Author Archives: Evelyn Dan Epelle

Design Thinking: Is Uber’s UX diminished by Pool?

By Dan Epelle Evelyn

CCTP 820: Leading by Design: Principles of Technical and Social Systems

Georgetown University, Fall 2019

Depending on what is important to you, Uber’s Pool ride-sharing experience further provides affordability and flexibility for passengers, and even claims to be convenient for drivers. Uber Pool includes advantages that are far more reaching than cost-effectiveness for riders; like how pooling connects people in a given social network where two or more people share a short ride, then conveniently cut costs for doing so.

News stories[1] have even been published on social relationships brought about by social connections made via Uber Pool. Think of the algorithm that executes the Uber Pool ride option; an intelligent system letting passengers share a trip’s cost while heading toward the same direction. We see here, how such an algorithm is designed to intentionally put passengers heading in the same direction together. This calculated attempt is also embedded in Uber’s acclaimed mission to make commuting affordable for riders and effortless for drivers[2]. Five years have now passed since the service was first launched, so measuring the introduced effect of  Uber Pool ride-sharing service on Uber’s User Experience (UX) is feasible.

Getting picked up at your doorstep is the opportunity cost forgone when a rider uses the Uber Pool option which saves costs but requires waiting and/or walking a distance to meet with a driver. In this document, I reflect on the User Experience of Uber since the introduction of its carpooling function. I use design thinking for deblackboxing and analyzing the socio-technical components behind the Uber experience. In doing so, I consider the technologies that have been made available to Uber which enabled the design of this innovation. I also identify the unique ways in which the design might be combined for improved User Experience (UX). In doing so, both quantitatively and qualitatively, I provide support for the hypothesis that Uber Pool diminishes Uber’s User Experience (UX) as a result of an algorithm that is weighted in favor of the driver’s convenience, over user experience for riders.


In collecting data for this paper I have utilized my knowledge of the Uber Pool experience as an observer and user of Uber as a service, combined with theories, design principles for building application software and academic resource from CCTP 805 Leading by Design course taught by Communications, Culture, and Technology (CCT) program Founding Director, Prof. Martin Irvine, at Georgetown University. This includes ideas from class discussions, weekly blog reflections, social interactions debating the subject with peers and industry professionals, and for depth, a case study directly connected to the design of Uber Pool by Uber Technologies.



Uber as an App is designed to be simple: push to start, one button. As an application of technology in transportation, Uber is also very close to so many of us, at least as many as there are, that own a mobile phone, internet connectivity, and have downloaded the Uber App for any purpose that ranges from rider, driver, partner, consultant, etc. This number is in hundreds of millions. The Uber App is built to provide safe transport of persons across distances, and when such persons are grouped together, we can trust that a combinatory arrangement of that nature can also contribute to reducing traffic-related congestion in urban areas – especially where road network problem is directly correlated with car traffic congestion. Uber has delivered this service in over 600 cities globally since it was founded in 2009 by startup gurus, Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp.

Its socio-economic value has accelerated the company’s status from the pride of San Francisco[3] to one of the fastest-growing startups in the world[4].  All of these conveniences, however, packaged by Uber, comes with a need for consumers to compute the trade-offs when determining how much of Uber’s advertised convenience they can now afford.

Some of these computations and deliberations around tradeoffs when using Uber as a service became even more pronounced with the introduction on Uber Pool in 2014. Uber itself has had to make adjustments, which might suggest to an outsider that the company acknowledges the inconvenience brought about by Uber Pool since its release. Of course, adjustments are what you do, and not scrap off a new feature, which has otherwise become the most profitable for the company following its release. Some insights presented by research are in favor of the notion that Uber’s user experience (UX) is, however, burdened by Uber Pool. What can we expect from anything that must yield profits as a business, gain socio-economic significance as a service, and provide convenience for millions of humans as a technology? As a person, Uber might be full of stress in this regard – this, according to world data, is associated with anxieties common to the ride-share experience: passengers aren’t given any information beforehand as to where their co-riders are sitting inside the vehicle, making it difficult for them to confidently reach for the door with the vacant seat[5]. This comes after perhaps walking a short distance to meet the driver who by design isn’t obligated to come to you at your location – because you did not pay for it.

In all, the inconveniences posed by Uber Pool are felt mostly by riders, and this negates the pledge for ease of use the brand promised since inception. Although recent updates to the Pool service shows concern from Uber about its UX design, not so much exists as ‘changes’ made specifically to reconcile the difference.

Fig 1.3 – Simulating constraints and setbacks with Uber Pool (Source: Medium)

If any support for claims that Uber prioritizes the experience of drivers over the convivence of riders is shown, what could possibly be the design justification of Uber Pool? How does Uber justify a design that intentionally directs rider traffic to drivers, increasing demand and offering ‘reduced costs’ to passengers at the expense of their own comfort? A key component of Uber’s service is its promise for ease of use and increased convenience. In what ways does walking a distance to your driver or perambulating with strangers to strange drop-off locations sound convenient?

In addition to these budding problem statements, Uber Pool is also reportedly growing inaccurate with coordinating navigation data, this sometimes can keep a rider irate, anxious and confused all through a ride – I have personally wondered on one such occasion if the predicament was worth the $0.87 saved for choosing to pool with others. It is essential to know that this choice exists because Uber presented an option which is designed to be perceived as convenient for riders.

“I have personally wondered on one such occasion if the predicament was worth the $0.87 saved for choosing to pool with others” – Uber Pool Reviews  


Universal Design Principles: Uber as an App

In today’s climate, humans are growing more and more dependent on technology. Apps that confidently and repeatedly promise convenience while offering a user experience that combines minimal human effort for implementation, will most likely succeed. Uber has successfully capitalized on this from the start, and its commitment to providing convenience in commuting as an advantage over the traditional cab is now globally acknowledged as successful. After success, however, comes failure – a given with nearly all technologies that have been designed and pushed on the market as super convenient and overly efficient. After taking hundreds of Uber rides in tens of locations including Africa, Europe and the United States of America, I confidently report that; user experience is not the same for any two cities, neither do I expect it to be, given the complexities involved with cross-cultural translation of design for products and services in general. The main ideas however that brought about research into Uber’s diminishing User Experience (UX) with respect to Uber Pool, came about by firsthand knowledge of the shortcomings with Uber Pool in location-specific Washington DC, Los Angeles, and New York City.

Fig 1.3 – “Don’t book an Uber Pool if you’re in a rush” – Uber Pool Review via Twitter.

Designing a transportation solution for use in a clustered and compact city will have considerable limitations if (or when) applied as a solution in a less-dense and wider population cluster. These limitations might take the form of the need to vary design combinations and employ additional technology that supports and satisfy a location-specific need. To re-imagine Uber as an App and its implementation of universal design principles, one can think about a few questions that support the design of applications built as technology for transportation.

  • In what ways has Uber combined and executed a special implementation of technology for transportation?
  •  In the use of general technology for App development, which features make the Uber App unique?
  • To what extent is Uber customizable to fit the unique needs of people and cities?

Some obvious combinations are manifest in the User Interface (UI) layer of the Uber App. All transactional functions are implemented via a payment gateway in handshake with banks and other associated financial institutions. Uber has no special in-app bank and operates a cashless system (in some countries) but combines technology for card transactional services by leveraging an Application Programming Interface (API) to simplify the implementation and maintenance of financial services. Maps to unlock the iOS and Andriod geolocation feature is also seen implemented as a GPS approximation and navigation function in the design of the Uber App. This technology is implemented by a MapKit and CoreLocation Framework on iOS which allows Uber to customize the observable features like device tracking, routing and uses a scheduler for adding riders based on real-time simulations and approximations on a server. On an Andriod device, Google’s location API’s is the equivalent technology being implemented on Ubers technology stack.

All in-app communications including driver-rider communication, corporate communications, disputing cancellation fees or reporting a lost item after a ride are done by implementing the conventional mobile text messaging and telecommunications technology. Uber employs Twilo, Apple Push notification service, and Google Cloud Messaging to make these features a possible part of the Uber experience. Uber also dabbles into gamification for designing algorithms that execute business development strategies – like the sale of Uber Pass, the latest combination that offers discounted rides up to 10% each month at a flat rate of $14 as a monthly subscription fee. Again, this is a designed effort to stimulate some sense of convenience, while guaranteeing steady monthly earnings for the company. Lastly, all of the clicks and swipes within the App are also implementations of the standard operating principle of a mobile phone.

These makeup for some of the most obvious technological features combined and designed as a socio-technical system for transportation – but what other invisible elements constitute the combinatory design principle that enables the Uber experience, the Uber experience brought about to be, that which we cannot merely see?

“Pattern recognition is an essential skill for creators. See the patterns in user behavior and how to change them. Understand the implicit patterns of use, layout, and function in your work. Then, make them explicit.” — 77 Things, Uber Technologies. 

Socio-Technical analysis and Uber’s BlackBox

Fig 1.5 – What other invisible elements constitute the combinatory design principle that enables the Uber experience? – Uber’s Blackbox

The boundary mapped by Uber in a social-technical system suggests how modern and native to America the App really is based on the technologies it adopts and the human actors at play individually or as corporations that directly service Uber.  In orchestrating the Uber experience, we see how modular and customizable Uber is an APP.  Considerable changes in Uber’s design is first tested out in some regions before spreading out to other locations permissible by its global footprint. Uber has shown this layer of its controlled operations by making available Uber Pool in few US cities – as with any new function before it would be spread out to other locations – albeit if Uber Pool succeeds in the select locations.

Uber, like every other company, keeps trade secrets of its own which empowers the company to succeed and keep its competitors on their toes. To point out one way in which I have determined that these hidden configurations exist, I draw oversight from a notable competitor.

Lyft is taking forward steps to uniquely combine transport technology to gain a competitive advantage in the growing industry. Ridesharing on Lyft boasts greater conveniences as it posits through its unique service that; picking up a rider from their location should be prioritized – but at a small extra cost which Uber scratches off when a rider walk in the case of Uber Pool. There are obvious differences and this orchestrated complexity is weighted on how each company combines and coordinates its own computation for maximum profits in the ride-sharing business.


Below is an instance analyzing the rideshare option on Uber and Lyft. The locations are set identically, with rides requested at the same time of the day,  commuting to the same destination.

The table below compares all identifiable differences and similarities in the featured App data:

Fig 1.7 – App Data Analysis: Random sampling Lyft versus Uber ride-share options.

In the random sample analyzed above, we visualize some important decisions a rider might make, each time ride-sharing becomes an available option to them. Depending on what is most important in the moment, a rider might opt for either of the service providers above and a user’s experience with using either of these services is dependent on the outcome of such decision.

“User Experience UX is an iterative process where you take an understanding of the users and their context as a starting point for all design and development” – 

Fig 1.6 – Uber at scale showing ventures and sub-ventures of the brand.



Uber is built as a mobile application and adopts universal design principles to enable basic user interaction like adopting swipe, click and touch features of a mobile device for ease of use. Uber has also scaled to becoming a venture with several other sub-ventures offering services that relate to servicing logistics needs for billions of people around the world.

At this time, there isn’t room for riders to customize and coordinate the Uber App, so the constraints faced by riders who opt for Uber Pool would linger until it is addressed by Uber to directly enhance its dwindling user experience. In the meantime, we can, however, challenge the complexity of the Uber App design and ask why functions like Uber Pool are designed the way they are and not some other way. Already Uber attempts to give answers by providing a ton of options within its App, enabling users to take part in decision making and giving them a sense of inclusion in the design process.

  • How much do you value your time at the moment?
  • How much are you willing to spend?
  • Are you open to the concept of social networking, chatting with strangers or meeting your next best friend?

“It’s like playing with Lego: the basic brick doesn’t change, but the builder uses it to create, unleashing its potential. Our components are basic at their core, but also highly customizable through style overrides and can be configured in many ways” – Uber Technologies.

The invisible parts that make up for what we see and know remain the most powerful in the design of Uber as a product, technology, App or service. These parts are responsible for creating the experience we now perceive as a burden in terms of user experience. In the creation of a product or service, the User Experience (UX) design takes into consideration all of the end-user needs for the formulation of values, meaning, and relevance embedded in the overall experience of using the product or service. User experience (UX) design is the process design teams use to create products that provide meaningful and relevant experiences to users. This involves the design of the entire process of acquiring and integrating the product, including aspects of branding, design, usability, and function.

Key findings from this paper are summarized thus:

  • The affordances or constraints of native mobile device features, and most of the hidden layers behind the Uber app, have nothing to do with Uber:
  • Modularity allows Uber to manage a larger and more complex whole structure by dividing up its functions into separate, interconnected components, layers, and subprocesses.
  • Data network design is organized as a stack of layers for the abstraction of functions into separately managed modules that pass information “up” the stack for the functions of the whole network.

“No product is an island. A product is more than the product. It is a cohesive, integrated set of experiences. Think through all of the stages of a product or service – from initial intentions through final reflections, from first usage to help, service, and maintenance. Make them all work together seamlessly.” — Don Norman, inventor of the term “User Experience”






Virtual Connections: Giving meaning to online presence.

This week’s readings highlight how we might observe the internet by shifting our thoughts from being users of the internet as a technology to active participants -as part of the internet itself. To be on the internet, therefore, refers to connecting virtually to a network of infinite virtual connections. On the other hand, the internet itself was created to allow these virtual connections by means of a protocol which compounds over time as more and more connections are added to an existing topology. 


For these virtual connections to happen and for participation to be enabled, we introduce the computer as the ‘general-purpose processor’ describing here how it gives agency to the internet. The internet is orchestrated and comes to be solely by the participation of multiple agents who converge in multiple layers called combinations and identifiable by a unique address written in accordance with the existing internet protocol. 


Due to the ‘commonization’ of the internet, it is common to subscribe to the school of thought where the internet exists as a ‘commodity’ thereby taking oneself out of the design and giving the internet meaning as an ‘object’. The user interface view which we are steadily exposed to when we make virtual connections over the internet via a computer or mobile phone, blocks off the complex history embedded in the design of the internet. In order to resist talking about the Internet in this way, we think of ourselves and the systems, components, and institutions that combine to orchestrate its being. This further explains the qualities of the internet as a complex, modular, scalable, and extensible system.

Design Interaction: Amazon App as a Shopping Medium

MEDIUM: “Material is an adaptable system of guidelines, components, and tools that support the best practices of user interface design. Backed by open-source code, Material streamlines collaboration between designers and developers, and helps teams quickly build beautiful products.” – Google

On our mobile phones, the Amazon App opens up to a user interface that presents the shopper with a simulated market experience; goods are arranged by departments to make sorting easy and fast with a live banner for running ads from popular vendors including Amazon’s direct marketing for Amazon Prime features, discount codes, prepaid shopping vouchers, coupons, etc. There is also a shopping bag which is more a less a trolley/cart in the physical store and a checkout page dedicated to vetting items and processing payments just like the cashier stand at a store. Vendors also have dedicated pages like storefronts where products are listed and adequately described so that a buyer can get some real sense of what he/she might be getting. Some storefronts utilize video for this and even accept third-party video descriptions in their review section to provide even more depth with product description. 

Some shopping behavioral patterns unique to humans are also taken into consideration as the App allows for window shopping without the commitment of making a purchase. Buyers can also ‘save items for later’ in case buying isn’t an option momentarily or certain contemplations arise while using the App, and at a later time, can simply ‘checkout’ on saved items without having to search for them all over again. 

For all of these interactions to be made possible, there is heavy use of varying text, audio and visual media forms within the App and these are all inbuilt for accessibility through the Apps graphical user interface. Video, audio, text, and photo formats are all in standardized designs that allow for interoperability within the app or outside the App  (e.g a review video can be played via a third-party application like an external music player on the device or redirects to a Youtube page using embedded links in the product description). In building the App, we can observe how the designers of the Amazon App graphical user interface obey sets of universally laid down principles, theories, and guidelines to accommodate these media forms while customizing the shopping experience for its users based on some human cognitive and behavioral factors.

Below are some translations of standard design princliples into obvious features on Amazon App:

STYLE: Standardize task sequences. The Checkout sequence is uniform for all users.
STYLE: Descriptive Links Links are labeled in each category (e.g. ‘programs and features’ ‘deal of the day’)
ACCESSIBILITY: Predictable Pages Amazon App provides product suggestions based on items viewed on each page (e.g “Related to items you’ve viewed’ )
DISPLAY: Flexibility for user control of data display. A private view of shoppers’ personal profile allows for more personalization of storefronts within the app.

These and other basic design principles combine with some level of direct manipulation and customizations (i.e simple buttons, reversible actions, meaningful visual metaphors, etc) to make the overall shopping experience on the graphical user interface appear seamless and automated making the Amazon App a relatively user-friendly one.

This user-friendliness might also help explain the many successes of Amazon as a company in the e-commerce/marketplace business which we learn has recently turned in 1 billion US dollars in net worth according to CBS News. It is evident though that considerations for the disabled like the visually impaired, for example, are not presently accommodated by the Amazon App graphical user interface design. 


Martin Irvine, Introduction to Symbolic-Cognitive Interfaces: History of Design Principles. Part 3.

Ben Shneiderman, Catherine Plaisant, et al. Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction. 6th ed. Boston: Pearson, 2016.

Ben Shneiderman. Eight Golden Rules for Interface Design. University of Maryland

Humans and Interfacing with Interfaces

  • In our culture, there has recently appeared a “symbol-manipulation artifact” [the computer] of such power that we feel certain it will do much to “extend man’s intellect.” (Memo, Dec. 1960)

In the study of the evolution of the internet network, we learn how a military experiment during the Cold War (1947) produced and evolved way into the future to become the general-purpose technology (internet protocols) for which we now use in communicating globally. This alone provides a thinking scale for projecting unto some of the factors behind the conceptual design steps which continues to enable computer design to develop beyond its early form. 

In time past, I would think of the computer interface (on my mobile phone for example) as the parts of the mobile which enabled me to communicate with it. Mostly as software and more specifically as ‘Apps’. To me, the keyboard would simply be the interface with which I may compute (read and write) data and without which texting on my mobile would not be possible. This week’s readings reveal the underlying ideological factors that impact the design of computer interfaces in many applications specifically; military, government, and business applications. Humans are and will always remain an integral part of the overall design of the computer even before a computer is designed or built. How humans are evolving and particularly communicating is a significant factor which is taken into consideration for the design concept and evolution of computers. I think of this relationship as one where computers are designed to be used by humans in the same sense as humans are designed to use computers. 

  • The idea for ‘augmentation’ means organizing access to all forms of symbolic representation and expression by creating the software and hardware interface tools to enable composing and interpreting information.

 I focus on two key factors that enable design when describing some of the conceptual steps that enable computer design: Human Language & Embodiment.

Consider the avatar technology for example; a simulating figure embodying humans and applicable  in video games, movies, internet forums, virtual assistants, etc as the  modern-day application for ‘Augmenting Human Intellect’ and we can  juxtapose its application over the brilliant happenstance which was revealed by Doug Engelbart in applying the use of a cathode ray tube for display in early Television screens. Technology can then be perceived as supportive of human-problem solving by simply communicating with humans to aid in symbolic thought and “problem-solving”.

One of the biggest (misconceived) concerns in recent times comes in the form of a big question; “Is artificial intelligence taking away jobs from humans?”. This has impacted the use of computers in automating processes and other technological applications in modern-day working contexts. To keep this misconception away, the human language stands as a unique identifier that highlights how and why computers were never designed to take away from humans but rather to take from humans information (like language) necessary to support and augment the problem-solving capabilities of humans.

  • “In the context of our computational and software screen metaphors, a computer device interface is a design module for enabling semiotic inter-actions with software and transformable representations for anyone talking up the role of the cognitive interpreting agent.”

To see how computers went from being ‘number crunchers’ to becoming more ‘general purpose’ for information processing via graphical interfaces, consider how Alan Kay describes the user interface as a ‘second stage development’ of the operating system (OS) that we see in computers. The user interface makes the computer more efficient for the human user by means of what we define as Embodiment. Considerations like how we read, interact from a distance and/or calculate and translated as physically perceptible features and come together to formulate the programming language for computers. This is why computers were later perceived in the 1960s-70s to seem to have some intelligence even though we know now that they may never become intelligent beyond what we program them to intelligently do.

Coding as a process

 “Understanding computing illuminates deep insights and questions into the nature of our minds, our culture, and our universe” – David Evan 

In early 2009  when I first became aware of coding, I recall feeling less powerful for knowing little about coding or how to access the geeky backend interface which always looked like a dark web space for super-intelligent people (hackers maybe) and must come with very good knowledge of mathematics and computer sciences. As time went by, I gained more education and awareness on computing and the development of computer operating systems, then I began to grasp the basic concepts surrounding coding and how to writing several lines of code in a computer program is responsible for powering millions of softwares used in our everyday life for computing. This transition and progression is empowering to watch even though I never put much thought into it until now.

To become an expert at anything one simply needs to practice – often.

Code Academy, a website famous for providing beginner-level coding modules points out that one does not require any special skill to take modules on coding and provides users with self-help tools which have proven to be very useful especially for anyone looking to start out a career in programming or simply learning to code for fun. After taking a beginner level javascript module on Code Academy I found that I was able to relate easily to the processes involved in the opening steps using my prior knowledge from learning logic gates and arithmetic progressions in mathematics. 

Questions surrounding who should or who should not learn to code creates a lot of misconception and gender wars in the world of computing. One common view is that programming and coding software applications are reserved for ‘very gifted’ individuals and this is very widespread – yet untrue. Following my personal experience with learning to code, we see how it involves repeating basic steps (an algorithm) and can be mastered by anyone after several repetitions.  We ought to think of coding in the same way as we think of the processes involved in doing a basic task such as cooking or baking. Learning to code, however, requires a lot more focus, dedication, practice, and patience because errors are not welcome at all in this area – unlike cooking or baking where one might go over or under with a spice and get away with it. 

Coding is also a lot like writing in terms of flow and I find coding useful for learning how to properly structure my writing. In writing, we identify the main points and all the variables that best explain the point, then arrange each point in such a way that the subject is explained in modular blocks (sentences) with each point opening and  closing to explain succeeding points – just like the opening and closing of braces when writing lines of code in a block. The logic that measures the semblance between coding and writing expresses further how coding inspires thoughts that are useful for coordinating steps especially ones that are in semblance to systematic processing in computing. 

Source to destination: The concept of ‘Travel’

For communication to take place in full information theory cycle, information is sent (sender) from source, through a channel (medium) and travels towards the receiver of the  information who then acknowledges receipt of such a message, signaling that the received message is in the form and context intended by the sender of the message from start.

Let us consider a package of books traveling from Amazon’s factory in New York to a student in Washington: Amazon ensures that the books are securely packaged and intact for dispatch. The dispatch company is usually a third-party delivery company whose primary function is to pick up and deliver packages securely and does not concern itself with the content of such a package. Upon delivery, the student examines the content of the box to ensure that the received package is consistent with the agreed-upon items  (typically determined by the final book purchase decision made on the Amazon App). Amazon, however, expects some feedback when/if the student either receives a wrong package or is dissatisfied with some parts of the service or the package itself, signifying a breakdown in a part of the process. 

As technological advancements have made geopositioning and tracking possible, the student also enjoys the luxury of observing the path traveled by the packaged books via a tracking app which updates every major handover as the package travels towards the receiver on its journey to delivery. Tracking gives the student a sense of awareness and helps to manage expectations because the incoming delivery will have a computed estimated arrival time (ETA). This concept of package traveling mirrors the way information is transferred from the sender (source) to the receiver(destination) in a Google Mail for example. To know what an ebook means after sending it as an email attachment from your home in New York to a friend in Washington we might consider this traveling concept as a non-physical property in information theory (all types of signals travel). From here we can see how an ebook sent over an email within seconds takes the form of a ‘package’ (as in the form of a physically packaged book despatched from Amazon to the student). The ebook as a package is how we explain digital packets i.e. the digitally transmitted streams of bits and bytes which the book becomes after the sender hits the send button. 

Both senders and receivers of email know through basic cognition that the email which is essentially an ebook transmitted as a data signal over a network has ‘traveled’ in digital sense over the network. In the case of emails, we can see how mentally engaged we become when thinking of the concept of travel given that;  the traveling packet cannot be seen physically and there are no physical paths that allow the sender/receiver adequately measure the position of the ebook as a digital packet dispatched over the network – well, until it arrives. Both sender and receiver are unaware (in the sense that it cannot be seen from the email user interface) that the eBook as a digital packet passes through multiple servers black-boxed and in place to help guarantee (by means of digital encoding and decoding processes) that the ebook sent over the email arrives at the right place (inbox) and to the intended receiver. 

Thinking of emails and what it could mean after they are sent by considering the physical aspects of traveling as a concept in information delivery supports one key statement: All of the processes in the semiotic dimensions of information theory are always there but formally bracketed off from the operational focus of electrical engineering and computing data designs.


Ronald E.D The ‘Conduit Metaphor’ and the Nature and Politics of Information Studies. Journal of the American Society for Information Science 51, no. 9 (200):

Martin Irvine, Introduction to the Technical Theory of Information 

Communication & Human-Centered Design

Semiotics is the study of sign and symbol systems and their media of implementation. When we consider the context in which design is studied for cognitive-symbolic technologies in this class we can make inferences on how communication plays an essential role in both enabling design for both the designer and the user of designed technology

What we are trying to achieve and how are we going to achieve it might be two good questions to ask when thinking about human-centered design. Knowing how humans communicate and the conditions that are central to achieving understanding is important in this case. We must also consider how language (including signs and gestures) is changing the way we communicate – with ourselves first and then with technology because symbolic cognition fundamentally means ‘to represent to oneself, the thing through words and without forming a representation of the thing itself’. It is easy to observe how technological advancements have shown great desire to help us articulate and communicate even more consciously taking the way we think (cognition in the brain) and using this as a framework for making representations of everyday signs, reflexes, and languages that we use for communication. These are then crafted into the core functions and operations of many technologies with hopes that we can replicate human functions in technology. 


When we look at computational and media technologies as “cognitive technologies” or “symbolic-cognitive artifacts” we are putting our human needs in front and combining how we might experience the designed technology a lot deeper than the push of a button. For example, in designing a smart home one can assume the need to switch off/on several lights without walking around to many switches placed around the home –  how would you rather switch lights off/on more conveniently? The technology stays the same (switches are switches) but the experience considers how to switch lights off/on more conveniently and here we embed motion sensors or use hand gestures as in the case for wireless switches or other ‘smart’ switch technology.

“The tools which man has invented are powerful influences in determining the course of civilized life. Through the long ages, while man has been inventing tools and learning to use them, his mode of individual reaction has been undergoing a change” C. H. Judd (1926). This statement helps explain why we might feel connected to old methods in news forms when appreciating new/ modern technology since the only thing changing is how we do things and not the things we are doing. A technology like Uber Eats App or a Period tracker enables personalization over time to imitate the user’s choices all recorded by the user and calculated ( this refers to computation in cognitive-symbolic technologies) to match our reality. Using the regular/normal process in a backward flow, we can see how these apps are now considering human needs at the core of their design.



Michael Cole, On Cognitive Artifacts From Cultural Psychology: A Once and Future Discipline. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996. pg 109

Leont’ev A.N (?1979) The making of mind: A personal account of Soviet psychology. M Cole & S.Cole, Eds. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

Andy Clark, Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extention (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2008)

Smart Switches as ‘artefacts’

Concepts, Confusions & Misconceptions

I entered into the new week with more questions:

Is there a cascade network somewhere in the evolution of the Design concept?

 If I understood modularity correctly, then we are saying that all things exist as a combination of older things and so on and so forth. This perhaps would result in a cascading effect – and I used perhaps because, if it doesn’t, I would also like to know why. Knowing why would help me reconcile why I had to think of a cascade network in the first place and also check if this reflects an example of the misconceptions in Design terminologies from Week 3 readings.

It is telling how much ‘unlearning and learning’ to ‘Think by Design’ in this way can do to ones understanding of things. I have already had moments when I discovered the secret behind a particular technology and immediately lost the perception of magic attached to it – and there have also been times when my discoveries brought with it some excitement!

What does this conflict teach us about Design concepts?

The concept of modularity also highlights a significant relationship: Modularity in the design of products leads to modularity in the design of the organizations that produce such products Sanchez and Mahoney (1996). We are now studying two significant relationships that are directly proportional to one another – or more precisely, two relationships that are ‘orchestrated’ to directly impact one another, thus forming a community. This relationship is one between products and organizations that produce products. I have thought about how this relationship affects a significant variable like people and the affordances it permits the community to have people without inside knowledge of the workings of the community. It even feels like the birthplace of policies, regulations and market control/ price.

 Could this be describing the way people feel about the ‘Black Box’?

 From the text ‘Introducing Modular Design Principles’ I made an abstraction out of Prof. Irvine’s comments: “Though beyond the boundaries of our course now, we can gain an appreciation for the application of these ideas in many other fields”. We can see that by defining the boundaries of what is made available in Course A, we are creating an impression for what may consist of Course B – thereby creating conditions for curiosity (e.g. How are the learned concepts applied?) and the need to know (e.g. Explore a field where the concepts are appreciated and applied!)

Could this be describing desirability in Design Thinking?

1Community defined as a set in this text is; products and the organizations that produces them.


Martin Irvine, Introduction to Modularity and Abstraction Layers Pg 3&4

Lidwell, William, Kritina Holden, and Jill ButlerUniversal Principles of Design. Revised. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010. ‘Hierarchy’ ‘Modularity’

Tackling misconceptions and confusions begins with defining concepts.

Perspective: How to ‘Think by Design’

To Design, we “define and make possible” an idea.

My opinion on Design Thinking comes from the mental simulation a complex network in which all of its nodes are communicating, in accordance with how they were ‘pre-set’ to communicate. I however found that this definition lacks some knowledge of the fact that; I am also a part of the network that is being observed and not existing independent of it.

This revealing point of view suggests that I am not just a detached observer of any design relationship – but in great detail, the design itself includes me. Peeling off the layers of thoughts that I hold as personal beliefs and exploring how the definition of key terms provides the right mindset for thinking about Design, profits me greatly – especially considering access to research material in the wee hours of learning to think by design.

I have approached the understanding of Design by reflecting on some unseen elements that support my hypothesis that; Design is highly influenced and motivated by the combination of thoughts and ideas. I now pause to ponder on where these ‘thoughts and ideas’ originate and why.

 When can we say that Design Thinking has begun???

Studying design thinking is studying how to think. I strongly believe design thinking begins when we set out to acquire knowledge of the design concepts. I also believe design thinking has already existed in our subconscious long before we decide to give any conscious thought to it. This is probably why we recall thoughts, emotions, actions and words from a time past, when formulating present thoughts for a future design.

It is however important that we grasp the key concepts. This knowledge is necessary for claiming ownership to our unique creation and we can thereby consolidate a place in the long-standing transcendental order of creative genius.

To own and define our idea, we leverage already existing ideas – then hold space for our ideas to be used for further formulations of future ideas.


I have enjoyed how Martin Irvine’s writings has permitted my imagination to make abstractions while breaking down concepts for easy understanding. Take for instance the line of thought that follows ‘Scale, Scalability and Extensibility’: I considered the Earth, its Solar System and the Interstellar Space in terms of size and dimensional proportionality to one another to interpret how Design exists by principle – man can live on Earth, colonize Mars and tour the Interstellar space back and forth for a family vacation  (hey it’s just an example but for sure man is expansive!)

Discovering and applying new ideas should be the ideal attitude towards Design.


In the introductory CCTP 802 Leading by Design lecture, Prof. Irvine stated: “To create the new, we combine as desirably as possible already existing variables” as a response to my question: How do I incorporate a unique variable into my design in order to make it less likely to be replicated?

It helps to understand the origin of our thoughts before measuring how these thoughts combine to create conditions. The Samsung OLED Smart TV for example is “smart” by reason of its ability to communicate terrestrial TV and digital signals via the internet. An ISP is responsible for maintaining a reliable internet infrastructure that provides connectivity for accessing the smart features of the TV. This is made possible by activating a wireless receiver which is black-boxed somewhere strategic within the enclosure of the TVs sleek-style finish. This feature borrows the technology of a PC and enables similar smart functions like web browsing, live streaming, VOD…etc. It even permits downloads and installation of Apps thereby incorporating features like internal memory, cloud storage and system software (like having RAM/ROM, Cloud and OS features in modern computers).

The smart TV technology also holds value for many users who crave the mobile phone experience on a bigger screen and presents affordances like enhancing the overall viewing experience with large-to-ultra-large range of screen sizes that mirror the conventional projector technology. It is reported that many Netflix subscribers for example would prefer to stream movies via a smart TV than streaming via a mobile phone and we can adequately make inferences about why this phenomenon occurs. The obvious constraint with large screen size is immobility – the smart TV is typically installed in a fixed position as opposed to enjoying the affordance of mobility provided by a miniature mobile phone which allows you stream a Netflix movie in a moving car or in an airplane (Well I haven’t seen anyone boarding a flight carrying their smart TV to Netflix and chill!).

When we trace the steps taken by the designers to output a technology such as the smart TV, we begin to detect the combinations of modules and design principles used in the very exact version of the smart TV we are investigating. This process in itself is already defined as a key concept; i.e. to deproductize any specific version or corporate brand to discover the “universal” design principles required for it to work the way that we experience it to work.


I lifted this concept and applied it in refining my thoughts for a smart keyboard technology. This idea of mine combined (a) natural feelings and emotions towards my little brother who is autistic and (b) the hypothetical possibility of having a brain-eye-keyboard communication pathway for mobile devices. In thinking about solutions for making mobile device use ‘less complicated’ for an autistic child, I determined that I could optimize/enhance existing technology to accommodate any unique adaptive method used by an autistic child to operate the existing conventional keyboard on a mobile phone- this would include observing the child’s emotions, gestures and responses while using a mobile phone.

This line of thought was greatly influenced by my knowledge of Brain-Computer-Interfaces (BCIs) otherwise called ‘neural-control interface’ (NCI) or ‘Mind-Machine Interface’ (MMI) or ‘Direct Neural Interface’ (DNI), or ‘Brain-Machine Interface’ (BMI). I have also studied briefly the technology that supported and made communication possible for Prof. Stephen Hawking despite completely losing the ability to speak from complications brought about by a motor neuron disease.

What can we learn from technology dedicatedly designed for the disabled?


My reflections on these ideals extends some thought for the future: Modern technology must take some sort of flex-secure approach to design i.e. shift from being technologies that produce fixed physical outputs to technologies that can be combined and configured endlessly for fresh purposes. By ‘Flex-secure’ I mean, the ability to hold safely to balance and stability in the face of ever changing and ever advancing technological developments.


In thinking about design, think simply – lest you miss the big ideas!

Sharing Design secrets with my good friend Albert.

ref >

Introduction to Design Thinking: Systems and Architectures. CCTP-820: Leading by Design. Professor Martin Irvine. Georgetown University

Brief Answers to the Big Questions. Penguin Random House LLC New York 2018. Stephen Hawking

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