Overview

Future World is an exhibition that explores the relationship between art and science through immersive, interactive projects suitable for all ages. It allows people to have fun and play, but also probes an individual’s relationship with people, mother nature, and the universe. It has five themes – Nature, Town, Sanctuary, Park and Space – whereby these spaces are often transforming and different based on the interaction by guests.

TeamLab is a collective of people with highly various backgrounds ranging from art, programming, engineering to architects, where they unite to define artistic expression in the digital world, merging both art and science respectively. TeamLab is often interested in works that challenges the boundaries of the viewer and the space surrounding them. For example, their latest exhibition in Tokyo, Planets, is headlined “become bodily immersed in a massive art space with others”, allowing visitors have the ability to influence the work through their interaction and immersion, blurring the boundary between themselves and the artwork.

Future World – User experiences in Interactive spaces

In Future World, teamLab uses a range of interactive technologies to construct the immersive installations – ranging from projection, motion sensors, lights and participation from the users.

Immersive installations in Future World often allows users to participate in them and influence the artwork. In the Nature room, through the usage of motion detectors, the waterfall projection on the floor will bend around the viewer. Also, the walls have butterflies on them where people can hover their hand over the butterflies, as if touching them, and they “die”. Interactive element can be subtle, like the subtle water bending effect around the viewer, or deliberate where the viewer has to perform an action to see an desired outcome. Both combined together, creates an immersive space where the viewer has an influence in the space they are in and hence makes it highly engaging.

Universe of Water Particles, Transcending Boundaries

Apart from the participation aspect in the installation, the space design of the installation itself also contributes to creating an immersive environment. In the rooms like Nature exhibition, they often designed to seem boundless. The waterfall projection starts from wall and continues to the floor, till the end of the room. The surrounding walls have butterflies and forest elements, hence this makes the room feel like an actual nature space. This builds immersion as the artwork does not feel bounded to a canvas, but rather it surrounds and sometimes, almost engulfs the viewer.

Some works, like ‘Connecting! Block Town’ are highly reliant on participation, and does not rely so much on immersive space as compared to Nature exhibition and Crystal Universe where it is designed to seem boundless.

Connecting! Block Town

‘Connecting! Block Town’ allows viewers to determine the position of the blocks, and the Kinect above will detect the shape/colour of the block and hence determine the placement of an element of the town e.g. train, house, road and river. In these works, the artwork is mostly “created” by the viewers, the tools are the blocks and it is up to them to design their own town, using the table as a canvas. Participation is encouraged in form of play, which also promotes immersion in the installation.

In both cases, the installations are successful in immersion. The similarities lie in how viewers have an impact to the artwork which encourages them to participate, some more playful (activities) and some more subtle (just by including the viewer into the space). How the space is designed for immersion is where the installations vary, dependent on the purpose of the artwork.

That being said, some works depend greatly on people interacting with them and when they are not being interacted upon, for example the Hop Scotch and the Slide, these works cannot display its full potential (nothing seems to really happen). Hence, this might be a flaw to interactive art when it depends heavily on user’s activity. As such, these works might not be as successful as others, where it still feels very much alive even without people interacting with it like Nature exhibition.

All in all, something that I felt really interesting in Future World upon visiting for the second time, was that the artworks are never fully similar at any point of time as it is dependent to the how viewers interact with these works at the particular time. This creates immersion beyond the individual, and probes further into how the individual relates to others in an environment.

Art and commercial

Future World is an example of art work that teamLab produces. On the other hand, they done some commercial works like creating a Digital Light Canvas with ice skating rink.

Digital Light Canvas

The distinction between art and commercial industry work is more blurred in relation to TeamLab’s works, because they merge both well together. Often they are able to create immersive, beautiful spaces whereby they also determine their own creative direction, plus they gain commercial success for doing so. Hence they are producing artwork unique to them, even in their commercial works. In today’s world, the boundaries between art and commercial industry work can be challenged, for example artists like Jeff Koons merges both together. Likewise, I would say that teamLab is able to do so too.

In this chapter, Don Norman highlights what makes good design, and in particular – discoverability and understanding. Discoverability refers to knowing where to perform what, and how to perform them. Understanding is how the physical attributes link to the meaning of the design. Good design also tackles what users needs and it is so intuitive that often overlooked due to its effectiveness. Hence, as designers, it is important that our perspective in designing is focused on human-centric factors, meaning that design accommodates to human’s needs and not the other way round, which is common in problematic designs. A particular point that I found interesting how when a design is not working, most designers do not accommodate for that. overlook that aspect. His philosophy of human-centred design is essential for any designer, be it industrial or interaction designer, to be aware of.

The important takeaway from this reading for the components that highlights the discoverability in design – signifiers, mapping, constraints, affordances and feedback. These components need to work hand in hand for inituitive design, and I will highlight signifiers (and affordances) in my response.

Signifiers

Signifiers refers to mark or sound, basically an indicator that communicates appropriate behavior to a person. The clearest example would be the “PUSH” or “PULL” in doors to indicate what the user should do.

The lack of signifiers result to disastrous everyday problems. For example, when observing the wayfinding in ADM, the glass doors all around the school do not have indicators if they are PUSH or PULL.

ADM Norman doors

Till today, I struggle with this door because I do not see signifiers, and the handles are the same on both sides. Hence, signifiers are very important in such situations to give people a clue of the action expected from them.

Relationship to Affordances

Affordances refer to the relationship between the properties of an object that determine just how the object could possibly be used. When one looks at a door with handles, you know it can be pulled to open the door. However, one direction of the door is meant to be pushed and not pull – hence a gap in affordance and perceived affordance. Hence, at times Norman doors are often debated to be unideal in user experience – the presence of handles when a push action is expected from a user, because people are calibrated to pull handles when they see them. Hence this might be a conflict in a user’s mind, perceived affordance and affordance is not met and therefore there is a need for the signifiers.

However, the design itself should work in tandem with a signifier. It should be intuitive in a way that people understand the action needed from them too, hence like a perceived affordance. How can one improve the perceived affordance?

It is important to note that signifiers should always be designed together with the product, and not an afterthought to prevent people from doing what is not ideal. People should perceive the ideal action by looking at the product, (perceived affordances), with signifiers complementing and affirming their action. While signifiers closes the gap between what users perceive the object can do and what it actually does, how can signifiers be made more cohesive together with the perceived affordances?

Another question I have in mind is – How is affordance defined? For example, chair is meant to be sat on but it also has an affordance that is not communicated through its design – people also use a chair to stand on when reaching out for objects.

Overview

In this chapter, Chipchase highlighted our observing people’s behaviour with their belongings give a great insight into their everyday lives and how they relate to their surrounding environment. From this, we get a glimpse into a culture’s needs (from items they carry), perception of safety (how they carry it), these can translate into deeper insights like understanding a culture’s fears, beliefs, hopes and values.

How you carry – Range of distribution

Range of distribution was the term used to compare the distance that people were comfortable with in letting physical objects stray when in public spaces. Range of distribution differs greatly across different cultures – Shanghai having short range of distribution as compared to Singapore with a high range of distribution.

Meili from Shanghai (the example being used in the reading), was clutching her bag very tightly no matter what she was doing and was visibly upset when she let down her guard for a mere moment due to a phone call. This shows that people in Shanghai are very cautious in their belongings, generally suspicious of others, we can also infer that pickpockets and thefts are prevalent. This reflects the state that society is in – when the book was written (2013), China was emerging economy and more volatile as compared to today which is more stable and prosperous. Hence, thefts and pickpockets were certainly a visible issue then in 2013. Chinese people also tend to look out a lot for themselves first, due to immense competition in the society and small pockets of observation like this reveal such information to an observant eye. Once again it is important for a UX designer to take these into account to know what is needed in a culture – looking how how people live their lives shows how people relate to others around them, it also more deeply infers how the society is like, their values etc.

As compared to Singapore, there is definitely a high range of distribution because we are very comfortable with leaving our belongings a distance away from us. For example, when ordering food, people leave their bags on the chairs to reserve the table. People are also constantly using their smartphones while walking on the streets, whereby such behaviour is not common in place with short range of distribution like Shanghai because the likelihood of it being stolen is high. Hence, Singaporeans are more casual with their belongings, because pickpockets and theft are very rare. This reflects Singapore society as one that is extremely safe country, but also infer that people take things for granted. Carelessness is not rare, it is not unusual to find someone forgetting his/her belonging in a public space, only to be reminded by the staff or a friend – I myself included.

In conclusion, range of distribution gives an insight into the safety level of the country, how this is a reflection of the state of society (developing, volatile vs affluent, comfortable) and also more deeply, the values of a culture too.

A designer can design a bag that caters to differing range of distribution. For example, when I was travelling in Europe, I was aware of the possibilities of pickpocketing in regions with many tourists like Spain and Italy. My backpack was excellent for that because it had a compartment at surface of the bag, but it was at the back. Hence, I placed my valuables in that compartment because even if someone opened my bag sneakily, my valuables will not be found. Such a bag will be useful in a country with short range of distribution, without needing someone to resort to a frontpack which is not intuitive.

More food for thought

What Chipchase might not have mentioned as deeply, was that within the same culture there are many variations with how people carry their bags which reflects of their personality and values too – different personas that can create good UX problems to solve. In my culture, Singapore, I see differing habits of my friends. Some people like to carry backpacks because of the many components that help them organize things. Their items also always tend to be in the same places, a mark of someone more organised and meticulous. It is more efficient to find things and conduct a ‘Point of reflection’ (Chipchase defined as mental checklist of things brought).

Meanwhile, some just dump all their items in a large handbag/totebag but this often results in people rummaging their bag to find an essential item e.g. a wallet before tapping into MRT. This represents a person who tends to be more careless, and through this observation – it is evidently a problem when people cannot find their things in their own bag, making a point of reflection end harder to execute. It is not efficient and hence, this is something worthwhile for designer to look into, how can they improve the user experience of using bags? How do you prevent situations like this where one’s bag is a blackhole? It is simply including more compartments? But for people who do not like to take time to sort items into compartments, how can the placement of compartments be easy for someone like that to organize their things?

Messy bag

 

Backpacks are constantly being innovated to improve user experience of people used it. Now, there are also detachable backpacks that adapts to a person’s situation, they can use the whole bag when they need to bring many things. But in a situation where the user wants to travel light, he/she can detach the bag and simply use the smaller compartment. Just a digital design where it is important for designs to be responsive from desktop screen to mobile screen, a smart and well-designed physical object can apply the same principle.

Detachable bag

 

Beyond surface observation, it helps to also picture the journey of this person, how did these items end up in their respective places, why? What is the story of this person? With that, wow can a UX designer translate these findings into effective design that cater to different groups of people, not just vastly across cultures but also to different personalities in society?

What you carry

What you carry is also an important factor to observe. Across every culture and social strata, there are essentials that are constant – like wallet, keys and phone. However, even these essentials manifest in different forms across different cultures. For example, in Scandinavian countries it is not rare to see people carrying no cash at all. Their wallet simply comes in a form of a card case with a credit card inside, or via mobile apps, which reflects a heavily cashless society. In Singapore, people carry a range of payment methods – cards and cash, even mobile apps because there are many modes of payment available and different places require different modes of payment. Hawker centres mostly use cash, and restaurants now promote mobile apps for payment due to benefits of promotion and cashback.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is important to combine the findings of both how you carry, and what you carry so that one’s design can cater to different personas in a society, and also across cultures. Point of reflection is an important factor that a designer can always keep in mind, how does one make it efficient? And beyond the individual, how can service design in public spaces be utilised to help people in conducting such mental checks (e.g. Tokyo vending machines to check card fare).

Overview

Cultural calibration is where one puts himself/herself in the local mindset of a new culture, ‘living’ in the shoes of their everyday lives and from there drawing key observations in comparison with other cultures in the world. This is especially important for a user experience designer – one has to be truly be well-versed with behavioural patterns in the particular culture first in order to design an effective human-centric product/service for that demographic. These can be done via a few techniques according to Chipchase, in which I will address the international language of Macdonalds and how this translates into calibrating culturally for UX.

Observations from Mcdonalds, global fast food chain

Culturally different food items

Chipchase has already mentioned how Mcdonalds mean differently in value to different countries. It can be seen as a place with air-con and free wifi in developed countries, places to sleep for the homeless even.

Ha Cheong Gai Burger in Singapore, by Mcdonalds

 

Mcdonalds has always been localizing their products to a specific culture. For example, Japan has Ebi flavoured (Japanese shrimps), and Singapore has Ha Cheong Gai burgers inspired by local flavours. These are often seasonal cultural products to  occasionally spice up the items on the menu, in order to spark interest. On the other hand, consistent items like fries are ubiquitous in all Mcdonalds across the world, in which allows it to be a global trademark item. Hence, a mix in both globally consistent items and items marked by cultural differences allows Mcdonalds to build a strong brand globally but is not totally identical which allows people to maintain interest in their food chain when travelling to different Mcdonalds throughout the world.

Customized image for different cultures

A more important observation that I witnessed is how Mcdonalds changed their logo colors to cater to different cultures. They have purposely customized their image to appeal to the public in a culture.

Paris Mcdonalds

When I was in France, I noticed that Mcdonalds logo was green and yellow. I was told by my French friend that this is because people are increasingly conscious about the environment and health, and thus Mcdonalds tries to improve their image with their change of colours – an eco-friendly and “healthy” food chain. In contrast, most places around the world still uses the same signature red and yellow logo, like Singapore.

Singapore Mcdonalds

Hence, different image appeals to different cultures, what is effective to a country might not be for another. This is worthy for designers to observe and apply to cultural optimisation of their designs.

Further translating cultural calibration

Linking observations to context – Utilising cultural calibration powerful design research

To fully utilise cultural calibration observations, this can be deepened with contextual knowledge of a particular culture. A model that I would refer to is Hofstede’s six cultural dimensions, which represents independent variables that different cultures tend to veer towards e.g. Power Distance Index (how less powerful members in society accept unequal power distribution), Individualism vs Collectivism (whether society values the self or the collective community mindset).

Here’s an illustration of how this could work. Using the Individualism vs Collectivism dimension, a culture which values Individualism (e.g. The Netherlands) might want to know how a product benefits them individually, whereas a country which values collectivism (e.g. Korea) might be more keen to know how the product benefits their community as a whole / how does it embody them into their society. With this context, one can link with observations from cultural calibration – in Korea city commute, people tend to group together a lot and they often have similar fashion and makeup. Trends are usually closely followed because people want to fit in to the community. Hence, this affirms Korea’s strong sense of collectivism, and a UX designer ought to design a product that benefits the “us” more than the “I”.

Therefore, linking observations from cultural calibration with contextual knowledge will largely empower the designer with ultimate tools for designing a culturally optimised product or service.

 

Further thoughts 

Striking a balance

It is important to strike a balance between how consumers live now (by observing the behaviours of people in a culture), and how they want to live. Observing Japan in peak hour allows us to know that people are constantly in a rush, and often tired in work. We hence see many products catered for convenience – e.g. prevalence of vending machines in subways and roads, full meals in convenience stores. But this does not tell us how do they want to live, and that is where research of their values and ideals come in. If they aspire to live the opposite of how they live now, how can one challenge that?

Food for thought – When designing a product, localizing for a culture – how far should one try to blend into the culture?