An easy way to understand the semantic metaphor by Manovich

If we try to match cinema and interaction design in a 1:1 mapping way, maybe it is really hard to say yes. But step back and look at interaction design just as a member of the new media family will help us to understand the author’s propose.

When cinema art came out it changed the way how the previous static media (i.e. printing) told stories. Similarly, when computer enters our everyday life and we are experiencing the changes digital media has brought to us, interaction design has been changing the way how traditional media (i.e. printing and cinema) tells the stories. I used the word “story” because I think no matter it’s printing, cinema or computer, the people behind the “interface” is trying to create dialog with us.

And actually even though not all of us agree with the metaphor the author is using, we are actually doing a similar job as a book editor or a film director because we are creating dialog, we are telling stories, we present information and we want to make changes even though we didn’t realize that. The difference is we give people more controls and we don’t direct their thoughts, we surport their intentions and make use of technology to make all of these happen.

So in this way the metaphor of whatever printing or cinema or any other types of traditional media really makes sense. The detailed method and tool and process are different but we can really find out how new media inherit the others’ languages and develop its own. And this can also help us to think about our role and responsibility as interaction designer.


Interface as representation or/and control

I found the reading for next class is really interesting, since it brings me a really different perspective to look at computer interface, although I may “feel” interface in the way Manovich described, it’s still refreshing and calling for my deeper thoughts when I read the texts.

Firstly, he described what he meant by cultural interface:

I will use the term cultural interface to describe a human-computer-culture interface- the ways in which computers present and allow us co interact with cultural data.

And then he stated his point about the relationship between cultural interface and traditional media forms, which are cinema and printed works in his statement:

…the language of cultural interfaces is largely made up from el- ements ofother, already familiar culmral forms.

He then talked about how information is represented in printed world like in books, and how cultural interface makes use of the book metaphor while making the “pages” more fluid and unstable, where the new media culture becomes an infinite flat surface with unordered individual information.

After that he talked about the linkage between cinema language and HCI, that computer users use the same way to interact with cultural data as the ways of seeing the world in cinema.

But he also pointed out that HCI plays a different role since users have a lot of controls through the parts of the interface, so the language of cultural interfaces is a hybrid of conventions of traditional forms and HCI.

And I really like one sentence from the last part of this chapter that:

It is one thing to use a computer to control weapons or analyze statistical data, it is another to use it co represent cultural memories, values, and experiences.

Notes above are my basic understandings about this chapter, after finishing reading it, I tried to look at computer with Manovich’s metaphors of printing and cinema. Computer for me is like a book I can never finish reading, it represents information and gives me the control of which information I want to look at. At the same time, I also write new information into it, which will become the content somebody will read. Similarly, computer can also act like lens, and I can control which part of the content I would like to view with my actions being part of what is in the others’ lens. Why computer is powerful is partly because of the infinite information it can represent and partly because of the infinite controls held in infinite users. And these two parts are connected, it’s we as users rather than the book authors or the film makers who generate the content. We together write a “book”, make a “film” and create whatever the new media will result in and meanwhile we consume it.

The logic here is kind of blur… but that’s what I thought while reading this chapter.

The power of the creator

The reading of In The Blink Of An Eye reminds me of my undergraduate experience. We learnt how to shot and edit film for almost two years. But when I read such a reading now, I can’t remember how I cut videos before..

My teacher told us the ways of editing films are different in China and here. Chinese directors are also the people who will lead how to cut and edit films while for Hollywood films, the people who cut and edit films decide how the film will look like and how the story will be told. I’m not sure whether this saying is 100% correct but for my experience, I really didn’t learn how to cut a film in a cognitive way. The methods I used before is standing in the director’s place (usually who directed the film would be the leader of the editing team, so I only cut and edited my videos) and controlled how the story was told, in which way I also decided how I wanted to control viewers’ emotions.

The power of the creators of a film is bigger than the creators of a drama, by which I mean, in a film, you can always see what the creators let you see while in a drama, you can pay attention to every corner of the stage. So, no matter whether it’s the director (who directs and/or edits a film) or the editor (who edits a film), they all use their creator/authors’ power to control the viewers’ visons and emotions intentionally.

The catch of the blink is really of the skill-set for me, but creating a good flow is really what we need to do, no matter as a director, a film editor, or a UX designer. If the flow of a story is fluent, the “blink” of the “viewers” will match our expectations.

An example of “the author is dead” and interaction design

One example after today’s discussion about the relationship between “the author is dead” and interaction design is: customization. And a further example of customization is iPhone.

I have no idea about the original intention the designers have about iPhone, but let me just make up one here: say, to create a fashionable, multifunctional mobile platform for personal usage. People who have iPhone make it into different roles in their lives, for example, some of them make iPhone mainly as their entertainment tool, they may download related apps like YouTube, Ted, Pandara, etc. and enjoy the videos, talks, songs, etc. Some of them make iPhone mainly as their social tool, they use apps like Facebook, Twitter, Line, Talkbox, etc. to make them connected all the time.

Customization is one reason that I think why iPhone succeeded, using the chief metaphor Jeff used today, it provides us a half-cooked dish with a large bowl, and we can add whatever we want to customize it. The customized dish may result as a Chinese dish, an American cuisine or whatever we like, everybody can enjoy it and in this way, the original “author/chief/designer” is “dead”…

This iPhone example also brings me an insight that, a good design won’t limite users’ intentions by the original intentions from designers, it should support them.

How arts critics can benefit design critics?

When I read the chapter for next class, the question that how could I apply what I obtain from such literature critics into design critics makes me confused.

Let me elaborate it in the following two sub-questions:

1. When we critique works in literature, film, paintings, etc. the values a critic can reveal may exceed the author’s intentions, sometimes we even have such a reaction towards a specific critic:”are you over-thinking?” So, where does the value of works exist? In the chapter for next class, it puts forward the similar question:

There are correspondingly different conceptions of the critic’s ta sk: to explore a personality expressed in a work or to explore intrinsic properties of a “verbal icon”.

I haven’t finished reading the chapter, maybe the rest words will help but now I’m still confused…

2. From my perspective, to critique a design is more straightforward than to critique a piece of art works. Because designers express their intentions more directly. Although we cannot see the whole value of design right after we know about it, activities like what we conducted in last class can really help to find out a way (the four approaches proposed by Jeff) to come up with an objective evaluation. So, what is the lessons we can learn from art critics? This question accompanies me while reading the chapter, I tried to map what it says to design critics but still feel lost there.

The Definition of Art from Antony Gormley

I read the book Asian Field recently, which is about Antony Gormley’s sculpture–Asian Field. There are two big insights I want to share here.

1. Physical Reality VS Space of Our Minds

The following paragraph states well about how Antony defines art:

…the idea that “art” is not simple an object of intrinsic value, but that it is a process, and involves exchange and trasformation. Art exists in two distinct places, in physical reality (in this case in the 10,000 square meters of un underground car par in Guangzhou) but also in the space of our  minds.

When I read this and think about the discussions we have recently, what Antony is saying makes a big sense to me. And then I tried to apply his definition of arts to “aesthetics” according to these two big parts: what is in the physical reality and what is in our minds, it’s also insightful.

The physical reality is what exists, is what we can see, hear, touch and feel. The space in our minds is our interpretation of the physical reality and different people have different mind spaces.  For example, a painting is there hanging on the wall, with its form the painter created, that is the physical reality. When we start to look at it, interpretate it, try to understand it and appreciate it or hate it, a different space is generated within the viewers.

So here is my question: when we talk about rational critiques, do we need to pay more attention to the physical reality? Since it seems hard for us to talk about the inner space in a “rational” way, like:”I feel rationally sad when I see this painting.”

2. The Aesthetic Experience is Generated within the Inner Space, but it Relies on the Physical Reality

The sculpture Asian Field is part of Antony’s project Field, you can find it here:

I really like this project and I have to admit I obtain some aesthetic experiences when I read the book, view the sculpture and try to understanding his intentions behind this huge project. I like it not because of the countless clay figures, but what Antony is trying to present. I am not going to analyze his sculpture here but I want to say I come up with around 4~5 different approches to understand this project: with my intuition, with my knowledge about China (because the social/cultural context of Asian Field is in China),with my knowledge about Antony’s style, with my knowledge about Antony’s philosophy behind his works. And the more I try to think deeper and broader the more possibilities I will have to understand this project. With the expanding of my inner space about this project, I become more and more attracted by it.

For sure different people will have different approches to critique his sculpture, and certainly the aesthetic experiences we will have are also varied. But they all rely on the clay figures and how Antony arranged them.

One screen shot of this project is as below, you can take a look at it and see what kind of aesthetic experience you will get from it. Or maybe you won’t get any.Image

My Personal Design Philosophy

Design thinking forms who we are as designers. The product we design not only reflects material reality, but also delivers our thinking, concerns, beliefs, tastes and preferences as designers. A designer’s character is his or her core, since we make design judgments depended on our own values and beliefs [1]. Design philosophy forms part of design thinking and our design characters. Design philosophy directs why, what and how we design, around which we conduct design practices. Therefore exploring the personal design philosophy is crucial for every designer. Knowing well about that can help our design thinking and characters evolve and mature.

In this article I am going to talk about my personal design philosophy depended on my accumulated design practices, readings, design critiques, etc. I got during my past two more years in UX design area.

Before digging into my personal design philosophy, I would like to talk a little bit more about myself, since knowing about me can help to a better understanding about how my experience leads my design philosophy to evolve in a specific way.

Firstly, introversive personality makes me good at coming up with insights from observation, thinking and reflections. This is an important reason that how I found out being a designer could be my ideal career. Secondly, arts education makes me care about aesthetics. Aesthetics is a system concern, which is not only about appearance. All the details I interact with will be injected into the final products delivered to the end users and the details together form a complete user experience of functions and aesthetics, so being “picky” about details is my attitude about design.

I will discuss about my design philosophy around the following four aspects: 1) design in my eyes; 2) key principles of design; 3) my design process and 4) personal criteria of design outcomes.

Design in My Eyes

Design in my eyes means delivering my understandings about the world to more people. Designers are the ones who can realize the other people’s (end users’) needs and desires. But design is not a “finding out” process, design is distinct from problem-based reaction, design is about imagination about what doesn’t yet exist in the word and adding new things to the current world [1]. Designers need to put their thinking, tastes, beliefs and values into the design, in which way to deliver their way to look at the “not-yet-exist” world to more people.

However, design is distinct from arts [1] [2]. Purposes of arts works are for self-expression but for design, thinking only from our own perspectives will bring bias, which is not the expected result. So the people who I design for will affect my understandings. All the inputs I obtain during the design process will help my understandings about the design problem space and the whole world to evolve.

Key Principles of Design

I will talk about my key principles of design around the following five domains: rational, emotional, functional, aesthetical and ethical.

1)     rational

Design is intentional, purposive, and goal-seeking; it relies on reasoning [5]. Rational is the “non-I” part in design. I need to have the ability to analyze the data I get from a subjective perspective and try to avoid personal bias, which may affect my design judgment [1].

Being rational also means design should have logics, for example, when we design for webpages, a good information architecture reflects strong logics behind the design. Logics help us to make simple and user-friendly design products.

2)     emotional

Being emotional is the “I” part in design. In my opinion, being emotional is important to be a designer, because it nourishes our sensibility about details, about emotions, about the others’ needs and desires, and about many other crucial factors that design needs. Being emotional is a balance of concerning about the logics, which can help us come up with sensible observations about life and people, and unique insights and concepts.

Being emotional also means we need to put our own thinking into the design, through which we tell the people and the world how we look at and think about the world, how we interpret the others’ stories and retell the stories in our ways.

3)     functional

Design is a unique way of looking at the human condition with the purpose to create change [1]. We need to create new solutions to solve problems, to function in a practical way and to bring changes. There are infinite possibilities that how to solve one particular problem [1], I try to deliver simple solutions to design problems, thinking about how to solve problems in a simple and functional way but making sure it works and can make the situation better.

4)     aesthetical

People have desires for aesthetics, which not only includes appearance. I care about aesthetics, so I inject my tastes about aesthetics into my design, which I expect to turn out elegant. Aesthetics contains spiritual-level feeling, which is abstract to design and measure, in order to avoid my bias I need to look into the end users’ culture backgrounds, tastes, purposes, etc. to make my design acceptable.

5)     ethical

We make design to change. The power of designers is huge. We should understand about our responsibilities as designers well in order to create responsible design. The ethical principle of mine means I won’t design harmful products for people and I will try to help with making a better world. Although it looks too general to interpret, it can prevent me to abuse my responsibilities as a designer to affect people in a wrong way.

My Design Process

Design philosophy directs design process, and design process can reveal designers’ espoused theory and theory in-action [4]. Defining, analyzing and understanding one’s design process is also a good way to reflect-on-action [4], which can help designers to get a better understanding about themselves as designers and how they can improve their design ways in the future. My reflection-on-action about my design process leads to the following eight points, which are not in a specific order but can reveal the activities, flows, tools and emphasis I have in some ways.

1)     familiarize myself about the design problem

Trying to be one member of the target group is my first step after narrowing down to a specific design problem for a specific group of end users. Usually we do user studies to get access to the reality, but there are two problems: it’s hard for people to tell their desires and it’s hard for designers to sense the true story. One way to solve these problems is to become one of them, get subjective descriptions, secondary research data, live their life (if possible) and look at the situations from their perspectives. Familiarizing myself by making myself one of the “target users” together with the first-hand data I collect helps me to have a deeper understanding about the problem space.

2)     know what my data tells me, but can also see the hidden desires

Design is not only problem-solving, but also needs expandable rationality. [6] The skill to understand and analyze the data we get is necessary, but the ability to uncover the hidden desires is what makes our design treasurable and strong.

Here is an example: if a person needs an apple and tells me, I can just design an apple for him/her, and he/she can get what he/she asked for. It’s obvious and not difficult to accomplish. But good designers should ask more questions to the customer and themselves, like, why he/she needs an apple, is he/she thirsty? Does he/she need vitamins? Or he/she just need something that has round shape. Asking more questions, thinking deeper and not just looking at the surface can make our design really needed. To see the hidden desires behind the obvious needs is also crucial to come up with design with simplicity, since what we do is all for the “core”, rather than superficial and redundant garbage.

3)     keep record of useful information in Google docs

This is a practical tip. Keeping information in an organized way can help us to synthesize with teammates, to keep record of every inspiring and sparkling moment, and to build up the design exemplar collections.

4)     sketch

This is also a practical tip. Design is about communication and sketch is a good way to accomplish that. I used sketch a lot, either by hand or by InDesign; the latter can create more formal and polished mockups to show ideas.

5)     iterate like a perfectionist

Our understandings evolve along the design process, since every piece of information we get will deeper our knowledge. No matter user test or the self-checking about our design can cause design iteration. Don’t be afraid of making change of what we already have, and be prepared to polish design details or even the whole idea, until it comes to a satisfying result.

6)     pay attention to the visual literacy

I care about visual representation. People need not only design that is useful, but also design that is beautiful. Pay attention to visual literacy is showing the respect of our ideas and the audiences.

7)     always step back and see where I am and what I am doing

We need system thinking towards design [7]. The ultimate design result can’t exist alone; it should work in a bigger environment with an effect on more people. Sometimes when we are immersed in the large quantity of information or when we are too focused on details, we need to step back and have an overall view of where we are and what we are doing. Having a big picture of the system can prevent us from wasting time and resources in a wrong way. And system thinking can also make sure our design is harmonious in the whole environment.

8)     the more I look at the others’ work, the more progress I can make

Design exemplars are inspiring for designers. I have my personal design exemplar collections, which include website design, graphic design, book design, business card design, resume design, logo design, design blog, architecture, fashion collections, etc. Apple app store is another good resource for me personally; the top popular and the latest app are where I can gain inspirations from. Studying how they work and what they look like can help me to be in the trend. Design is about communication and we need to communicate with other designers and design ideas.

My Personal Criteria about Design Outcome

Design is not science. [2] Science is about discovering the truth but design is about bringing changes. There are infinite possibilities of design results. Designers’ judgments [1] help designers to decide whether the result is what they expect and whether it’s time to end the design process and present the idea, although actually there is no clear definition of “ending” the design process.

My personal criteria about design outcome are how I make judgment upon. I will discuss around three definitions: acknowledgement, surprise and considerate.

1) acknowledgement

Acknowledgement means the design result satisfies not only me and my group, but the end users and even more people. This is a subjective criterion to tell whether what we are doing meet our ultimate purposes.

2) surprise

Trying to give people a little bit more than they expect, and use the power of design and designers to play the magic moment when people interact with your products. But don’t overdo it, since it may cause unnecessarily overwhelming.

3) considerate

Be a considerate person and then act as a good designer. Think about more situations rather than the ideal ones, concern about more people rather than the people who will use the design, and envision the future rather than the time when your design is interacted with. Thinking is a big pleasure for me as a designer.

What I have stated above is my personal design philosophy so far. The understandings about it are based on the readings, my teammates, people’s stories, projects’ failures and successes, and all the inputs I have obtained during the past years. But this is an ongoing reflection-on-action, I believe with more experience and reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action, my design philosophy will evolve and mature, which can guide me to make meaningful design and be the designer I expect.

[1] Nelson and Stolterman, The Design Way

[2] Nigel Cross, Designerly Ways of Knowing: Design Discipline Versus Design Science

[3] Risatti, A Theory of Craft: Function and Aesthetic Expression

[4] Donald Schon (Schön) Learning, Reflection and Change

[5] Rittel, The Reasoning of Designers

[6] Armand Hatchuel, Towards Design Theory and Expandable Rationality: The Unfinished Program of Herbert Simon

[7] Large-Scale Complex IT System

*slideshow is here: