How to design with openness?

Shaping a design approach for open and growing systems

Jeffrey Chou
3 min readDec 19, 2017


This is a note from the talk given by Joep Frens (link) in CMU.

Challenge for designers

Designer used to deal with simple situation: One person use one product. It is relatively easy to achieve great user experience in such scenario. However, designers start to deal with network of products today but connected product often does not design as systematic artifacts.

In the world of internet of things, there are three major challenges designers should consider:

  1. Growth: The nature state of system will change over time.
  2. Emergent functionality: Functions will emerge and come out with unpredictable way.
  3. Rich interaction: Besides touch screen and voice interaction, what else could we consider?

Traditional non-digital product achieve their function through forms (ex. hammer) so how could we achieve it in digital product?

Joep shows an example of the rich actions camera.

The other example is a payment terminal designed by Lukas van Campenhout.

With these challenges in mind, Professor Frens want to find a way to

  1. Understand how to design for systems?
  2. Diversify interaction style — starting with rich interaction.

First exploration — Where is the challenge?

Design a system of connected lamps that can share “light behavior”.

Gained insights
1. Openness is caused by underdetermined functionality
2. It make decission difficult to make
3. Renew focus on rich interaction

Second exploration — Confronting the openness

Design a remote control with rich interaction for a growing multi media center

Gained insights
1. four pattern to deal with growth (hybrid / modular / ? / service)
2. Change to the rich interaction paradigm
3. Constrainning — deconstraining as method
4. Data become more prominent
5. Need for more reality
6. Need for compelling examples

Third exploration — Deepening our two stage approach

Stage 1: Design a personal logger that outputs to a data-canvas
Stage 2: Design a meaningful systemic object that combine data

It turns out to be a failure. Students who work on the project keep waiting for stage 2 to come int. While they put too many thoughts on stage 2, the quality of stage 1 design is not good.

Gained insights
1. Expectation management
2. This way of constrain (hiding the complexity) does not work
3. Designing functionality is still problematic
4. Distributed interfaces
5. need to pivot

Fourth exploration — Invite a system approach

A scale model of house, IoT sandbox, is proposed. Many group of students design within same context and each group could claim their design territory (ex. light, AV system in living room and etc). Once a territory is claimed, other groups need to follow the final design acoordingly.

1. Design character that live in the house
2. Furnishing the house
3. Engage in designing
4. Bring design into the lived reality

Pivot towards the IoT sandbox

  1. Come up with a value in the house to design for. (ex. sustainable)
  2. Choose a theme to design for
  3. Intervene in the middle of process (add one more character into the house)

1. Successful approach.
2. Difference in student’s perception of usefulness
3. Systemic aspect were isolate in the projects
4. Difficult to evaluate design proposal
5. How to deal with data?
6. Recognizable approach



Jeffrey Chou

Product Designer @ iCHEF Taiwan