UX: Jan Chipchase Thoughts

It’s difficult to not participate in certain activities or read articles like Jan Chipchase’s “Calibrating Your Cultural Compass” without having on the foreigner lens. My primary goal in moving to Singapore this fall was to be open to new and more experiences – to immerse myself in places with background and cultures different than I had experienced before. This is research. It may not have been explicitly stated in a research thesis but as Chipchase states, ” great [design] research is finding the right balance between formal and informal data collection.” Recognizing that we are constantly collecting data about people and places through observations, conversations and activities is the easy part. The more difficult part would be purposefully dedicating time to do so in an environment that is new to you where there will inherently be more learnings.

Many of Chipchase’s methods or examples of observation in Chapter 5 helped me realize just how much I was learning in the past two and a half weeks in Singapore. It’s quite interesting how small behavioral tendencies or subliminal signage or language use can share so much information. Being able to compare and contrast people’s attitudes, mannerisms, beliefs, values, reasonings etc. is at the heart of what Chipchase calls to “go native” and attempt “rapid cultural calibration”. In just a single MRT ride or an afternoon canteen lunch or a morning run on campus I can pick up on some of these learnings. What’s most interesting to me though, is how everyone is trying to learn about people because we can find patterns in people of certain places and document concrete data. But ultimately, individuals are all entirely different from each other. There almost seems to be levels of connections where people have the same or similar behavioral tendencies and mindsets at a surface level only. The idea of a platzgeist in which people strive to understand how an environment comes together through it’s people, place, background and activities gave me a much greater understanding of the applicability of gestalt theory in real life and of the purpose of user research in the workplace.


  1. Where is the line drawn between creative strategists/ designers who focus on front end user research and anthropologists? Why not have a team that combines the two or where people share roles throughout the process?
  2. How specific can you go in learning about the platzgeist of an environment or the people of a place? Chipchase says it’s possible to collect too much information so how can you sensor your data collection to only include that which is necessary?

Spatial: Chinese Heritage Center

For our second week of Spatial Design class, we went on a field trip to the Chinese Heritage Centre. There, we visited the upstairs Nantah Pictorial Exhibition which showcased the history of NTU starting with its founding as Nanyang University (Nantah) to its purpose today as a technological university. We overlooked the Yunnan Gardens from the third floor and walked through the library including the early textbooks collection, a beautiful room filled with original teaching texts from Nantah’s first years.

Understanding exhibition design and spatial design requires much more societal and historical research than I had anticipated. Looking at the CHC’s front facade, it is clear that the building has a rich heritage and value on NTU’s campus. Yet, every inch inside the building seemed to tell the same story about the rich Chinese heritage of the entire country of Singapore and the strong community that has built this university. Much of the university was donated as was most of the art, books, artifacts and items inside the heritage center. This seems to be a direct result of the passion people had/have in Singapore for their ancestral heritage and for education, NTU being a physical representation of both. It amazed me that this building is a National Monument of Singapore and every tile, doorway, column, ceiling, and wall has gone untouched since the declaration of its preservation in 1999. To me, spatial design is now the communication of a peoples’ story (or heritage) by turning a space into a meaningful place for those people to share with others.

If you want to learn more about NTU’s history, I’d recommend you to visit this exhibition at the CHC. You can read more here:


Sound: Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noise

Music has never been something I believed I had a keen ear towards. I enjoy music and played piano but never understood the technicality of it and the study of musical sounds. However, I have always enjoyed putting away the earbuds and sitting and listening to daily sounds around me. Typically I would take walks at lunch during work or sit on the bus in silence or open my bedroom window and hear the sounds from outside. But none of this was ever silence to me, so I resonated with Luigi Russolo’s writing about how daily noises can be more pleasing to the ear than traditionally accepted music.

Russolo’s manifesto opens up the expanse of sounds that we may not realize we interpret each day and prompts us to be active in discovering these noises that exist around us through machines, nature and people. Without a background in music, it is interesting to me that instrumental sounds which were established by people are called pure sounds. I would think that the sounds resulting from nature or from experiences in our life—whether in the city or rural areas—would be called pure. It is also worth noting that these noise sounds, when given words by Russolo in his six categories of noises, are comparative to literature onomatopoeias.

Russolo has a clear stance on the superiority of noise sounds but his piece “Awakening of a City” did not convince me so. As previously mentioned, I think some noises can be quite pleasing to listen to, but as Russolo mentioned, “the variety of noises is infinite” so I believe there must be many unpleasing noises too. I actually listened to the “Awakening of a City” prior to reading The Art of Noise and I was able to pick up slight resemblances between the noise in his piece and the sounds of music I have listened to. As I was listening, I sketched out how I was visualizing this noise piece in my head, not with the intention of accuracy but to be able to see what I was hearing. After reading the manifesto, I think my visualization may have related to the speed and slowing down movements of the piece as well as the volume intensity. Overall, this type of noise sound is intriguing and seems to tell a story in the dramatic nature of its composition — a story that doesn’t necessarily imitate nature or machinery but tries to compose them together to create something new that you may not hear or notice in everyday life.

ADM User Experience

Ironically, my first assignment in ADM was to analyze the user experience of navigating through the ADM building as a new student. Just finding this class as my first time in the building was more difficult than I expected.

UX Thoughts: The Design of Everyday Things

Donald Norman’s first chapter of The Design of Everyday Things made me realize how difficult it is to explain design to someone. He has taken an idea that is at the center of design — the user experience — and analyzed its parts in a way that almost becomes scientific or mathematical. The way he describes affordances, signifiers and feedback in relation to machines and relationships reminded me of input and output in mathematical functions and the cause and effect of physics. When analyzed, the design process is quite complex — or at least it should be for a good design — but it is interesting to me how good design seems so simple, so “easy” or “obvious” of an answer. This directly corresponds with how it is easier to spot design that has flaws or is poorly designed.

Reading this chapter also put into context the value of “communication design” which in this case is the design thinking that when put into use communicates the object or service’s intended use. Without this communication, Norman states “the whole purpose of the design is lost”. On the other hand, his depiction of communication in terms of signifiers and perceived affordances made me question the boundaries of communication design. I’ve been taught thus far that industrial designers deal with the physical design of forms but if physical traits become communication tools to signal the way in which to use something, then is that not communication design? The lines between design fields has always seemed to blur, maybe because good design requires multi-disciplinary teams as Norman talks about. Yet, this reading prompted me to question the naming conventions of design disciplines more than I have in the past and seemed to open doors to what “communication design” might become for me in my future career.


1. Is there a better term for conceptual model? This part of the analysis confused me but seemed to relate to user testing and how people perceive connections and relationships and thus have certain expectations. Norman says “A good conceptual model allows us to predict the efforts of our actions” but this sounds quite vague because each person has their own predictions or expectations for an outcome. The only way to solve this would be user testing which would result in more concrete results than a “conceptual” model.

2. Does smarter technology increase or decrease interactivity? Technology can now react in more ways than one so that input A may result in output B, C or D etc. There still seems to be some concrete formula though in the results or feedback of a design because machinery and objects cannot understand emotions, thoughts, or body language like human to human interaction can. The article made me question if there is “less” of a user experience in technology that is “less interactive” because technology might be able to read environmental cues and such.