Category Archives: Week 2

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.

Reflection on the Development of Internet

As Brian Arthur said in The Nature of Technology, every new technology derives from the combination of existing technologies. When I reflect on the history, what interests me is that even the most groundbreaking ones all abide by some basic design principles and highly rely on previous technologies which people at that age all took granted for.

The most remarkable technologies in our history, with no doubt, are steam engine and the Internet, which marked the Industrial Revolution and Information Revolution. The arrival of Internet seems like a legend, suddenly bringing about so many fundamental changes and showcasing the clear distinction compared with former communication measures. But if we take a close look on its development, we can find it embodies many former technologies and design concepts we are familiar with. In the early stage, multiple computers are connected through the Local Area Network, which means divide computers into some groups and attach each group to a switch, and those switches communicate with each other. That structure is similar to human social organizing structure in which people communicate with leaders and they communicate with each other. As the quantity of computers increase later, this Local Area Network evolved into the World Wide Web, then servers took place of the switches to process tons of data and communicate with other servers, but the main assembly behind didn’t change and just alter a component could have different effects.

As for the information transmission process in the elemental level of design, in early stage it relied on broadband where the parallel data in computers are converted into serial data. As the wireless technology advanced, we can get rid of the broadband and use the Internet freely. But the wireless transmission technology is not something new at that time, radio and telephone also share that underlying technology. It just uses different types of electromagnetic waves as information carriers, and information is transmitted through an  oscillating circuit, thereby achieving purpose of information transmission. The reason why the wireless transmission adopted into Internet late is because the Internet has more complicated and unstable signal so that technology must be modified to conform to Internet, but the basic principle never changed. There are many levels of design when it comes to Internet, and each cluster of technology behind it is not surprising, but it’s little modification and combined configuration that engendered such a breakthrough.


Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves.

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Design Thinking: Systems and Architectures.

Combinations of modules and design principes

Jun Nie

First, we need to shift our thinking to break down the technology products we take for granted. They are all made up of multiple modules, connected by design principles and internal language, serving a specific purpose. The nesting of modules, interaction, cooperation and mutual restriction create a suitable working environment for the whole and increase the efficiency of the technology.

From the perspective of historical development, technology originated from the direct use and observation of natural phenomena, accumulating experience in multiple practices, which provides conditions for functional restructuring of modules and technological innovation. New combinations of old components can often promote technological innovation, but they are also constrained by the material conditions of the society at that time, so the development of technology needs to be iterated through continuous accumulation. As a larger module, the emergence of new technologies will become an important component of future technologies as well.

Second, the understanding of some technical terms involved in the design principles is helpful for us to disassemble the internal structure of the technology, explore the reasons behind the combination, and further explore the method of optimal design. The term “affordance” reveals an important design principle — the simulation of physical reality. Good design maximizes the effectiveness of the product and provides a subconscious guidance to the user. For example, the naming of cognitive technologies tends to draw on the attributes of natural entities — there is something in common between the attributes of “cloud” and “cloud technology”. Besides, technology acts in a way that people behave in their daily lives, like clicking on a computer icon and “pressing” a button in the real world, and the left-right sliding screen of an e-book matches the page turning of a physical book as well. Technology seems to build a virtual reality mirroring the physical world. Good design can always minimize the obstacles in the operation process and increase the convenience and fluency as much as possible.

If different technologies are essentially functional reorganizations of different modules, they tend to have more in common than difference, and many people can deepen their understanding of design principles through continuous use. As time goes by, people can often quickly perceive the clues retained in the design, and grasp the rules of manipulating new products as soon as possible based on the previous using experience. On the one hand, these clues come from the simulation of the physical world and the adoption of human behaviors. On the other hand, they rely on universal symbols and design languages.

I am curious about the symbols retained on the interface, which often presented to users in the most concise and practical appearance. How do they come to the end in the debugging process step by step? What are the criteria for judging the effectiveness of information transfer? To what extent can they give users functional guidance? How much does the updating of icons and symbols in technical products affect the using experience. In addition, I don’t fully understand the terms “recursiveness” and “domain”. The examples given in the readings are obscure, so I hope to discuss with classmates and the professor.


Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. Excerpts from chapters 1, 2, 4 .

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


“De-redboxing”: the Design of Yelp

The readings give me a clear view on how to decompose the evolution of technologies, to be more specific, how they get where they are now.  I am intrigued by Schumpeter’s comparison between the development of economy and the renovation of technology. Unlike economic development, driven by external forces, technology “created the new by combining the old” , I totally agree with him. It is the cumulation of existed technologies begets the newest technologies.

When I did the reading, an app kept hunting in my mind: Yelp, a crowd-sourced reviewing app, especially for restaurants. It is surprising to see how much it has changed since I first used it five years ago. When you open it, you might find out that its overall layout looks the same as before: the white searching bar and the red frame. What does not change much is its primary structure, “a backbone that keeps its basic function”,: provide information of restaurants, including location, price, menu, comments, etc., for people. 

Meanwhile, the subassemblies of this app do change a lot. Yelp’s designer develops new functions for this app by building more subassemblies based on existed subassemblies. Take the online waitlist and delivery function for example. First, people search for restaurants as normal. The live waiting time is displayed inside each column of the restaurants’ preview. People can join the waitlist by simply clicking the button on the right side of the column. It is easy for customers to understand and manipulate the whole process because the new function is based on the old ones. The function also bridges the gap between customers and restaurants by letting customers actively and conveniently contact with the restaurants instead of passively making phone calls. 

Another function is the online delivery function.  Two years ago, Yelp only had online order function: either people order online and pick up in the store, or it gives people the link to another online food-delivery platform. While now, people can enter Yelp’s own delivery page by clicking the “Delivery” icon displayed at the bottom. The latter function is built on the basis of the former one. The delivery page looks and functions similar to other online food-delivery apps, such as Grubhub. Yelp applies an online food-delivery app as its subassembly. It is also the embodiment of the reconfigurability of technology.

The evolution of technology is tricky: it is highly structured, since its subassemblies are structured following the pattern of the backbone, and new subassemblies are built based on the old ones; meanwhile it is reconfigurable and fluid, since there is no restriction of the origin of the subassemblies and how they are structured within the big pattern.


Martin Irvine, Introduction to Design Thinking: Systems and Architectures.Print.

Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. New York, NY: Free Press, 2009.


Design Principal in iPhone XS and challenges for designers

Nowadays, we live in a society with highly developed technology, where we can apply technology to ease our life and work. Many people already take this convenience as granted and never think further about how these everyday products operate and don’t want to spend much time to figure out how to use it. At the same time, today’s fierce marketing competition push companies to provide us countless choices of products with similar functions-both virtual and physical-so that once we encounter difficulty or become confused while using a product, we would turn to another product. Designers face more challenges than before.

Apple company’s products are good examples to illustrate how good design can benefit us and conquer the market. It’s safe to say that their products abide by the design principle suggested in The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman. Take iPhone XS that I use every day as an example.  Few buttons on the artifact set a constraint for us to avoid mistake. Plus, the buttons’ design and location give us a natural mapping. For example, the two buttons to adjust volume are arranged vertically in the left side of the phone. The button below is for turning down the volume and the other is for turning up the volume. This is also in accordance with our conceptual model since nearly all brands of mobile phone adjust the volume in this way and we already get used to it. The design of adjustment of volume also serves as a great example of feedback. An indication of volume would appear in the screen as we adjust it. The visibility and affordance principals reflect in the phone’s desktop. The applications’ icons arrange one by one in phone’s desktop and every application icon have their own design and their names are right under the icon. All these improve visibility for consumers. In order to switch between different apps, the users just need to slide from button vertically and the apps’ interfaces would appear as papers in folders and you can slide horizontally to choose the one you want to use. There are still a lot of designs found in iPhone XS which perfectly accord with the design principal.

The technology keeps developing and many new products are based on the technology before.  Users build their conceptual model by their experience from the products they have used. Although technologies share some similar structures, which are consistent to some extent and people could use them to analyze different products, the developing technology and users’ conceptual models would still be a challenging for designers for that it limits their creativity and request them have knowledge of past products’ design and past technology.

In sum, not only the market competition and consumer’s impatience but also the ever-developing technology and human’s stability of psychology make design more difficult. Fortunately, there is basic design principal can help designers’ work. However, how design principle could be developed in the future to guide the design that amazes us instead of just making products understandable and usable?



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

Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. New York, NY: Free Press, 2009.

The Networks of Google Chromecast

One of the biggest shifts in mass entertainment viewing over the past decade surely has been not just the rapid growth in online streaming services but also in the invention and popularity of “casting devices.” On the surface, however, they are not that ‘novel’.  We can gain from Arthur the belief that “Novel technologies must somehow arise by the combination of existing technologies.”

The Google Chromecast, for example, is just that – a combination. It is very distinct to the software installed onto one’s laptop or phone. It allows for functionality to a device. It plays almost like a mini server or DVD player, by taking content delivered by one device and projecting it onto a TV.

Perhaps what makes a casting device so ‘novel’ is the mere fact that it is playing off the demands of human beings who are more and more moving away from traditional TV viewing, preferring binging shows and movies instead of following a channel’s schedule. This device, therefore, has almost become a necessity for those wishing to move off laptops and computers in order to enjoy watching/listening to media in an ‘old fashioned way’ such as on a TV. Combining the old and the new in one. Making relevant what perhaps was becoming slightly redundant for our generation.

It turns the phone or device, which has the content on it, into a remote. The casting device becomes the deliverer of the content much like an antenna delivering cable TV would be. The TV becomes purely a projector of the content. However because of the nature of casting devices, you still ultimately only have two entities that matter, the phone (remote) and the TV. The ‘complexity’ of streaming from a device may be increased due to the changing dimensions of how one projects content onto the screen, but this can constitute ‘appropriate complexity’ (as discussed by Norman) because to our generation or to those who are adept at streaming, it makes complete logical sense to use the devices in such a way. Altering what used to be the norm (a solid remote, TV and cable box) with two ‘new’ devices and the TV.


Donald Norman, Living With Complexity, The MIT Press, 2010, pages 3-10

W.Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology, Allen Lane, 2009, pages 4 – 8

Artifact and Combination Creation: Development from Mobile Payment to Sharing Economy

Xueying Duan

Artifacts has long be seen as the intellectual result of human beings and a method to satisfy people’s daily need and cover for human’s disadvantages. Cognitive Artifacts by Norman mentions that the invention of artificial devices at first enhance our ability when defending some natural danger. However gradually carries a function to affect our cognition. We used to take things around us as granted as they are designed to serve us or fulfill people’s need. As we deconstruct the logic of product designing we should start to pay more attention to the “thingness” of each object that what is it meant to help us with our behavior and what’s people’s intention to build it so.

Another idea of combination work has also been mentions in several articles like Introduction to Design Thinking: Systems and Architectures by Martin Irvine and The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves by Brian Arthur on different perspectives. Prof. Irvine emphasize the importance of systematic design principle and the characteristic of mutually constitutive. And Arthur mentioned the continuity of a technique that is used to develop a series of related thing, like to combine the old, traditional technology and latest needs and presenting forms to creation. If we research on a product, we disintegrate it and find out that everything is operated in relation to each other. There is network between each modules and there’s also a sophisticated operating standard in the whole inventing/creating process. Moreover, look back at the history of design and inventing. Creation and Invention always comes from chaos rather that void, which is also compatible with the principle of combining. Managing the very first step before creating or upgrading a new product is important for us to learn the basic principle of the certain field which actually compose the most basic but most important knowledge. This also lead to what is mentioned in the latter part of the article that we break the complicated things down into parts or chunks to understand and manipulate it more easily.

I draw an analogy between mobile payment and sharing power bank as the same cluster of technology innovation that the latter one derived from the former one. If we trace the origin of sharing power bank, it will be the growing popularity of mobile payment and other mobile usage among different situations. However, the wide-spread of sharing economy is also due to the convenience of mobile payment and they share some similar function or prerequisite like both having a fixed transaction place as well as scan specific code to enter a set program and so on. As for this example, We see the similarities and development on a daily function and related technologies.


Martin Irvine, Introduction to Design Thinking: Systems and Architectures.Print.

Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. New York: Free, 2009. Print.

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

Amazon Books and Storefront Design

Perhaps no company has mastered design as a product of systems thinking in the era of the Internet better than Jeff Bezos’ Amazon. Of course, Apple might hold equal rights to lay claim to this title, but more so than Apple, Amazon seamlessly integrates the ostensible world of material goods — and the social and economic practices which come with it — to the seemingly ethereal world hidden behind the screen. In other words, Amazon’s designed system incorporates interface design (and the programming implied therein), logistical design (both as an intermediary in shipping and between producer and consumer), and with the advent of products like Alexa or Echo, product and technology design. However, the aspect of Amazon’s design prowess which interests me most has nothing to do with any of this ecosystem of design, but with a small little storefront on M Street: the Amazon Bookstore.

In setting out to leave a footprint other than digital, Amazon faced the inverse design situation of most companies which pre-dated the turn of the century. Upon the advent of the world wide web, many companies asked questions about integrating their new online domain into their existing system or how to represent their physical manifestations on a new online interface. Amazon, however, existing originally as an digital company needed to design a method for translating the world of bits and bites into that of ostensible atoms.

In doing so, they designed a brilliant format for this storefront, which incorporates many affordances of digital media into the physical layout of the store. For example, the store foregoes the tradition of arranging books on shelves so that the binding faces outward — itself a design of another era of codices and readership — for the less spatially economical placement of books with the cover facing outward. As demonstrated below, this format retrieves the visual representations of books on an online platform or digital interface.

But perhaps this is simply a coincidence — not a choice in designing a system, but an appeal to the more banal impulse of the masses for visual imagery. It seems unlikely, however, in light of several other prominent design choices in the layout of this store. For instance, the choice to place reviews (all favorable, unsurprisingly) below the books on display. Of course, this calls to mind the affordances of interactivity latent online and the practice of reviewing products on Amazon’s online platform. My personal favorite aspect of the design of this store, however, is the prominent wall of books which display a sign noting “If you like this… you might like…” as shown below.

This flesh and blood retrieval of algorithmic processes brilliantly conveys the line Amazon walks between the designs of online interface and the affordances (or perhaps as they might see it, constraints) of legacy medias such as print.

I’m less interested in this design as any sort of ingenious breakthrough — while creative, it likely could be dreamed up by a number of people with a creative inclination — and more so in terms of what it means for design as a rhetorical device. While Norman is concerned with design and usability (a valid concern), design can also be used to send affective messages within systems and otherwise. Particularly when pushing one system to mimic the affordances and constraints of another, designs can carry messages and promote effects beyond even the scope of usability. I think Norman might even go so far to say that the real trick in the design of this storefront is in creating a system which is not only user-centered, but rhetorically clever and aesthetically pleasing.


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

Apple Watch: The existing technologies and design principles in novel inventions

Zijing Wang

This week’s readings changed my view on innovative technology as well as design principles for artifacts. As Arthur pointed out, revolutions on technology must not only rely on the incorporation of existing technology but also the accurate observations on human desires.

Take apple watch as an example. Apple watch serve more than a traditional watch that can check the time. Its functions contain message notification, calls and texts, listen to music, record heart rate and exercises, online pay, and so on. At first, it might seem astonishing that a watch can do so many things. But after thinking deeply, every “new” function in apple watch already exists for a long time. What apple watch do is catch sight of what human want and put their needs into reality. People want to check out their messages without taking out their phones from pockets while crossing streets; they also want to record their exercises without carrying a massive phone. So, apple watch was born. As their slogan says: You’ve never seen a watch like this. Of course, we have never seen a watch like this, but we do have seen a phone that has the same functions as Apple Watch.

When it comes to designing principles, Norman believes when designers’ models consistent with users’ mental models, product can gain success. The design model is how the system should operate from the designers’ perspective. The user’s model is how users predict the consequences of their actions. Every label and instructions in Apple watch are clear and easy to understand, which enables users to operate the functions by route or even blindly. I think a transparent module in Apple Watch is one of the reasons why Apple watch is fashionable among all kinds of smart devices.

In my opinion, designing products is quite complicated than what we see. It is a contradiction that good technical models require several wrong attempts while the market cannot tolerate any failure. So how to solve the problem is still a thorny business.


Martin Irvine, Introduction to Design Thinking: Systems and Architectures.Print.

Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. New York: Free, 2009. Print.

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