Design as an Interface

Interface designers are being challenged and redefined by socio-technological development, as is design. Taking a look at Kreb’s cycle of creativity, design is also an interface. It communicates utility and human behavior, bridges economy and philosophy, tapping into systems and environments across different scales (Garenc, n.d.). If we reevaluate designs potential and where they are today, what are the challenges ahead to move design forward?

Fig 15. Kreb’s Creative Cycle. Image from the internet.

Design as an interface of Automation

A huge portion of design today is focusing on defining rules and guidelines for automated operation. We see cases of how thoughtful design has helped technologies such as AI identify opportunities to handle jobs that are not desirable by human beings, such as warehouse picking bots (Knight, 2020) (Knight, 2020).

If we compare the performance of machine automation to an inner system that design is connected to, then user scenarios and human behaviors are the outer surroundings that design is situated in. However, the focus on improving AI performance can make us easily overlook the complexity of differences that human behavior can lead to. A 2019 survey by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) shows how people blindly trust Tesla’s autopilot’s capabilities because they equate “autopilot” to “fully autonomous.” (Wilson, 2019) As a result, they over-trust the car to navigate complicated road traffic when they should always be attending to the road.

Fig 16. Tesla AutoPilot. Image from the internet.

While most of the design today focuses on positive behavioral nudges(Wilson, 2018), there is more work to be done to predict and recognize human beings as unpredictable and unruly.

Design as an interface mediating Information

Technology in the 21st century has transformed the human experience of accessing information. Digitized content gave opportunities for interface design to work with new mediums, but it also raised unprecedented challenges in digital equity and transparency.

In May 2020, the controversial Sidewalks Lab Quayside Project that aimed to transform Toronto waterfront into a smart city experiment finally was called off. Despite being run by a balanced team of multidisciplinary designers beyond solely urban planning experts, the Quayside project was never short of public scrutiny and opposing voices. Concerns included the data privacy risk of having Google as a stakeholder funding the project, as well as a series of debates revolving around digital equity and data transparency (Doctoroff, 2020) (Hawkins, 2020).

The failure of the Quayside project showcased how design as an interface of information between citizens and government could become more multifaceted, as it introduces more risk to be evaluated on a policy and ethics level.

Design as an interface mediating Communication

Aside from facilitating daily communication, a unique phenomenon is the emerging power of social media. Social movements, such as #BlackLivesMatter, take place asynchronously online and offline. On one hand, communication technologies open the window to expose the experience of marginalized groups and hold social injustice accountable. On the other hand, there is no method to measure how effective these online movements have been in spurring onlookers into action(Illing, 2020).

Fig 16. #BlackLivesMatter. Image from the internet.

Design as an interface of communication faces the challenge of having a polarizing effect on society. A future discussion would probably center on the responsibility that design should take in mediating communication.

Beyond “design as an interface”

“Participant design must be inclusive and learn how to design for the benefit of an entire system .. , not only for maximum growth and the benefit of a handful of players in it.”

— “Rethinking Participation”

The modern design history is deeply intertwined with capitalism. While capitalism is not necessarily a symbol of evil, it sets many constraints when it comes to understanding interfaces and interface design. If design continues to participate only in the capitalist paradigm, it would never be able to escape the obsession with growth and scale, or the infinite loop of creating and fixing the aftermath of wicked problems (Forlano, et al, 2019). It is time for design to redesign itself, to interface with alternatives, focusing on long-term impacts that cannot be measured by capital in time. It is time for design to apply systematic thinking, and finally ask: “Good for whom over what timescale?”(Forlano, et al, 2019)(Weaver, 2019)

This is a chapter of the thought on “Design Beyond Interface”. If you are interested in reading more, you can find the table of content here.

I am an interaction designer. You can find me at


Doctoroff, D. L. (2020, May 7). Why we’re no longer pursuing the Quayside project — and what’s next for Sidewalk Labs. Retrieved from

Forlano, L., Steenson, M. W., & Ananny, M. (2019). Bauhaus futures. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Garenc, P. (n.d.). Neri Oxman’s Krebs Cycle of Creativity. Retrieved from

Hawkins, A. J. (2020, May 7). Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs shuts down Toronto smart city project. Retrieved from

Illing, S. (2020, January 14). In defense of Twitter. Retrieved from

Weaver, J. (2019, April 2). Human-Centered Design Is Broken. Here’s a Better Alternative. Retrieved from

Wilson, M. (2018, December 19). The 9 big design trends of 2019. Retrieved from

Wilson, M. (2019, June 28). Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ mode shows how branding can become a UX risk. Retrieved from



A multidisciplinary designer, adopting a critical lens from art practice to investigate socially impactful designs.

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Miki Bin

A multidisciplinary designer, adopting a critical lens from art practice to investigate socially impactful designs.