(1) Visibility / Invisibility

Reading Response 2 : Jan Chipchase, Hidden In Plain Sight: How to Create Extraordinary Products For Tomorrow’s Customers. (2013)

This chapter covers the elements and importance of good design. Visibility is discussed as a fundamental element of such with the guideline of affordance, constraints and mapping. This is a really interesting read as I am able to relate to many of the stories and problems faced with regards to the design of products.

The products discussed can be classified into 2 types: the under-designed and the over-designed.

Products such as the scissors is an example of a design whereby the fundamentals of affordance, constraints and mapping correlates in such unison, visibility becomes invisible. This brings me to the quote by Joe Sparano: “Good design is obvious, great design is invisible”.

Overly-designed products explored within the chapter such refrigerator, washing machine and telephone, of which notable flaws are discussed. Interestingly enough, the problems discussed still exist even in today’s incredible pool of talented designers in a technologically-savvy society . Why is this so?

The recurring story within the chapter regarding the function of the ‘R’ key of the modern telephone perhaps perfectly explained why as it concluded with the notion of ‘fear’ of radically changing one’s design as “if a feature is in the genome, and if that feature is not associated with any negativity, then the feature hangs on for generations.” 

The trend of touchscreen started the wave of a radically redesign of mobile phones today- in the name of minimalism, where almost every other function is hidden within the infinite capability of the touchscreen, with the exception of the miserable physical ‘home button’. In view of literally making the design invisible, but has the problem of over-design been solved?

I remember presenting the iPad together with my siblings, to my mother for her birthday many years back. Sheer elation turned quickly to frustration within the first hour as my mother struggled with finding and learning the new sets of functions as she indulged in her new device. Even today, she would frantically approach me whenever she accidentally ventures out of her regular set of applications on her iPad mini.

The growing emphasis of minimalism  today has eliminated a majority of visibilities in today’s society, resulting in invisibility being posed as a problem rather to a solution. Seemingly, the 3 fundamentals discussed of affordance, constraint and mapping have been severely compromised. Perhaps the take on design today has been masked by the very meaning of visibility/ invisibility.


1. Why is it that even though the flaws of the overly designed products are evident, people are still susceptible to accommodating the flaws rather than to push for a better design?

2. Problems discussed with the overly-designed electronic products are still evident in the world today. In what way can we solve such recurring flaws to aid in a better design?

Author: Heng Tong Foo

in pursuit of happiness.

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