Assignment 3

Part 1

 While people are surrounded by phenomena constantly, maps can bring about conscious awareness and comprehension. They call our attention to a few elements in our world from the millions of things we could be noticing. They also provide information about its attributes and a view of how those elements are related to each other spatially. In this way, maps provide a visual narrative of our world and how things work. And in addition to telling a story, maps suggest how we might navigate our world.

However, having to say that, there are often times when one is given a map and still faces difficulty in finding his or her ways. Personally, I find conventional print map not as helpful as the “map” we have in our conscious mind. This could be related to the sense of feeling we recognized when we see familiar places, objects or sometimes, a déjà vu moment we experience. It is a certain language that is not static, but constantly being renewed and recreated. For example, when one pass by street A, he or she might have recognized a specific building or site like an Indian shrine, taxi stand or even little details like a specific red pillar with graffiti painted on it. It is in the human mind that we subconsciously knew these symbols existed but never really looked at them or thought about them much. By objectifying them with the frame of camera as the central focus, naming them street symbols, organizing them into typologies, and mapping their existence, they became a thing.

After all, maps are about a process or performance rather than an end product. And everyone’s ways of mapping would differ from one to another. Some might use their sense of sight while others might seek comfort in mapping through smell, hearing, touch or even taste. One example of mapping through performance is Beijing artist, Qin Ga. He participated in the project from Beijing by remotely following the Long March team’s movements. The artist first tattooed a map of China onto his back, and then would tattoo each new site that the Long March team would arrive at in its respective position on the map, permanently leaving behind each route and site.


The final site of the Long March and the foundation of a new Utopian society (2005) Copyright © Qin Ga


When the Long March team declared a temporary stop to the project on September 2002, at Site 12 (Luding Bridge, Sichuan Province), Qin Ga’s tattoo work also stopped. Through a small needle, the 25000 li (6,000 mile) Long March was miniaturized onto Qin Ga’s back. His body is both an artwork and a Long March object, combining together elements of history, and collective and individual memory.

Every time they reached a new site, he would have the site and route tattooed onto his back, recording the process with video and photography, as well as collecting the daily items used during the journey as an archive of the process itself. Traveling with him were tattoo artist Gao Xiang, photographer and cameraman Liu Ding, Gao Feng, and Mei Er.


Remotely following the Long March team’s progress in 2002 Copyright © Qin Ga (Source:

Hence, we see how mapping involves not just the human memory, but about the experience we gain through the journey.


Part 2: Reading Response

Sidewalks have the potential to be a remarkable democratizing space.

One point that hits me the most throughout this reading regards the debate over competing conceptions of the sidewalks. In fact, it was not unique to Ho Chi Minh City but gaining policy attention in cities around the world e.g. Singapore City. As people continue to migrate to urban centers at unprecedented rates, sidewalks are particularly important for the lower income and marginalized urban dwellers who try to make their living in this space. As seen in the picture below, we see local vendors making a living by selling homemade food on a common sidewalk in Ho Chi Minh City.



Community recreating and vending practices on the sidewalks have also been viewed as sites of “authenticity”. Take Singapore for example, conservation of built heritage is an important part of urban planning and development. Historic areas like Boat Quay, Chinatown, Kampong Glam, and Little India as they add variety to the urban landscape environment, stimulating visual interest and excitement within the city. The conservation of these buildings and areas is testament to the rich architectural, historical and cultural heritage. It also adds to the distinctive character and identity of Singapore city a multi-racial, cultural place. More importantly, they give people a sense of history and memory even as they move into the future.


Unofficial Cobbler Square located at Exit C of Chinatown MRT Station



Recreating Singapore Street Food


Next in point, I have also learnt that urban design that has been generated by idealized design principles without being informed by ethnography can produce disastrous results. The author mentions how spacial ethnography joins together social science research and physical spatial analysis to uncover how sidewalks are actually used and social processes and meaning of that use. Hence, it is important for the designer to be informed about the particular society and how their work interact with different subgroups of the population while making bold interventions and contribute a personal aesthetic vision. I think this point is not only relevant to urban landscape designers/architects, but also useful to designers in any fields as a whole. This is because understanding before designing is one of the most important aspects in design process.

Setting this into local context, I have learnt that urban design process should include going out to the site and interviewing and observing people. For example, urban redevelopment authority of Singapore made use of a “3R” Principle: Maximum Retention, Sensitive Restoration and Careful Repair. The original structure and architectural elements of historic buildings should be retained and restored as far as possible, without reconstructing the entire building. Parts of the building should only be replaced when it is absolutely necessary. Before any conservation work begins, thorough research and documentation should be carried out on the conservation building to ensure that quality restoration work is carried out through careful and accurate repair. This process helps ensure that the conservation works adhere to the 3R principle.


Week 1 Assn Part 3: Choose two objects that you use every day and analyze their design

The two objects that I choose are namely, a muji stapler and clamshell packaging. While the muji stapler exemplifies a good design, the clamshell packaging, on the other hand, represents otherwise.

The first object that I choose is a stapler from muji, that I use almost every day. (seen in picture below)


Firstly, I think that stapler as a tool or stationary is itself, an “inevitable form”. It is a good design because it is simply an intuitive object. With its small opening that mouths an invitation for paper and its smooth handle that offers a satisfying punch, it is clearly an object that no users would ever misunderstand how to use it.  On top of this, the muji stapler is also compactable, making it easy for storage. The clean, sleek outlook of the muji stapler displays values of honesty and simplicity. All in all, I believe that supernormal designs like this, will go a long way to be the most beautiful design.

The second object that i choose is a clamshell packaging as shown below.


As a user, for as long as I can remember, I often encounter problem when it comes to opening a clamshell packaging. First of all, the hard plastic cover is way too tough to be opened with bare hands. Hence, users would definitely require sharp tools like a pair of scissors to assist in the opening of the plastic cover. (Ironically, there are times when the object inside the clamshell packaging is a pair of scissors) Most of the time, one would notice that even with the help of the sharp tools, it would still take a great amount of tedious effort to cut the tough plastic cover. Once the user has successfully managed to cut the plastic cover apart, the next issue face is when one tries to retrieve the object out from the vacuum-packed “enclosure” within the plastic cover. This process not only requires a considerably large amount of effort and time, sometimes, it might even be rather “hazardous” as the sharp ends of the tough plastic cover could cut the user’s hands. Therefore, for many reasons, I think that the clamshell packaging is a bad design. In order to resolve this issue, I would probably suggest in the change of material. Instead of using a tough plastic material like the conventional ones, it would be better if it is replaced with “softer” plastic types or even rubber. This would make it easier for users to open the packaging. Alternatively, I notice there is clamshell packaging in the market that includes a “clip” at the opening, which is a considerably good solution too. Ultimately, while the primitive function of a packaging is to protect its content, it is also important that the user is able to unwrap it easily too.



Week 1 Assn Part 4: Response to Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things

The human mind is exquisitely tailored to make sense of the world. A good design is able to let users gain an immediate understanding to it. I find the point about “visible clues” that Norman mentioned in the reading exceptionally interesting as these are little details in our everyday lives around us that we fail to notice.

The door example highlighted is indeed a good example, if not, often relatable to us. For the most part, users would go through the need for trial and error (push or pull) first, before figuring out the correct way of opening the door. This “obstacle” is so commonly faced by us, the users, so much so that we have forgotten that this confusion between pull and push is a design issue. One thing I noticed is the attempt to improve this confusion through the use of instructions or signs that indicate “push” or “pull”, located near the handle of the door. However, most often than not, users would naturally gone through the fair bit of “trial and error” of pushing or pulling the door before noticing the signs to open the door correctly. This renders ineffectiveness in visibility of design as the intended actions and actual actions do not coincide.

Therefore, with regards to the above issue, the author brought up a meaningful point about the psychology of materials and things. This shows that as human mind perceived the things we are familiar with, it is thus effective for us, designers, to make use of such psychological effects on our designs. The relationship between the controls and actions should be apparent to the user. Hence, natural mapping is crucial in taking advantage of physical analogies and cultural standards to create immediate understanding.

With that being said, I find it rather interesting how cultural standards plays a part in natural mapping as well. While the human race is deemed as “one” as we all operate with the same mechanism, the differences in cultures amongst us do affect the way we behave and react to certain objects. Hence, I think that as a designer, taking into consideration of cultural needs has taken a rather important aspect of design.

Next in point, the author mentions how when the number of functions and required operations exceeds the number of controls, the design becomes arbitrary, unnatural and complicated. The same technology that simplifies life by providing more functions in each device also complicates life by making the device harder to learn, harder to use. This is known as the paradox of technology and only with clever design, they can be minimized. I strongly agree with the author about the paradox of technology. I think that a good design constitutes striking a good balance with the use of technology. One good example of design that has achieved this is none other than the smartphone. Despite the countless amount of functions made possible thanks to the help of advanced technology, the design of smartphones is made so intuitive and user friendly. One no longer needs a manual to know how to operate their new smartphones anymore. It is thus exciting to see how humans have evolved together with technology as it advances over time and in the future ahead.


Qn 1 : Will paradox of technology ever be fully eliminated with purely good designs only? Or do the users play a bigger role?

Qn 2: Does cultural standard plays a big part in natural mapping?