Author Archives: Huazhi Qin

Modularity of Google Translate App

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Huazhi Qin

As more and more opportunities for people to travel abroad or communicate with people using different languages, their desire to break language barriers intensify. Google Translate provides a solution.

The way to operate it is really simple: just open up the app, select the two languages you would like to convert between and input the original content via handwriting, camera or speaking. Then you get the response with little delay.

In order to achieve a simple mode of operation, Google Translate has to build up a complex design. In other words, it is a well-designed product, with “a hybrid structure containing interconnected, independent and hierarchical elements”. (Clark, 2000)

Language Translation

Language translation is the most basic and apparent functionality Google Translate provides. It is supported by Google’s strong computing power and database. Its basic translation system is built upon all available United Nations documents in six official languages. (Murphy, 2013) In addition, a sea of Web documents and users’ feedback also contribute to make up its data sets. Besides, English is taken as the intermediary step language in the conversion of other two languages. However, all the process of data collection, analysis and conversion are hidden beneath the icon “translate”.

Beyond language translation, it also implements the technologies of converting text, voice, handwriting and images information to voice and text response, which means it has to interact with other components or modules on mobile phone.

Handwriting to Text

Handwriting is the one of the methods to input content waiting for converting. Google Translate works together with touch sensitive scree and implements touch-screen handwriting recognition technology to interpret users’ movements into texts.

Voice to Text and Text to Voice

Google Translate works with microphone, loudspeaker and audio systems to achieve voice input and output. To fulfill the needs of speech-to-text conversion. it employs Text-to-Speech Technology and Speech Recognition or Dictation Technology, which is based on deep learning and big data.

Camera Instant Translation

Google Translate integrates Word Lens, an augmented reality translation application, to achieve camera instant translation and visual presentation. It uses camera on mobile phone to scan and quickly identify text in foreign language, and then complete the translation and display on the screen.


Tap to Translate

This is a relatively novel function in Google Translate. It improves the users’ experience by eliminating the additional efforts they make on shifting between Google Translate and other apps with content. In order to achieve simultaneous operation, Google Translate manages to not occupy onboard storage while keep all its functions by shrinking their language packages by 90 percent.



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

Kate Murphy. (2013). A Score or More of Languages in Your Pocket. Retrieved from the New York Times:


Weekly Writing – Week 2

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Huazhi Qin

To analyze something I take for granted in daily life is the most interesting part in this week reading. Any product easy to use and seemingly simple is supported by a complex design. As Arthur said in The Nature of Technology, “a technology is a combination of components to some purposes”. (Arthur, 2009) Every component should be elaborately designed and organized in a system in order to achieve the purpose of design.

Take translation apps as examples. Many current translation apps provide the such basic translation functions as text search and analytics and text-to-speech conversion but also the image analysis (scan and recognize text in image) and social function (share, comment). In order to achieve these, it should build up a database and connect closely with audio system, video system, camera and also other apps like social media.

Meanwhile, a product should also be a component of a larger design or system, for instance, what Apple did to make iPod a successful welcomed product in the world. Apple produced music player itself but also dealt with the relevant service including music copyright. (Norman, 2010) It made iPod a service ranging from getting, listening to and sharing the music.

Furthermore, the design world now is concerned with function and operation, with fulfilling fundamental needs, with delivering positive, enjoyable experiences. (Norman, 2010) It is not only about whether a design works but also whether that design brings enjoyable user experience. It means people do not mean to encounter difficulties when using a device or app, multiple functions though. They can press “play” to start a music and press “share” to share the music to social media.

In order to achieve that goal, designers should stick to the design principles including conceptual model, visibility and mapping. Thinking about operating stoves. There are four stoves in my home. The switches are rotary and each one controls one stove. There is also an obvious sign alongside each switch showing which stove it manipulates and which direction leads to “low” or “high”. These make clear instruction.

However, thoughts about one things not only between designers and users but also among designers are always far from the same. For instance, the original setting of the scroll direction is totally opposite in IOS and Windows system. At least to me, it usually gets me confused when I switch the system.

This also brings two questions to me. The first one is that how to effectively implement the principle of mapping when concerning different experience and culture standards? Another one is in consideration of different people display distinct experience about and ability to understand a new technology. e.g. the young might be more easily to master a new app than the old. How to determine the design criteria and standard?

Besides, there are two more small questions about the reading:

  1. Does the design with default (or nudge) a little bit conflict with the principle of visibility? For instance, complicated design with no signifiers and clear “not allowed” signal.
  2. Does a design with nudging and defaults continue working when once violated or broken by someone?



Brian Arthur (2009). The nature of technology: What it is and how it evolves.New York, NY: Free Press.

Norman, D. A. (2010). Living with Complexity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.