Category Archives: Week 2

Universal Design Principles in the Macbook Keyboard

If Norman was correct, then the touchbar is yet another attempt in moving away from good perceived affordances towards cultural conventions as an approach to designing UI’s. The keyboard has physical characteristics that give it certain user benefits in terms of universal design principles. The letter keys are in the center, an affordance to be manipulated by the index finger and the middle fingers of both hands. The physical characteristics of keys influence the way they function and are likely to be used (Lidwell et. al., 20). Its buttons provide feedback in the form of keystroke sounds that give us a sense of completion on stroking the keys, signaling that the key was indeed struck well. Of course the more direct feedback is from the screen cursor moving along. All the command keys such as ‘return’, ‘caps lock’, ‘shift’, etc are provided on the side and are larger than other keys to enable larger surface areas to tap without looking. In fact, the QWERTY design of the keyboard layout exists so that we do not need to constantly keep looking at the keyboard while we type. If the function of the UI is to be as transparent as it can while it facilitates our interaction with the computer, then the Macbook Touchbar is definitely working in the opposite direction.

If we are to understand technologies and societies not as groupings of isolated, independent parts, but as a complex system of relationships, then we must look at technology as undergoing, what Brian Arthur calls, combinatorial evolution (Arthur, 7; Irvine, 1).

The touchbar replaces the top row of the keyboard which contained function keys F1-F9. Over the years these keys have lost their original relevance as terminal keys and began serving as keys for other functions within the mac ecosystem. F1  increased brightness, F2 decreased brightness, F3 launched “Mission Control” (a form of multi screen display in macs), F4 launched the application menu, and so on. Though these keys relied on convention i.e. one had to learn the commands and practice it over time to remember, most users who grew up using these keyboards were familiar with them. This meant there was no need to divert attention from the screen while typing. The touchbar introduced by the Macbook in 2020 evolves from the predictive texting feature in iPhone, a feature that is useful when the keyboard is seamlessly attached to the screen. But that is not the case with Macbook, where the keyboard is at right angles with the screen. Only recently one could seamlessly move the fingers over to the F2 to decrease brightness, one now has to look at the various symbols open it up and scroll along a display.

Though there are many constraints designed into the touchbar to help us focus (for example, other icons disappear when one of the icons is tapped), it overall is going through the same historical issue that Norman mentions in his design of everyday things: “Each time a new technology comes along, new designers make the same horrible mistakes as their predecessors. Technologists are not noted for learning from the errors of the past. They look forward, not behind, so they repeat the same problems over and over again” (Norman, xv) and adding OLED touchbars is just that.


References –

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

Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2002. Excerpts from Preface and Chap. 1.

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Design Thinking: Systems and Architectures

William Lidwell, Kritina Holden, and Jill ButlerUniversal Principles of Design. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2010. Excerpts.


I want to take Tesla as an example in reflection of this week’s readings. Telsa Inc., founded in 2003 in Palo Alto California, is an electric vehicle (EV) design and manufacturing company whose products range from vehicles to energy capture and storage systems. The arriving of Tesla begins a new era and technology in the vehicle industry and according to Arthur, the combination principle applies to Tesla. In this mini essay, I want to de-blackbox Tesla as a socio-technical solution for sustainable conversion through an analysis of Tesla’s product lifecycle, a Tesla buyer’s product journey from prospective owner to owner, and in the examination of a core component of the Tesla electric vehicle system.

Professor Irvine said, “a network is a system of interconnected nodes, and no node in the network has any reality outside the network system that it is connected to.” Indeed, there are many divisions and components involved when trying to de-black the sustainability side of the Tesla. One of the major divisions is technological innovation and under this division we have components like: super charger, charging stations, lithium ion battery, auto-pilot, high performance etc. All these components lead to energy consumption and renewable energy, which eventually ties back to sustainability. We can also picture Tesla as a tree as Arthur had used in his book. Tesla as a whole is the tree trunk and sustainability and technological innovation are the main branches. Some of the sub-branches and twigs include, carbon emissions and footprints, social environmental responsibility, buyers/non-buyers/potential buyers, engineering, sales, marketing, distribution etc. Just like a tree, everything is connected and intertwined. All these components and parts work synergistically to help the organization achieve its goal of encouraging and contributing to sustainability. Tesla is able to achieve this through a focus on optimizing each tier of its business model so to contribute holistically to a reduction in waste, a streamlining of process, and a prioritization on innovation and development.

Tesla as a high-tech company brings technological innovation and technological innovation helps us achieve sustainability and sustainability helps us reduce carbon emissions and footprints. Tesla’s technological innovation includes technology like supercharger and it is marketed and produced by its departments like, marketing, sales, branding and finance. These departments appeals to buyers, non-buyers and potential buyers and no matter the customer’s decision, the sustainability part of Tesla will reach the audience one way or another – individuals can either reach sustainability through owning a Tesla car or become more environmentally conscious because of Tesla’s sustainable concept. Lastly, I want to briefly touch on Norman’s concept as well. One of Tesla’s success as a pioneer in the EV industry comes from system thinking and Tesla doesn’t treat anything as an isolated object. Let’s look at the supercharger. Not only will a Tesla car tell you all the supercharger locations but also it will automatically direct you to the nearest one when the car battery is running low. You don’t have to worry about anything and if there is no supercharger available nearby, the car will direct you to a normal charging station or to a third-party EV charging station. You can see the remaining battery level and estimated remaining time on the dashboard and when you arrive at the supercharger station, the dashboard in your car, your Tesla mobile app as well as the screen at the station will tell you the estimated charging time and the overall progress. While you wait for the car to charge, you can relax, grab a coffee and surf on the internet at the supercharger station. You can see how Tesla is very user-friendly and the entire charging process is very much worry-free and “human-centered”.



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

Donald A. Norman, Living with Complexity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010. Excerpts

Martin Irvine, Introduction to Design Thinking: Systems and Architectures

Domain Implementation, Influence, and Inclusion

Jalyn Marks

Within design, domains can be implemented within each other, and can also influence each other. “Implementation means that something from one domain is used to create or build something in the other. Influence means that something in one domain affects the behavior of something in the other” (Denning and Martell 15, underlines added). It is my understanding that the implementation of a domain within another is mostly causal and intentional; the influence of a domain upon another seems to have more space to be unintentional. I think this is important to consider because I am thinking about what exactly do people have control over when designing. Therefore, to begin answering my own question, I think it makes more sense to focus on domain implementation before considering influence.

When a computing person or designer is working within a domain, they will implement their past experiences into their problem solving and execution. The designer can be selective in their process–some elements from one domain could be applicable while others are not. Other elements of other domains might also be implemented without the designer being as aware of their influence. On purpose or not, domains, defined as “the communities in which computing people and their customers gather” (Denning and Martell 14), beg the question: who is included within those communities. Then, we can ask: who is not included? Who is not counted as a “customer”? Or, who is not buying (into) a specific domain?

Backing up a bit, domains aren’t just created out of the blue, they emerge “piece by piece from its individual parts” (Arthur 71). Arther argues throughout The Nature of Technology that technology and systems evolve. This is relevant because designers work within the communities and cultural constructions of their times. If we’re thinking about domains, designs, and how they change, we must also consider where their ideas are coming from. What is the domain implementation and influence grounded upon?

“The starting point in systems thinking is to understand technologies and societies not as groupings of isolated, independent parts, but as a complex system of relationships (inter-relations, interdependencies) among and between components that form a continuous structure, not aggregations of random parts” (Irvine 1). Relationships make up communities (and, by extension, domains, technologies, and systems), but as Irvine wrote, these relationships can be complex. Designers might say that complexity can be unavoidable, and therefore no other domain can be implemented for a specific, complex project. “When complexity is unavoidable, when it mirrors the complexity of the world or of the tasks that are being done, then it is excusable, understandable, and learnable” (Norman 10). I think when this happens, the relationships and communities within the domains should be further examined. For example, one might say that people with disabilities, especially cognitive, behavioral, and communication-based, form complex relationships within society, and therefore it is excusable to not design for those outliers. However, I think considering a specific group of people, like people with disabilities, to be complex is a reflection of societal values–rather, the lack of value placed on understanding and including people with disabilities. Historically, communities have not included or counted people with disabilities (or other groups), and therefore implementing or being influenced by existing domains will prove challenging to include this group.

“Good design can provide a desirable, pleasurable sense of empowerment” (Norman 10). Exclusive design, then, which might sound elite and attractive to some, disempowers groups who cannot work within the design commonly implemented by a particular domain. I think all domains–all “communities in which computing people and their customers gather”–is responsible to consider who is being excluded from their community. This will not only benefit outside groups, but will help technology progress. “A change in domain is the main way in which technology progresses” (Arthur 74). I think that focussed efforts around the implementation and influence of domains on each other to broaden their communities will help technology progress for the betterment of everyone.

Works Cited

Arthur, W. Brian. The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves. Free Press, 2019.

Denning, Peter J., and Craig H. Martell. Great Principles of Computing. Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2015.

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Design Thinking: Systems and Architectures.” Unpublished: 2019.

Norman, Donald A. Living with Complexity. Cambridge, The MIT Press, 2011.

Spotify: Design Principles Behind The King of Music Sharing

Victoria Gomes-Boronat

For the sake of this week’s reflection, I will focus on de-blackboxing the extremely popular, music-streaming application, Spotify. At first glance, Spotify seems like a very simple and straightforward application, but as I will discuss further, it is quite the opposite. There are various moving parts that work together in order to create an application that not only shares music but also serves as a sort of social media.

With more than 248 million users, Spotify has a firm hold on its title as king of music streaming, however, it’s its other functionalities that really make it stand out. Spotify is a product of combinatorial design principles from existing and prior technologies.

Technologies inherit parts from the technologies that preceded them, so putting such parts together- combining them- must have a great deal with how technologies come into being. (Arthur, 2010)

When de-black boxing Spotify, you find some of the same mechanisms that were involved in the construction of predecessors such as Apple Music, Napster, and even social media apps such as Facebook: databases to amass large quantities of information, algorithms that organize and exploit said information, user-friendly Graphical User Interfaces, chat functionalities, social sharing modules, and much more. Users of Spotify would need an internet-connected device that is capable of running the application. The device would need speakers in order to effectively carry out the main function of the application.

The app design also draws on decades of interface conventions (Irvine, 2019), for example, the universal meanings of the play, skip, go back, and pause buttons, afforded by its various technological predecessors.

According to Arthur (2010), technologies can be clustered according to commonalities in functionality, components, methodology, etc. in order to create bodies of technology called domains. Technologies can belong to one or more domains and the components can belong to various subdomains. Spotify is a combination of various domains, most notably, domains that concern themselves with music-streaming and social media, essentially creating a hybrid music-sharing domain. Users are able to construct music playlists, download songs, and share with friends and families. They connect their profiles with social media accounts such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. Users can share the songs to their other social media platforms, and their friends can directly follow their Spotify accounts and have access to and even interact with their listening history! The designers of Spotify effectively tapped into an increasingly popular domain in order to make an incredibly successful hybrid product.

Spotify also employs visibility principles in order to communicate the possible actions that can be performed by the user (Lidwell, 2003). For example, if you have the free version of the application, you will note that the skip button does not light up, indicating that, under the free subscription, that functionality is not available. Spotify also prioritizes the safety of the user by using geolocation to discern whether or not the user is traveling in a car. If it can infer from the data collected that the user is in a moving car, it will automatically display a car icon and limit the functionalities in order to make sure that they are not engaging with the app while driving. In this example, we see modules that collect geolocation information interact with and trigger other modules in order to ensure the safety of the user.

My question is: Since everything computational and digital is a human-designed, cognitive-symbolic artifact, how can we best employ consumer psychology in the design stages of our own technologies and optimize their success?


Bueno, N. P. (2010). W. Brian Arthur – The Nature of Technology – What it is and how it evolves. Revista Brasileira De Inovação, 8(2), 535. doi:10.20396/rbi.v8i2.8648990

Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003) Universal principles of design. Rockport Publishers, Inc.

Norman, D. (2002). The design of everyday things. Basic Books.

Silva, M. D. (n.d.). Spotify is still the king of music streaming—for now. Quartz. Retrieved September 2, 2020, from
Why Brands are Turning to Spotify as the Next Big Social Platform. (2019, May 13). Buffer Resources.

Spotify: The New Social Network. (n.d.). Retrieved September 2, 2020, from

Design Principles of Virtual Meeting Platforms

Mary Margaret Herring

While doing the readings for this week’s class, I kept applying the design concepts discussed to video meeting platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, or Microsoft Teams. In the past several months, it is likely that we have all relied quite heavily on these platforms for meetings, classes, and to stay connected with friends and family. So, I’ve decided to apply the design concepts used in the readings to virtual meeting services.

Ultimately, it seems like the most basic function of virtual meeting platforms is to simulate in-person meetings. At first, this seems easy to design for. Participants will need a webcam and microphone and simply need to be connected to one another to communicate. But, there are many different types of meetings that would need to be taken into consideration when designing a meeting platform. Just as a casual meeting between two colleagues over coffee differs from a lecture given to a packed classroom, digital meeting platforms need to accommodate a number of different situations. To replicate the nuances of these different scenarios, these products seem to rely on a form of natural mapping. Natural mapping, according to Norman (2002), is a design principle that users employ to determine how to use a technology that relies on physical analogies and cultural norms. An example of this could be the volume button on a remote. Usually, the increase volume button is above the decrease volume button. This physical analogy makes sense to the user who, wanting to increase the volume, pushes the button at the top. In this same way, designers of digital platforms need to create a platform that takes the cultural standards of interpersonal communication into account. To do this, Zoom, for example, allows the user to switch between “speaker view” and “participant view.” On speaker view, the majority of a meeting participant’s screen is filled with the person who is speaking. This replicates conversations between two people or scenarios where an audience pays attention to one speaker. The participant view, on the other hand, enables round-table-type meetings where all members are invited to discuss an issue. Here, all participants are displayed at the same size in a random order, suggesting that all members are equal and encouraged to speak. This design seems to rely heavily on the norms of in-person meetings or events to suggest how the members of the meeting should participate. In order for this design to be implemented, the technology must be programmed to recognize which person is speaking (where the audio input is coming from) and prioritize that user’s video. Zoom gives the speaker feedback that they “have the floor” by highlighting them in a lime green box.

While these designs may make sense conceptually, actually implementing these designs to be responsive on a number of screen sizes may prove to be difficult. Since most laptops and cameras have webcams, virtual meeting apps or software can be downloaded on a number of devices. However, the affordances, or physical properties that influence an object’s function (Lidwell, Holden, Butler 2003), of these technologies can impact the effectiveness of these displays. In speaker mode, it is easy to see the speaker whether a participant is joining the meeting from their phone or computer. However, smaller screens lack the ability to display all of the participants and it is more difficult to engage in a discussion with many people on a phone. While the speaker mode might be preferable on the phone because it is the easiest to see, a participant may not know who all is on the call because it is difficult to see the other attendees. So, phones and smaller screens seem to afford the speaker view more than the participant view.

A concluding remark/quandary:

I’ve read bits and pieces of The Design of Everyday Things (Norman 2002) and find it fascinating. However, I often have a difficult time applying Norman’s ideas to more complex technologies. I assume that this connection will be easier to make as we continue to de-black box technologies and learn about modular design. But, how far should we zoom in to a certain part of the design to apply these principles? Should we apply these principles to the modules as well as the whole technology?


Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003) Universal principles of design. Rockport Publishers, Inc.

Norman, D. (2002). The design of everyday things. Basic Books.

Design principles of Wechat

  I will take Wechat, a mobile device app, as the example. Wechat is a social network app, which provides many kinds of services like instant chatting, sharing and browsing moments to friends and from friends, enjoying articles and videos published in the platform, and a series of paying operation. As Norman says “The only way to solve the complexities of services is to treat them as systems, to design the entire experience as a whole.”1 The designer of Wechat made all these services into a system, showing as four main interfaces in the app. In order to explain each specific function of these four interfaces, the designer used succinct symbols at the bottom of the interface to distinguish. First one is Chats; all the chatting banners are listed here. Second is Contacts; people can search the friend they want to chat with. The third interface is Discover; people can share photos, music and ideas in of the sections listed in the interfaces named Moments. Moreover, they can also enjoying videos published in another section. The last one is Me; people can manage their personal information and settings here. In addition, paying operation is also listed here.

These understanding symbols and titles distinguish these four different functional interfaces, which meet the principle of visibility, or affordances (or signifiers). For example, the symbol of text bubble guides people to chatting interface, and the symbol of a human head points to contacts. Moreover, the designer implemented the principle of feedback. When people choose one of the buttons, the interface will change to the related one and the button will become green. The changing of color is a sign that told people what kind of change they did and gave them a positive feedback that the app responded. The third principle that the designer applied in Wechat is mental models of conceptual models. When people receive a message from their friends, there will show a bigger red dot with number next to the text bubble. Red color is quite different from the green theme color of Wechat, and red is also representative for warning, so people will perceive the red pot as a sign of an important event. Moreover, if people receive comments or likes in Moments, the red pot with number will also show up next to the symbol of discover. However, if there is only a smaller red pot without number, it only means that friends update their new moments. Different kinds of red sign also make people perceive different level of urgency of messages. This design conform to that the mental model of a device is formed largely by interpreting its perceived actions and its visible structure.

In the second part of the writing, I will try to deblackbox iPhone 11. In iPhone 11, each different function is compartmentalized by grouping and graphics1. It is a combination of tens of devices, including a mobile phone, a camera, an mp4, a game machine, a clock, a GPS, a facial identification device, a barcode and a QR code scanning device, and so on. Each of these functions has a application with a special icon designed according by their functions. For example, the icon for camera app is a cartoon camera figure. The design shows that the designer implemented the principle of affordance. In addition, since the icon is designed as a same shape like a real square button with others, which is the application of the principle of mapping, because the button like icon will guide people to tap once in order to open the app. Moreover, if a person taps the icon correctly, and the iPhone receive the instruction, the icon will become a little grey and then the application interface will fill over the screen, which works as a feedback to him or her. The designer made all these visible, so users will feel easy to interact with iPhones.


How could they understand user models if designers cannot let users try their products before they publish them? Whether it will be helpful to learn consumer psychology, or do some surveys? For many online games, developers will implement beta tests before publishing. In current society, will it be possible for products developers to do something like this?

1. Donald A. Norman, Living with Complexity. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2010.

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