(2) idiosyncrasies

Part 1: In your group, organize your documentation and notes from the observation and analysis of the MRT and create a slide-show presentation that you’ll share in class.  Observe, take field notes, identify where things go wrong and what idiosyncrasies you notice through your observations. What are some unusual things that you notice?  Make sketches, notes and document with photos to carefully analyze the user experience during this field trip. Make observations on how other people move through public space.  What solution would you propose to the “things that go wrong”?  Remember, to think about scale in that your proposal might be simple or more complex.  Consider what the challenges might be to implement your proposal.

Part 2: Read the attached Chapter from Jan Chipchase, Hidden In Plain Sight: How To Create Extraordinary Products For Tomorrow’s Customers.  (2013)  Send me (by no later than midnight on Saturday), a response to the reading and two questions.  Please send it to me as a word or PDF document with your name in the file.

This chapter has opened up my understanding on re-discovering the ‘norm’ in activities. Examples discussed are of relatable yet often overlooked ‘norms’ and the factors in making sense of why and how these ‘norms’ came to be is really interesting.

Right at the start of the chapter have I already been peaked by the notion of self-observation and self-discovery, as opposed to mere collecting data from external sources. As a student of design, I have personally done researches based on both methods, and I do find the ideations and final outcomes to be vastly different. More often than not, ideations derived from personal observations yield more sense of pride in my project regardless of the outcome.

The line “even the briefest dip in the contextual-awareness pool can yield insights and inspiration” drew me to the out-of-class activity of journeying from school to Boon Lay MRT station and back. Even though the brief activity was something I frequented in the use of public transport for my commute, I still found myself discovering some really interesting idiosyncrasies previously overlooked. I have often thought that only by collecting more data over a wider spectrum of time can I gain better insights, however it had never occurred to me that even such brief experience can generate such interesting findings too.

Many of the examples given of ways to understand a particular environment and the patterns of the locals are of really normal routine activities in which is very easily overlook. However through the cross-cultural comparisons shows really interesting trends of local behaviours. All these methods points to taking a step back, and re-noticing what is perceived as the ‘norm’ in any certain place and identify such behaviours, even before asking why and how certain things are done in a certain way in a given environment.

Another interesting point is the adaptability of people. How people actually act to adapt to changes in their routine, and even their perspective, are really interesting. One other example on top of my head is the very recent viral game ‘Pokemon GO’ in which brought people out of the comforts of their home, which subsequently leads to more visitors visiting places like parks and even forgotten attractions like Haw Par Villa. Such can also be seen in the food served in different parts of the Country. For instance, places near tourist attractions do serves up foreign delicacies on top of local delights. Such may very well be due to interactions between foreigners and locals and leading to such adaptations.

The signage mostly discussed in the chapter is really different from the ones discussed in class. The use of ‘don’t’ signs serves to control rather than direct, and is often ignored, as the message they present are often accompanied by distaste. Icons used as alternative way of interpretation, whether for the illiterate or the technologically advanced. As such, we are able to concur how developed the state is just from the sign. Language in signage also plays a part in telling of a society. Example of such use in Japan is really interesting and it made me consider the use of short-forms and slangs in the Singapore context and how the use of Singlish can shape our society to Singaporeans as well as the foreigners.

Design research is based strongly on the five senses as the key to sourcing data. Visuals and sounds act as stimuli for the memory as these senses are used as prompts to relive the atmosphere as the researchers segregate the findings.

Overall, I do think user experience is nothing foreign, and as I look back again at the out-of-class activity done previously, I do find myself having already subconsciously possessing some traits of identifying and subsequently, questioning idiosyncrasies.


  1. The use of cross-culture research can yield interesting findings, but how much does the background and mind set of the researcher/ anthropologist plays a part in identifying and subsequently questioning idiosyncrasies in a different culture? For instance what may be perceived as a problem to the researcher/ anthropologist may not necessary be to the locals.
  1. The use of language/ different language in signage in different parts of the world serves more than a mere indication but for deeper reasons. As such, the use of Singlish in signage in Singapore as advertisements and even local companies names is a growing trend in Singapore. How does this say about Singapore as a developed country where more and more foreigners occupy Singapore?


(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?

(3) Maps and Sidewalks

Part 1: Think of a way in which you could develop an experimental map using images, sounds and stories. Some ideas… What else would we use if we didn’t use maps to find our sense of place? How would you map the sounds you hear every day? How would you map emotions? How would you map the overlooked peoples or places of Singapore?

An experimental map that uses the sense of smell may be something that is interesting to look into. One idea of such experimental map is to utilise the smells of shophouses.

For instance the distinctive smell of petal-wreaths from the shophouses in Little India, the unique smell in the shopping centre of Peninsular Plaza versus the fragrance-filled Ion Orchard, or even the mouth watering aroma of local cuisines of the hawker centres may be something that makes up the map.

One way to integrate smell is to add a smelling palette on top of an existing map such that one can smell the aroma (or unpleasant smell – you decide…) of the particular place.

Granted, such of an experimental map may somewhat be inaccurate, or may even not offer a lot of help to a lost person. However, it may work instead as a memory map to relive the experience of one’s journey. Such that the purpose of the map is not to bring you to a certain place, but to bring you back to that place.

Part 2:  Read CH 1 Annette Kim, Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City (2015)

This chapter covers the impact of sidewalks of public spaces as a direct correlation to the livelihood of the locals within the city and the problems faced when trying to shift the public space into a more developed nation.

One interesting discovery to me is the importance of the sidewalk as a starting point for a public space for interaction. Personally I view the sidewalk very differently as a local versus as a tourist. As opposed to using the sidewalk as a mere commuting space in Singapore, I think that to a tourist, the sidewalk is actually a really interesting place of contact with the locals, or even to just observe the locals.

Annette Kim also writes about the issues needed to solve for a good urban design. Such issues involves politics, economy etc.

Most often than not, the upgrading of the public spaces are of works by the major corporations – namely the political governance hiring urban planners in view of upgrading the sidewalk spaces with the aim of expansion to a more developed nation. However, the major corporation needs to find the balance of the purpose of upgrading without forgetting the ultimate users of the common spaces – the locals. Of which if not would result in a disharmony and give rise to more problems instead.

“While research can uncover knowledge, planning is also a profession that intervenes in society.” Finding the right balance between analysis of actual physical spaces with ethnography research is a fundamental tool for generating a good design direction. Such can be seen from the anti-example of the ambitious upgrading project in Indore, India during the 1990s whereby despite winning internationally acclaimed design awards, ultimately failed to realistically solve the underlining problems of the slumps, due to the ignorance of understanding the locals.

The point of urban planing is to develop the nation, however it puzzles me as to why major governance still push for urban plans when it impede the locals. That constitutes to a waste of resource, money, as well as time and ultimately affects the nation to be developed. Such may be due to the lack of knowledge for an ethnography research to be conducted beforehand, but I still feel that the decency to understand the locals should have been thought of before.

The next part of the chapter focuses on the potential of mapping the blueprint of the public space in relation to have a clearer understanding of the space. Questions such as the function of the map, who the map is designed for to be used and who designed the map are explored through cartography.

Maps are often seen as a tool to direct one to a particular place. However the questions looked upon when building a map shows a lot of interesting factors. For instance the ultimate user of the map (Who?) can already generate many different ideas such as the iconography used, the size of the map, how information heavy does the map requires etc. Such explorations are really interesting to venture into with different interesting outcomes.


1. In view of a common ground for urban planning, how much can be compromised between the locals and governance for a good urban design, without taking away the essence of the locality?

2. Anette Kim mentions finally presenting a tourist map project developed and proposed to HCMC that would promote pedestrian tourism and incorporate sidewalk vending as a subversive strategy to legitimize their use of sidewalk space. In a rapidly developing country, how long will the proposed map last before it becomes obsolete due to the advancement of the country?