Author Archives: Shuyang Wang

GoPro Hero 4 – How Camera is Dismantled and Becomes a Better Recorder for Actions

This week’s readings address modularity and modular design, which divides up a whole complex system into interconnected, self-contained systems [i]. Modularity, according to Universal Principles of Design, helps to decentralize the system architecture, and thus improves reliability, flexibility, and maintainability [ii]. Gradual innovations on the module level, or sometimes even the recombination of modules, could improve the user experience significantly [v]. Electronics nowadays tend to inbound more modules into the same gadget to make it more capable (such as smart phones – it is not only a communication tool, but with different modules combined, is also a camera, file handler, MP3, etc.). On the other hand, GoPro is doing the contrary. To some extend it is trying to dismantle a camera module and keeping only the most essential parts within the gadget, while externalizing the “not that necessary” modules. Here I would like to use GoPro Hero 4 as a case to examine the modularity principle.


Essential modules in GoPro Hero 4

Dessemply of GoPro Hero 4 from IFIXIT


This replacement guide shows us the hardware in GoPro. From the instructor’s level, essential modular in GoPro Hero 4 are [iii]:

  • “SuperView” Lens: focuses the light before it reaches the camera sensor, enabling the camera to take wide-angle pictures
  • Image Sensor: an optical device used to capture light and store the visual data into digital storage
  • Speaker: to record sounds
  • Motherboard: the brain of the camera, controlling all of its functions
  • Battery: to power the device
  • Port: to connect LCD devices, external battery packs, and other accessories
  • LCD Screen: show feedback once the user gives instructions


Externalize GUI – How it Becomes More Suitable for Activity Filming

One of the major differences between Hero 4 and a common digital camera is that Hero 4 does not have a built-in display system – there’s no screen, no eyepiece for the users to see the picture while taking it. It is designed and reduced to the core principle of a camera –  a sensor only to capture and record sounds and images.

The display system, which is embedded in most of the cameras, is externalized from Hero 4. This gadget is thus “remodualized” as a tinier one caters to the need of action sport lovers, as for them, recording the experiences is the deepest sense, and the display system would not be frequently used while users are doing outdoor sports. The removal of the screen makes Hero 4 a smaller and easier-to-attach camera than the normal ones, and also saves the battery so that it can be used for longer for one charge.

The externalized display system becomes the GoPro application, which users could easily access on any portable devices through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. GoPro app works as the Graphical User Interface (GUI) for the camera, and users could easily use it to control their GoPro, check out the shots or create clips. Moreover, as this external GUI can directly connect GoPro to the cell phone, it provides the users an easier approach to share the moments to social media, such as Instagram and Facebook, thus better connects them to the community they want to be a part of.


Introducing Capture App


Accessories – Flexible Design according to the Users’ Preference 

Following the basic structures-context-changes template, changes occur as a result of combinations and sequences of simple structures [v]. GoPro has also provided its users other add-on modules to improve the camera’s performance. For example, LCD BacPac shows the captured pictures directly, Drone enables users to take aerial photos, Karma Grip stabilizes the GoPro camera for capturing smooth videos, and also, with cases and mounts, GoPro is waterproofed, and could be attached to wherever the user want it to be [vi]. To some extend, GoPro camera could be seen as the most central piece of module in the whole GoPro system, while the add-on modules creates space for the users to personalize their own camera, thus adjustments and differences could be made by changing a piece of the system without redoing the whole.  

The notion of a core piece and add-on accessories not only helps the company to profit more, but more importantly, it invites users into the design process and build up their GoPro according to their own preferences and requirements. At this point, GoPro could be seen as a “just-embedded system”, that the modular innovation and recombination are encouraged by the visible design rules, and there are also space  for future system evolutions [iv].

One of the add-on accessories choices: the Drone




[i] Martin Irvine, “Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers”.

[ii] Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill Butler. Universal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010.

[iii] “GoPro Hero4 Silver Repair.” IFixit. Accessed September 20, 2017.

[iv] Richard N. Langlois, “Modularity in Technology and Organization.” Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization 49, no. 1 (September 2002): 19-37.

[v] Carliss Y. Baldwin and Kim B. Clark, Design Rules, Vol. 1: The Power of Modularity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000.

[vi] “Gopro Homepage.” Accessed September 20, 2017.

Smart Phone as a Cognitive Artefact as Well as a Black Box

As a Cognitive Artefact 

A smart phone could be classified as a cognitive artefact according to the definition given by Norman, as it is designed to serve the representational function in ways of maintain, display, and operate upon information [i]. Smart phone enables people to communicate, exchange information, record thoughts as well as seek entertainment, thus to a great extent, it has enhanced our intellectual competence and social capability. Moreover, smart phone is also a media artefact that “creates an environment by its mere presence [ii]”. – when we look at the screen, it is not the screen itself that attracts the attention, but a broad world where people can receive and send a variety of information through it, It serves as a medium, though which the user can create and access content [iii].

Smart phones, though might differ according to the brand, share several common features and functions. It is a smooth entity (black-boxed) about the right size to be grabbed by one hand; portable, so people can easily bring it with them; it has an inserted chip to run various programs, a screen to show the images and texts, as well as a speaker to display the sounds. In general, the design of a smart phone caters to the human form, and makes it easy to be carried and used at hand.

The most basic function of a smart phone is to help people to communicate and provide people with approaches to be connected with others, either by text, voice message, or other ways of communication. To meet this need, a latent demand for a smart phone is to have signal (or internet) to send and receive messages, a digital display and a speaker to present the received message, as well as a touching screen or keyboards to input instruction and send message. Organized around this central principle of information exchange, other features and functions gradually evolve based on the existing techniques that supports the basic requirements, and give smart phones a more unique character as a cognitive artefact. For example, inserting GPS technique makes navigation services available in Apps such as Google Map; with principles of e-commerce combined, applications such as Amazon and EBay could also be easily accessed. As Arthur puts it, new technology arises by combining existing ones, and existing techs beget further technologies [iv]. The existing technologies becomes the soil for technologies of a new generation.

As a Black Box

Smart phones are designed as a “black box”— an entity that the mechanism is not shown from the outside. The reason behind could be explained from the design and cultural perspective. As discussed above, a smart phone serves for the cognitive and symbolic functions, thus its significance for the users lays not in the mechanism aspect but how to provide them with a smoother experience to interact through it and create meanings.  In the Design of Everyday Things, Norman presents a concept of “visibility”, which indicates that a successful design should let the correct parts be visible to provide signals that naturally indicate the usage of the design [v]. Showing the mechanisms inside does not necessarily help the users understand better the function of a smart phone. Presenting smart phones as a black box simplifies users’ understanding of them to a “conceptual model” [vi], which enables general users to see it as an entity, a gadget they can communicate through, instead of different functioning parts that might cause confusions and distractions to the users.



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

[ii] McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding media: The extensions of man. MIT press, 1994.

[iii] Manovich, Lev. 2013. Software Takes Command. International Texts in Critical Media Aesthetics, volume#5. New York ; London: Bloomsbury.

[iv] Arthur, W. Brian. The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. Reprint edition. New York: Free Press, 2011.

[v] Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2002.

[vi] Donald A. Norman, Living with Complexity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010.