers. However; for many professional and amateur photographers and graphic artists, the digital cameras, especially DLSR, cannot be replaced by smart phone cameras because of the high-quality image and the photography cultural environment they create. Photography has become a cultural symbol rooted in the human society. The smart phone cameras can never replace professional cameras and digital cameras completely.


Adams, A., (1935). Making a Photograph: An Introduction to Photography. 2nd ed. Studio.

Burgin, V., (1982). Thinking Photography. London: Macmillan.

Chris, C., (2012). Between Image and Information: The iPhone Camera in the History of Photography. University of Sydney.

Estes, John E., (2005). The  Camera Obscure. University of California at Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara, CA.

Nelson, T., (2016) Review: The Leica-Branded Huawei P9 is Impressive…for a Phone Camera.

Slivka, E., (June 8, 2010). “A Look at iPhone 4’s Camera Quality”. MacRumors. Retrieved June 20, 2010.

Sagers, S., & Patterson, R. (2010). History of Photography. Utah State University.

White, R., (1994). How Digital Photography works, 2ne ed. ISBN 0-78973630-6

Week 13 Reading Reflection

A brief history: enquire within upon everything

From this week’s reading, I have learned the history of World Wide Web and some basic information. The invention of World Wide Web can be also credited to the development of computer, hypertext, and internet. Some projects are aborted because they are too ahead of time, for example, Doug Engelbart’s idea of using electronic mail and hypertext links with mouse in the right hand and a five key piano-chord keyboard in the left hand to increase HCI in a natural way. But as Tim Berners-Lee mentioned in Weaving the Web, the invention of World Wide Web was just on the perfect timing. It first came out as ENQUIRE, a CERN project. In his original plan, a space in computer should be created in which people can link anything that can be linked. And it was like the following photo, and with more widely use of computer, Tim Berners-Lee developed the first web browser World Wide Web with his NeXT computer.

Case study: Uber

As one who almost uses uber everyday, the cellphone Uber app for me is the main interface. As a client software, Uber also interacts with the other servers.

  • GPS

Geolocation is of great importance in Uber’s system. The Uber app for iOS uses the CoreLocation Framework to locate a user’s device. The CoreLocation framework provides classes and protocols to configure and schedule location delivery and send location events to the server. Besides, the Uber app for iOS also uses MapKit to provide driving directions. As the photo shows, the users of Uber can see the point-to-point direction and real time location. Now Google Map also offers integration to Uber.

  • Message & Phone call

The Uber app is linked to our cellphone carriers. When you order a ride, Uber will send you few notifications like this:

When the uber drivers cannot find their passengers, or the passengers cannot find the uber drivers, they can make a phone call or text each other.

  • Bank and Payment system.

The Uber account is usually linked with users’ bank account or Paypal account. When you choose to pay with your credit card, Braintree, one of the leading company in the mobile payment market will help to make transactions safely. When you choose to pay with Paypal, the users can pay directly from their Paypal account.


Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web. HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.

Kate Abrosimova, Building an app like Uber: What is the app made from?  Retrieved from:

Ron White, How Computers Work. 9th ed. Que Publishing, 2007. “How the World Wide Web Works.”

Janna Anderson, and Lee Rainie. “The Future of Apps and Web.”  Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, March 23, 2012.

How to make a website?

This semester I grow strong interests in designing a personal website, and thus I start to learn how to make a website from google and some video tutorials. For a basic website, three things are necessary: website building platform, domain name and web hosting. With these three things, we can start to set up and customize our website.

  1. Choose a website building platform

The past decades have witnessed great changes in technology. In the past, the programmers usually use HTML (code) or CSS, and they are really hard to master. Hence it’s difficult for normal people access to make websites. But nowadays with the development of Content Management System (CMS), which is relatively easy to control, it’s easier and accessible for normal people to design a website. WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are all examples of CMS, and we can take WordPress as an example. As the gif. shows, the WordPress is similar to Microsoft, it’s really easy to add content.

  1. Choose a web hosting provider

Making a website is like building a house on the internet. The domain name is the address of the house, while the web hosting is the space we will use to build our house. There are numerous web hosting providers for the website designers to choose. The web hosting is like the space to place our files, and it’s owned by a host-provide company. Usually we need to pay for the web hosting provide company.

When choosing the web hosting provider company, there’re many factors need to be taken into account for the website designers: storage and bandwidth (the amount of data transfer is allowed), reliability, security, and the quality of technology support. For example, if you’re a small business owner and your budget is constricted, you probably don’t need very large storage and bandwidth for economic reason.

  1. Choose a domain name

As I have said before, domain name is like the address of your house. Though actually we can choose whatever name we want by ourselves, it’s better for us to pick one unique and short. For a good domain name, it needs to be short, easy to type and remember, and include the keywords that indicate your area. Besides, it’s important to have a domain name extension. The domain name extension is at the end of website address, such as .com and .net. The domain name extension indicates the area of the website. For example, .org is the website for non-commercial organizations, and .co is for company, commerce, and community.

In this information age, designing a website is no longer a thing only for programmers. Even we’re working in different fields, we might all need a website to do propaganda, evaluation, or just express thoughts. I hope in the future I can put these theories and principles I have learned into practice and make my own website!


Martin Irvine, Introducing Internet Design Principles and Architecture: Why Learn This?

Robert Mening, How to Make A Website, Retrieved from:

Stacey Hartman, How to Find the Best Hosting Company, Retrieved from:

Introducing My Old Friend: Canon 60D

This week we has entered into the conversation of digital media. Because my interests lie in photography and graphic design, I have to deal with digital media a lot in my daily life. Therefore, this week I would like to introduce one of my best friend, my camera—Canon 60D.

It’s not a very fancy high-quality camera, but I have been using it for 4 years. I started to use it when I had no understanding of photography principle and even cannot focus on one object. And now I can manually set up the shutter, ISO, and aperture and finally take a satisfying photo. It records the very important moment of my life. I feel like it’s more than a digital camera, it’s an old friend of mine.

The outer design of Canon 60D

Because of blackbox, at first I had no idea of how this camera works. But I saw the outer design, the fairshaped outlook really attracted me.

  • Affordance

The handle bar gives people a visual clue of how to hold it. When I actually hold this camera, I can feel it fits my hands and figures perfectly. And the small window (viewfinder) in the back side indicates that people can see the scenes through the it. There are several turntables in the body of camera, the turnable design implies people can turn it. And when you actually turn this turn table, you can see the changes in values of shutter, ISO, and aperture, at the same time the photo will also change with these values. Beside, the essential of the camera is the lens ring, it’s also turnable. The design of lens ring will also give people a hint. People can adjust the lends ring to focus best on the object.

  • GUI (Graphical User Interface)

There’s a screen in the backside of camera. People can press the buttons and turn the turntables to change the values. First, they can set up the language. There are numerous languages they can select, so people from all over the world can choose whatever languages they’re comfortable with. And then, a professional photographer will start to adjust the effects and several qualities of image. In addition, when you turn the camera to the video model, you can see the video you record through this small screen. And thusly you can make adjustments timely.

And all of these design increases the interaction between human and the camera.

The inner principle and design of Canon 60D

The basic principle of camera is very simple:

The objects will release different light rays, and the lenses focus and capture the light rays and turn them into image. Diaphragm determines amount of light to be entered and shutter speed determines time of exposure.

De-blackboxing Canon 60D: The modular design inside

The design of camera is also follows the universal design principle. And it basically reveals the modular design. The camera body comes as a package and the lenses, matte boxes, high speed motors and many other things are added on to make the camera fit the needs of users.

Because of blackboxing, we can use the camera to take gorgeous without seeing the inside and knowing every part and working principle of the digital camera. But actually it’s a very complex system inside the small “black box”. The following photo is the motherboard of canon 60D. From this photo, we can see the nodes and small metal components. Each components has its own function and plays a crucial role. Without one single part, the camera cannot work in the right way. 

The Final Step: Photoshop

As Ron White writes in his book How Digital Photography Works, the control of light is essential in the process of photo taking. However; we cannot control the weather when we’re taking photos outside. And so we need photoshop to sightly “beautify” the image. From my understanding, the best photos are all from photoshop (I’m kidding). With photoshop, we can change the light, whiteness, and add filters to the photo to make it seems more beautiful.

The Changes in Computer

“In the 1950s-60s, no one in the computer industry could have imagined the digital media world of today”.

I got this excerpt from Dr. Irvine’s introduction video. No one can predict the future of technology accurately, because we’re living in a information explosion era. Everything in the computer industry is always changing rapidly. Several decades ago, computer is designed for government, military, and business use. We know that the first true computer in the world is financed and developed by the US Army Ordnance Corps for military use in 1946. The first computer is basically a big calculator, and it could occupy the whole room. It can be said that the Cold War is the major pushing factor for the creation of first computer. The fear of being inferior to other countries technologically pushes US to invest a lot in computer developing. And new weapons and military-use softwares like guided missiles and GPS need computers to run the whole system. Overall because of these military factors, the first computer came out, and it looked like this:

(photo from wikipedia Commons)

Then let’s see how Apple computer looks like today:

This is the latest macbook pro that released in Sep. 2017. Obviously we can tell it’s much smaller, more portable and good-looking. And it also applies GUI, the graphical user interfaces, which makes user can easily control the computer. It’s a design that allows users to interact with the computer with graphical icons and visual indicators. For the users and customers, the computers with GUI are more flexible, easy to control, and more entertaining. As Alan Kay has said about GUI, “For the first time, I felt like I was touching the information structure”, GUI system gives users new experience.


Except for the changes in outlook, the new macbook reveals the functional changes of computer. As we have discussed, computers in the last centuries were designed for military and business use, while today they have more to do with educational and entertaining use and instead of government use, they are more for individual use. Alan Kay contends that a computer is more like a “meta-medium”. We cannot see computer as a medium has its own fixed rule, but a platform that also represents the other media. For example, we can purchase apps from app store and different apps and softwares have different functions. With iTunes, individuals can enjoy more beautiful songs; with Youtube, people can watch any types of video they like; with BBC News, people can know what happens in the world; and with Python or JAVA, people can design their own softwares.

Besides, the new macbook also add a touch bar in the keyboard. The users can  actually control the computer through touching different bars. This change also increase Human-Compter Interaction (HCI). It also applies desktop metaphor into use. In this system, the computer monitor can be seen as a desktop, and the folders and documents will be placed in order in the desktop. Because the desktop is closer to our life, the desktop metaphor also makes it easier for the users to control the computer. And all those changes also show that the good design makes our life easier.


Martin Irvine, Intro to Information Theory in Meaning Systems. Retrieved from:

Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information. Retrieved from:

Alan Kay: Doing with Images Makes Symbols (1987). Retrieved from:

What I have learned about computational thinking

  • “Computational thinking is a fundamental skill for everyone, not just for computer scientists. (Wing, 2006)”

I used to believe computational thinking is far away from my life, a communication student. However, after this week’s reading and having a basic understanding of python, my thoughts about computational thinking has changed. Computational thinking is more like a thinking method or model that helping us solve problems in a complex system. It also helps us solve everyday problems and has closely connection with our daily life.

The question is how much we need to pay for the meal including tax and tip. I got this example from the python tutorial. This case is pretty simple, and we’re facing this kind of problem every time when we go out to eat in a restaurant. It’s really interesting to see the everyday stuff in computational language. And the system automatically gives me the answer: 54.63.

As far as I can see, computational thinking helps people enhance their analytical ability and leads us a better, systematically way of thinking and solving problems. Instead of calculating the numbers directly, python tries to give us a function for how to calculate the total payment. It decomposes a big complex problem into some small, relatively simple problems that can be fixed. Firstly, we need to know the money for the meal, and meal = meal + meal * tax. And the total amount of money equals to the new meal (money for the meal including tax) + new meal * tip. And it also shows a fast, flexible way to use massive data to contribute our work as well as daily life.

  • The dynamic interactions between computing and other field: implementation and influence

As Dr. Denning addressed in The Great Principles of Computing, the principles of computing has been categorized into computation, communication, coordination, recollection, automation, evaluation and design (2010). Those seven categories sometimes have overlaps with each other. For example, artificial intelligence can be seen as a computation system, automation system, and a design system. Additionally, we can also see the interactions between computing and other areas. There are two ways that one scientific phenomenon can interact with the other: implementation and influence.

  1. Implementation: the combination of a phenomenon and existing stuffs. Here we can see a software Construct 3 as an example. It’s a software that can make simple digital game and animation. So basically I can tell it’s computation, pictures, and system language that implement this software. 
  2. Influence: Two phenomena influence each other. Also in this software, the system language and code can influence how every object in this animation works. Only by giving a commend to the object CO2 with the correct system language, can the object CO2 start to work.


“Learn Python.” Codecademy. Accessed October 24, 2017.–console-output/exercises/strings?action=lesson_resume.

Wing, J. (2006). Computational Thinking. Retrieved from: [Accessed 25 Oct. 2017].

Wing, J. (2006). The Great Principles of Computing. American Scientists. Retrieved from [Accessed 25 Oct. 2017].



How information is being transmitted?

This week’s reading refreshed my understanding of the concept of information. In our daily life, information usually refers to facts and details that enhance our understanding. However, in the technical sense, information can be seen as a designed problem for transmitting encoded signals in a physical medium.

Information Model Theory

In Shannon’s model, we can see the process of how information is encoded and transmitted. Here we can use message app in our cellphone as an example, when we sending message to our friends, we are actually encoding information through the binary digit (bits) system. During this process, some system error (noises) can occur. And the information will be transmitted from the bits system to texts again through our friends’ decoding. Finally, in our friends’ cellphone they will receive our text message and interpret our message based on their understanding.

Though this model is essential for the daily digital and electronic system, it is insufficient for the meaning system.

Who Creates Meaning?

Meaning are not in anything or any system, the cognitive agents enact meanings based on their own understandings and interpretations. The social-cultural cognitive symbol users encode information, and the other cognitive symbol users receive and decode the information, during this process meanings are created.

In my own understanding, not only language, but the digital images need to be designed and transferred to visual information. As a visually inclined person, I love taking photos with my camera and enjoy others’ works.

(Photo from

During the process of taking pictures, the landscape we pick (the 3D space) will have different light rays, and those light rays will be captured and transferred by our digital camera. A good photographer will choose the best angel, place, and situation to shoot. In this way, he or she can encode some information through the photo: either expressing his or her emotion and thoughts, or promoting the beautiful landscape. And the audience will decode the photographer’s information through their own understanding and their own social-cultural background.

For example, my friend sees the beauty of nature from this photo. However; my first thought about this photo is the photographer must use tele-photo lens, and it’s really expensive.


Martin Irvine (n.p.), Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information.

James Gleick (2011), The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. NY: Pantheon

Peter Denning and Tim Bell (2012). The Information Paradox. American Scientist

Affordance in the Design of Everyday Things

In our daily life, numerous things around us have great affordance. Books, door handles, and even the design of a pen can reveal how the people “perceive” the function of an artefacts through visual cues the object provided. And the affordance of those simple products can be transferred to computational and digital displays. I think Kindle is the perfect example of how affordance can be transferred from non-digital artifact (book) to digital artifact.

-Physical affordance:

The physical affordance of an artefact can be responded through inferring how its use fits human body. We can see the way people hold books:

The structure of paper books helps readers hold them easily, and gives readers a clue that books need to be read horizontally or vertically, and they need to be read from one side (the former page) to another side (the latter page).

The way people hold Kindle is quite like the way they hold books. The design of Kindle also gives people a clue that the E-books need to be read horizontally.

-Perceptual affordance:

We can tell from the design of paper book that their pages are turnable. And for Kindle, readers can touch the left side of the screen to move forward and tough the right side to move backward.

The readers can see there are two linear button on both left side and right side of the screen, which gives the reader a clue. Besides, the page-turning direction of Kindle is exactly the same with the paper books. According to Norman, “in graphical, screen-based interfaces, the designer primarily can control only perceived affordance” (1999). The touch screen of Kindle provides the readers with numerous hints about how to turn page and read.

-Cognitive affordance:

In some countries, books can be read horizontally, for example the US. But in some countries, books can only be read vertically, for example in Japan. And thusly the design of Kindle E-books in Japan can only be read vertically while the E-book in US can be read horizontally. In addition, people will touch the right button to move forward and left button to move backward, which is exactly opposite to the US way. The design of books and Kindle depend on the difference in cultural conventions.


For books, we can only turn pages to read it. Once we forget the page we have read, we need to turn pages from the beginning (or use the bookmarks). However, Kindle somehow improved, the system of Kindle can memorize the page we have read and automatically turn to the page we want.

Question about this week’s reading:

I’m confused with the concept of real affordance and perceived affordance. I know they are different, but I cannot tell the difference in the real affordance and perceived affordance of Kindle.


Irvine, M. (n.d.). Affordance-Interface-Intro.pdf. Retrieved October 11, 2017, from

Zhang, J., & Patel, V. L. (2006). Meet Google Drive – One place for all your files. Retrieved October 11, 2017, from

Norman, D. A. (1999). Affordance, Conventions, and Design. Retrieved October 11, 2017, from

Understanding Technologies as Socio-technical Artifacts: Destroy the Wall

Jiaxin Liu

CCTP 820 Weekly Reading Reflection

Technical artifacts are different from natural objects because technical artifacts are created by human beings on purpose. And they could also be distinguished from social objects in some aspects, for example, technical artifacts fulfill their function through physical properties while social objects are by social acceptance (Vermaas, Kroes, Poel, Franssen, & Houkes, 2011). However, some technical artifacts as media actively mediating social and cultural agencies. This week I would also like to use Kindle as an example to demonstrate how technical artifacts can break the wall that separates technology and culture or society.

Can Kindle be seen as “anti-culture”?

Debray mentions in the traditional western cultures technology is considered as anti-culture, while culture is experienced as anti-technology (n.d.). Books and texts are part of the society and culture which record all human history and human knowledge. It can be said that they are the core mediators of our social and cultural life. And so the question is what Kindle changes comparing to the original books? First, Kindle represents the technological advance: the irk electronic touch-screen. The art of paper-making technique was invented in the Chinese Han Dynasty in AD 105. And since then, people started to use paper to record historical events and human knowledge. The meaning of paper books is beyond channels of transmission, it’s a symbol of culture and human knowledge. And now, instead of the old paper-making and printing technology, Kindle applies the electronic and digital technology, and uses touch-screen. Second, Kindle changes people’s feeling about reading. When people are reading a paper book, they can actually leaf through those pages and feel the tactility of books. And they can take notes everywhere in the book as they want. However, for Kindle, they can only touch the screen to do the page turning, and people cannot actually ‘feel’ the book. Because of Balckbox, the customers and readers can just use the digital device, but they don’t know why and how it works. All those interfaces of Kindle are “invisible” to readers, and thusly readers will only feel this product very totalized and opaque. For those two reasons, Kindle might be considered as “anti-culture”.

However, it’s not the truth. As Dr. Irvine mentioned in the video lecture, “E-books stimulate ideal features of traditional print books”. The power of a medium shouldn’t be found in its property. It’s not the paper-making technique and printing technology that fulfill books’ function. What’s really matter is the its core value. For books, they are the media that transmit human knowledge and history, and Kindle remains the function of book and make it more portable and flexible. Rather than saying Kindle, the E-books, destroys the paper culture and print technology, I would like to say Kindle remediates books and texts into the digital forms, but the core value and social functions remain.

Kindle as cooperating interfaces

In the socio-technical system thinking, culture and technologies are coproduced, and thus a co-mediation system formed. Some physical forms are empowered by its socio-cultural institutions and in return “mediate” their power. From the mediological point of view, the media is like a interface which connects to the other cooperating agencies, cultural institutions, social ideologies and even policies. In my own understanding, Kindle can be seen as a interface that mediate to other social-cultural aspects: Online shopping and space-managing thinking. The customers can only buy E-books online if they want to use Kindle, and Kindle also helps create a trend of online shopping. Out of the thoughts of saving space, Kindle was created. Comparing to the normal paper books, Kindle is more portable and flexible, it’s more like a mini library. And Kindle also provoke this trend of space-managing thinking, and now we have more digital devices that are more portable and space-saving.


Irvine, M. (n.d.). Working with Mediology and Actor Network Theory: How to De-Blackbox an iPhone.

Regis, D. (n.d.) , What is Mediology, Le Monde Diplomatique, Aug., 1999. Trans. Martin Irvine.

Vermaas, P., Kroes, P., Poel, I. van de, & Franssen, M. (2011). A Philosophy of Technology: From Technical Artefacts to Sociotechnical Systems. Morgan & Claypool.

Cognitive Artefacts: Accumulating human knowledge

Norman’s article helps me have a better understanding of cognitive artefacts. Human beings are unique because we have the ability to use language and actively create artefacts. With the help of artefacts, we can not only survive in the wild world, but dominate the modern intellectual world. And those artefacts that help us provoke our thinking and enhance our cognitive ability are called cognitive artefacts, the third-level artefacts for Cole. As human intelligence is constantly progressing, new technology come out and the cognitive artefacts are improved time by time. At the same time, the new cognitive artefacts are constantly refreshing our mind and giving us more ideas. It’s actually a mutually benefit process.

As a college student, books and libraries naturally become part of our life. In my understanding, library is like a cognitive architecture, and in this integrated framework, we can see the accumulating human knowledge from ancient time to the present.

Book as cognitive artefacts

Mess in reading room (Photo from blogs)

Books as cognitive artefacts allow us to offload massive memories, information and knowledge. For example, a history student doesn’t need to remember every event in the history. When he is about to write a research paper, he could actually find books that are related to his topic in the library and use them as references. When he is going to take an exam, he could also go to the library reading books, and his performance in the exam will be improved. From the system view, books enhance human being’s memory and improve their performance. From the personal view, he, the student, completes his task. He can do a good job on his paper and exam without memorizing everything.

Understanding books and library in distributed cognition approach

The distributed cognition approach built a bridge between the “external world” and the human cognitive process, it suggests the “boundary” should be broken and human cognition not only lies in human beings, but also relates to the external social and physical environment. In a library, the books are being categorized and distributed as “literary”, “technology”, “history”, and etc. In this way, we can have a basic understanding of this. The physical environment of library enhances our cognitive understanding of books.

Cognitive artefacts are constantly processing

Now let’s see how “books” look like today.

(Photo from

Kindle, one thin, small, and portable electronic devices, can actually contain all books from a library. And from my understanding, Kindle is a meta-medium. The Kindle system is actually like a library in which you can access to previously accumulative human knowledge and media: books, journals, and pictures.

We don’t know what “books” or Kindle will look like in the future. But one thing is for sure, as long as human intelligence is developing, the design of “books” will become more advanced and more comprehensive as a continuum of accumulating human knowledge.


Cole,Michael  On Cognitive Artifacts, From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. Connected excerpts.

Irvine, M. (n.d.). Introduction to Cognitive Artefacts and Semiotic Technologies. Retrieved from:

Norman, A. Donald  “Cognitive Artifacts.” In Designing Interaction, edited by John M. Carroll, 17-38. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991. Read pp. 17-23.