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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?
Part 2: Read CH 1 Annette Kim, Sidewalk City: Remapping Public Space in Ho Chi Minh City (2015)
Singapore is working on an interactive 3D Virtual Map to be launched in 2017. I believe that the future of maps is virtual in the form of augmented reality or even projections onto actual streets and it will be interactive and in real-time. It will be a map for the people by the people.
The tension between government efforts to modernise the city and the preservation of culture in the form of sidewalk activities is not a new one especially in South East Asia where sidewalks are part of the cultural appeal. The situation regarding the sidewalks of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City reminds of Singapore. Singapore is good example of finding a balance between cleaning up the streets and allowing the street culture, but whether or not it is good is another question.
A big part of Singapore success in moving from Third World to First World has been the government’s swift actions in housing for example the street vendors in more sanitary hawker centres or relocating a large portion of its population who lived in squatters into public housing. The Singapore government displayed good urban planning and to a large extent still managed to keep hawker food culture alive and maintain some semblance of ‘kampong spirit’.
However, many other aspects of Singapore culture has not been spared by modernisation’s tendency to demolish the old and bring in the new. Many groups in Singapore have been unhappy with plans to demolish some heritage sites such as Bukit Brown cemetery in the name of progress. Also, many wet markets have been converted into cleaned up food centres. With regard to allowing street activities Singapore is very restrictive, one needs to get permit for everything from making a speech at the speaker’s corner at Hong Lim Park, selling food, busking and even camping.
But, back to the point about land use planning and sidewalks. The Thieves Market at Sungei road in Singapore is a flea market, which has been around since the 1930s, will cease to operate a year earlier, in 2016. It is an example of the cultural heritage of vendors and hawkers that occupy the streets and sidewalks but have been lost to development. The tightening of security and alcohol ban in Little India and Clarke quay while removes the sight of drunkards somehow reduces the vibrancy of the culturally rich part of Singapore that it is.
Governments can create places that encourage informal activities but must be careful to maintain heritage and have a culturally relevant design. Singapore has begun to realise this for example the preservation the old civic district through the building of the National Gallery in a way that seamlessly blends old and new, and the listing of botanic gardens as a UNESCO world heritage site. Orchard road closures every second Saturday of the month is a step in the right direction in encouraging street culture.
With regards to the reading, I agree that there is a need to understand the history, culture, economy and social fabric when doing urban planning. A map that takes into account all the stakeholders and looks at the tangible and intangible is useful. Many in the past have made the mistake of designing public space without considering its social implications leading to under-utilised spaces. I think it is possible to regulate informal public space activities in way that preserves the livelihoods of the poor and the street’s cultural heritage but allows for modernisation and economic growth. It is encouraging to see that research is being done in a way that ensures the urban design of HCMC is sensitive to the Vietnamese people’s way of life.
Q1 Can sidewalk culture be kept alive in an age of rapid urbanisation?
Q2 How can governments take into account the fluid nature of the use of public space such as the sidewalks when doing urban planning and creating maps?
Reading Response 2 : Jan Chipchase, Hidden In Plain Sight: How to Create Extraordinary Products For Tomorrow’s Customers. (2013)
The point of design research is understand how and why people behave the way they do to create a meaningful design, and what better way than to experience it yourself. To experience is both to put yourself in the customer shoes as well as to observe the way others behave. It is true that the global connectivity granted to us by the internet and social media allows one to easily reach out to many people and access data regarding consumers, but it may not yield deeper information such as how their lifestyles affect their choices. I think that it is probably because social media for example tends to provides hard data such as the number of people who searched for a particular topic which can be superficial. I guess there are online forums, chatrooms and review websites which can give you the opinions of people which is very useful but it is certainly not a substitute for being there.
This rapid cultural calibration which could be a stroll at dawn or rush hour subway ride, a visit to the barbershop, a train station or a global chain restaurant, I agree provides a deep understanding of a culture because being in a local setting allows you to get into character and play the role of a local. The best time to do this research according to the Chipchase is in the morning starting from 4am because it is more consistent and regimented. While I agree that there is much to learn from the morning rush hour, I think that it depends on what the purpose of the design research is and the evening commute or night life could also yield useful results. Riding local helps one gain a better understanding of the mental and physical state of the locals. But apart from riding the train or riding the bus to experience the commute, I think a good way to get the pulse of a particular city or community is to take the local taxi and talk to the cab driver. Long distance travel hubs have a diversity of people which is useful for learning cultural norms and expectations.
The barber shop is a social hub where people meet and chat about their lives and the latest hot topics are discussed. The barber shops in HDB estates in Singapore are a good example. Mcdonalds is a place where cultural differences in terms of food and the demographics. Whenever I visit a Mcdonalds in a foreign country, I always lament about how the local one is “better”. For example there is curry sauce in the local Mcdonalds and is a place where young people study. Signage as the author suggests reveal much about social behaviour and value conflicts. In the Singapore context there are signs everywhere that indicate fines for smoking and littering and even “no durian” signs which reveals the punitive culture and food habits. There is a myriad of idiosyncrasies that are revealed that can provide tremendous inspiration for a design project when we immerse ourselves into the local experience.
Q1. Is it always beneficial to a design project to conduct an immersive design research such as the rapid cultural calibration as mentioned in the reading?
Q2. How much collecting of data is enough to give the designer the insights and inspiration he needs to create an empathic design?
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.
Reading Response 1: CH 1 Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things (1988)
I agree that our world is filled with poorly designed objects that are difficult to figure out how to operate and that good design can make things better. Firstly, the author asks why people put up with the frustrations of everyday objects. I believe that the reason that we put up with it is partly because we accept what the companies tell us is good and we do not question if there is a better way. Even if we feel there is something not quite right, many companies do not bother to find out. The author states that the human mind is exquisitely tailored to make sense of the world which he suggests needs only the slightest hint to know how to use an object but gets thrown off by bad design. However, if the human is so good at figuring things out even if initially a bad design throws one off, I think our minds quickly adapt and we learn “bad habits” so to speak in terms of the design language which perhaps explains our tolerance for bad design as well. Having said that it is true that things have become more confusing. While the human mind does figure things out well, certainly well-designed objects that make things easier is welcomed compared to a poorly designed object that is hard to use. But sometimes as consumers we do not know any better until we are given something better. We can probably give valuable feedback on what works and does not work, but it is only when the designer presents the improved solution that we realise what we have been missing.
The author then goes on to talk about how people are surprised that simple things like doors, switches, faucets and stoves can be frustrating to figure out how to use. Before studying to become a designer I admit I would never have thought doors could be a problem, I guess it is something we tend to take for granted because we probably go through doors all the time and know which way they will open. If even simple things can be confusing, then as the author says it is understandable if a cockpit of a modern airliner is hard to operate. I think that the holy grail of usability is probably making the airplane controls simple enough for anyone to operate like how the car industry was revolutionised by the modern automatic car’s easy to understand controls.
Visibility is important as we are very much visual creatures, so we want to know which function is controlled by which control and see the outcome. The lack of a hold button on the modern telephone system is good example. The issue is that with more functions comes more controls it is not only harder for the designer to fit in all the controls in a product and but also the consumer who needs to figure out what everything does. But people keep buying poorly designed products and designers keep doing things the same way in a vicious cycle.
Affordance is important for the choice of material as its function becomes obvious by its properties. The example of the British rail shelter is quite an interesting example because every attempt to solve the problem seems to create another. Complex things require explanation but simple things do not. There are so many objects in our lives but somehow we manage to cope. The author gives three ways, affordance, constraints and mapping. The scissors is easy to use because the parts are all visible while the digital watch is hard to use because there is not visible mechanism. I myself have found it easier to adjust a mechanical watch compared to a digital one because when rotating the knob the hands of the clock are visually moving in the mechanical watch. Users do not need to know how something works they only need to know the controls and the outcome. The car is usable because all controls are visible and each control has a specific function whose action corresponds to the same results in reality which is mapping. Feedback is also important as it enables the user to know if the action is successful, which is useful for the hold function of the telephone system.
The paradox of technology as the author puts it is very much the problem when it comes to designing usable objects. Functionality comes at the price of complexity. I agree that it does not mean we do not progress but it is hard to balance cost and usability. I think that we are reaching the point where technology is so advanced that it is no longer changing at the rapid rate of the last decade. Therefore this is a great time for designers to make the complex products more usable because technology is more or less the same. But I think that there is a point where the benefits of adding another function no longer outweigh the complexity. Smartphones and computers have managed to put all the tech into a simple small package, so easy to use even young kids can use them. But, there are still problems with having so many functions in one device with companies constantly improving the operating system. Designing well is difficult with so many other factors to consider but I agree that the paradox of technology is not an excuse for bad design and that principles of good design can make the complex manageable.
Q1. How can good design be applied to the increasingly digital world which is less visible?
Q2. To what extend can good design make the complex technology more usable?
Choose two objects that you use every day and analyze their design using the principles described in Chapter 1 of The Design of Everyday Things. Imagine describing what the object is and what it’s designed to do to someone who has never seen it before. Is it intuitive or frustrating? Come up with three ways to alternate the design for that object and see how it changes its function.
Affordance, Causality, Visibility, Constraints, Mapping, Feedback
The electric eraser by Smiggle is actually not a bad design and is intuitive in its shape which fits the palm of the hand and the button is made of rubber which affords pressing. But there are a number of ways to hold it and some of the visual cues may be misleading which could be frustrating. For example, the orientation of the shape of the on button does not exactly coincide with the placement of my thumb and there are different ways of holding the device.
The twist eraser from Muji which is no longer available anymore is a novel concept for an eraser. Its design leaves subtle clues about how it functions and so it does not look like an eraser. The clues are the spiral thread visible through the transparent plastic body and a rubber grip on one ends which affords gripping on to. A sticker on it has instructions on how to use it. I think the design is not intuitive because while it follows the convention of a screw meaning clockwise to tighten and anti-clockwise to loosen the user does not know which side to turn to push out the eraser or retract the eraser and with respect to the top or bottom which is unclear.
Find two maps of a building or place you have visited – one map is badly designed and the other is well designed. Be prepared to explain your examples and bring maps to class. Think of a time you were lost in a place and write in your journal how and why you got lost. What about the user experience didn’t work for you?
I visited Canberra recently and obtained two maps. One shows directions from the hotel to various notable locations around the hotel while the other is a map of the city of Canberra. Firstly, I would like to qualify that both maps are meant for different purposes in the context of way finding, so one map is understandably less detailed. However, for the purpose of comparing a bad map and good map it highlights features that distinguish between a good and bad map.
I recall being lost when I visited the Taronga Zoo in Sydney Australia during the recent summer holidays. After spending a day at the zoo, the time came to leave but I lost my way and ended up back at the entrance instead of the exit.
I got lost after wandering into one of the several trails that branch out from the main path. After walking the trail, I came out to a different part of the main path which seemed rather unfamiliar.
The problems with the user experience are as follows:
- Confusing signage
- Too many different paths within the trail
- Paths look too similar
Students will analyze the user experience of ADM building. Carefully observe and document with photos the way finding of the building (location, entrances/exits, signage, spatial organization etc.). Look at its ease of use. Observe how the design of the building affects behavior. Be thoughtful and critical about what works and doesn’t work. Prepare a group presentation to share findings in class and discuss observations in the class.
- ADM driveway is unconventional with drivers having to keep right instead of left to get to the carpark
- Doors at entrances have pull bars on both sides which do not distinguish between push and pull
- Signs indicating forward direction can be confused as upward pointing
Idea #1 Self-Image and the City
People in society today are more conscious than ever before about their outward physical appearance. The invention of the smartphone with its front facing camera and the creation of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has enabled people to easily snap pictures of themselves and post them online which has led to an obsession with taking good-looking picture of themselves. This project aims to encourage people to turn their focus to inner beauty as portrayed figuratively by the beautiful literal image of the internal body as seen on the x-ray.
Idea #2 Lights and the City
One of the most recognizable features of the city would probably be the lights. Even from outer space the lights of the city can be seen clearly. Lights play an important role as they free people from the inhibiting darkness and makes the city beautiful. However, the extensive use of lights in the city has led to light pollution which is the intrusion on an otherwise natural or low-light setting and negative health effects of excess light.
Idea #3 Health of the City
The city is a place that most of us call home. However, rapid urbanization has led to air pollution due to human activities. The city is practically choking from the pollution. This project brings to light this problem by giving a visual representation of the damage being done to the environment in the form of an image showing ‘scarring’ of the “lungs of the city” if the city was a living thing.