Part 1: Experimental Map

Maps are reliant on our sense of sight and our ability to compare what we see in actual against the text printed on the map. It works because there’s nothing subjective about this. In regards to road signs and building names, what you see is what I see. But these maps serve the sole purpose of helping us find our bearings.

Experimental maps can be used to guide us to experience a place rather than to find a place. I’ve observed that people generally are very consumed with technology wherever they are. We are constantly looking into the virtual online world rather than being fully present in what’s in front of us. We don’t pay attention to what we hear or what we see. If we didn’t use geographically accurate maps, we could have fun by mapping experiences that we share at certain places that are unique to us. It’s like mapping our culture and our way of life.

This may be done through recording thoughts or background noise that strike a common chord within us. For example we hear a description of an experience, “I felt a little claustrophobic as my personal space was greatly invaded. I held my hands close to myself and shifted my weight from heel to toe to keep balance. There was a sour stench coming in waves that forced me to hold my breath. *beeping of doors closing*”. In such a description we could probably resolve that we’re in the MRT during peak hours. It’s like a map, because it gives an objective account of an experience and it works because what you felt was what I felt.

Part 2:  Reading

On The Map
Documentary about Annette Kim and the Sidewalk Lab

The maps are really cool: 

“Intelligent design solutions require an understanding of the design problem.” (Kim, A. M.). This reading brought fresh perspective on improving user experience through a discussion on an usually overlooked tool – the map. It talks about how a deep and established understanding of existing experiences with products or services is crucial to the improvement of them. One of the ways to establish this understanding is to go beneath the obvious and observable to find out why things are as such (history of sidewalks in HCMC and to whom they belong). This is also supported by the study of why the HCMC government were chasing street vendors out of the sidewalks because they had inaccurately presumed that tourists wanted clean sidewalks. On top of that it is also important to understand why certain service or product works so that we can push boundaries and still ensure feasibility. For example in this case, maps work because they are objectively factual and readers have a universal interpretation of them. The author was able to use these two qualities to come up with a new map that maps the unseen qualities of the sidewalks in the city and help people see that there are better ways to plan public spaces, not just with an economical agenda but to consider social concerns as well.

Another takeaway on understanding how people experience a space was to overcome habitual seeing and see space not just as a physical phenomenon but also a social one. This was achieved through recording spatial patterns and social relations in the sidewalks. The example was how the author noticed that there was actually a system behind the seemingly messy street vendors in HCMC and this was the system that she was trying to map. Lastly, I’ve gained insights on the usefulness of a map. As a visual representation of spatial relationships,it also tells a story of property and power relations. As a visual convention, it is able to frame and conceptualize what we see.

How could we effectively draw attention to experiences or issues that people have grown to overlook?

Is it overwhelming to map experiences because so many things are going on at once, how could we draw the essence of it?


Part 1: Documentation and Analysis of MRT.


My group came up with a list of issues that we identified for both the train ride and the bus ride. Below are some accompanying photos to show what we observed.


Out of all the issues raised, the following 3 were chosen to be studied in greater details.

Observation Problem Solution
Font size too small for most of the signs People do not notice the signage and can’t be bothered to put in the effort to read them, missing out on important announcements.
  • Larger font sizes, better contrast, more space. Attention symbols LED boards inside the bus
  • Physical signs with bus stop names to be placed BEFORE the bus stop
  • Have a automated voice say where the next stop is (Like the MRT)
  • Phone app that helps people to map their destinations and alerting them to alight.
Passengers refuse to move into the rear of the buses. Limit the capacity potential of the bus.
  • Use speakers to allow drivers to encourage passengers to move in.
  • Longer buses, allow people to board from the back door as well.
  • Change of tone in the reminders – polite to more authoritative and humorous.
  • Redesign of the bus so that the exit door is at the back.
  • Incentives to motivate passengers to move in.
Disembarking passengers from upper deck clashes with boarding passengers from lower deck Takes a long time for passengers to board and alight.
  • Bus captain can let passengers alight before opening the front door for passengers to board.
  • Redesign of bus so that stairs is right at the bus exit.

Part 2: Reading

I got really excited reading this chapter because I could relate to the joy of gaining personal and more profound experience through exploring new places in the ways the author suggested.  I personally prefer immersing myself among people and places rather than hearing or reading about them. Interviews and write-ups more than often are biased feedbacks because they might subliminally be carrying the author’s agendas of reproaching or endorsing the culture or a people group. However it is also important to strike a balance between experiencing the cultural difference for myself and listening to other people because their sharing can most directly and bluntly reflect any needs or problems that design could resolve.

What struck me was the suggestion on breaching behaviors to quickly understand the unwritten rules in a culture. It’s refreshing to realize that coming up with original ideas could be achieved by pushing the “safe” boundaries. We might be missing out on brilliant ideas because we label ideas that do not comply with the social norm as “untouchables”. But just as the author mentioned, these norms do evolve as time passes, and our pre conceived knowledge of these unspoken rules can prevent us from creating products that are extraordinary.

Another insight was when the author mentioned about comparing the understanding of a new culture with my own. Finding out the similarities between cultures could help to design products which are relatable and enduring because it’s based on experiences that I am familiar with. The differences could help to modify the product to cater better to a specific group of customers by increasing the worth and value of it to them.

However, as I bring my own experiences and culture norms to a different place. I tend to see things differently from locals as well. How then can I be sure that the nodes of conflict I identify are things that matter to them as well? Perhaps they are so used to it and see it as a part of their identity instead of something that needs to be resolved. Similarly as we design for our own people group, how could we see from a fresh perspective because we are so adapted to the way things are here?

Secondly, this approach of research seeks that we understand and see from the perspective of the customers. How practical is this approach of research if we only have a limited amount of time? Being able to empathize with the customers’ needs will take longer than a day or two of “Going Native”. Wouldn’t this approach in the short run then be as good as gaining this understanding through online measures?