Contemplating the Future of Mixed Reality Technology Through the Lens of Combinatorial Design

Victoria Gomes-Boronat

This week’s reading was especially exciting because it explored the various directions that computer technology development could have gone and also introduced computer science as a world of possibilities and “happy accidents”. As Professor Irvine explains, “the development of personal computers happened by happy accidents of convergence where multiple forces and histories intersected: technical developments, research, and new philosophical contexts for developing computing beyond industrial, business, government, and military applications,”(2018, p. 8).

Tim Mott stumbled upon one of those happy accidents in a bar of all places. He was waiting for a friend and constructed an “office schematic” interface which would later be known as the desktop. And while many other computer scientists were attempting to make similar interfaces using three dimensional, true-to-life simulations, Tom’s colleague, Larry Teslar, realized the genius of the simple two-dimensional icons as representational symbols of everyday office functions (Moggridge, 2007, p. 53). Therefore, the 3D simulation designs were dropped, and icons became king.

However, with the advancement of camera technologies, processing power, Bluetooth capabilities, and high-resolution interfaces, augmented reality has emerged as a disrupter of the status quo. If computer scientists can agree that computing needs to, “be preconceived and redesigned for ‘augmenting human intellect’, that is, for enhancing and expanding human intellectual abilities and creativity through symbolic representation processes,” (Irvine, 2018, p.8), then wouldn’t augmenting reality using computing be the next logical step?

Because of their combinatorial design, modern phones and tablets are able to augment reality for a variety of purposes: entertainment, education, and design to name a few. Apple has been a huge supporter of AR technology and its website demonstrates how AR can enrich the lives of its product users and includes a list of some great augmented reality applications. Even social media applications such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok use augmented reality to create various filters and tools to customize their photo and video experience. Games such as Pokemon Go! allow fans to experience a more fantastical version of their world.

But that’s not enough. Augmented reality is still not perfect because of the constraints of physical technology, i.e. small phone screens that limit your immersion in the augmented reality. The following video explains how transparent screens/devices could make augmented reality more realistic, however, in order to truly make a mixed reality world possible, we need to use combinatorial design to create technologies that don’t have the same constraints as a phone, i.e. augmented reality glasses. Soon the beloved simplistic icons of design’s past may become obsolete and replaced by the three-dimensional, real-world representations that used to be considered impossible.


Bill Moggridge, ed., Designing Interactions. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2007.

Irvine, M. (2018). Computing with symbolic-cognitive interfaces for all media systems: Design concepts that enabled modern “interactive” “metamedia” computers. Unpublished Manuscript.

Augmented Reality. (n.d.). Apple. Retrieved October 21, 2020, from

Why Samsung’s Transparent Phone will fail. (2019, April 14).