Seminar 01-Interaction? Design?

Seminar 1/ CMU MDes 2016 Fall

I have a BE degree in Industrial Design and a ME degree in Digital Art, which basically is Animation. After graduated from Peking University, I’ve been working for several years as a graphic designer for Tencent in China. Although my daily work consisted of touching up interaction designer’s work as well as assuring a product’s feasibility, design meant so much more to me than that.

[Interaction & Interaction Design]

Generally speaking, interaction is information exchanging. And interaction design is a way of communication between users and products or services. So what kind of communication should it be? From my point of view, it should be concise, powerful and dynamic.

To be concise, the designer needs to know his/her users or customers deeply — such as their secret needs, their usage difficulties, and typical lifestyles, which requires a lot of user research and analysis. Based on these data and understandings, the designer can classify all these product features and functions and then highlight those that are high priority, and deemphasize those of lower priority even possibly hiding them. The function of “post a new feed” in WeChat was the perfect example practicing this rule. In the “Moments” screen of WeChat — which basically is a personal timeline — there is camera icon located on the top right corner. By pressing the icon, it will turn to the list leading to post a new feed with pictures or video, while pressing and holding longer it will turn to a text post screen. The purpose of this design is to encourage users to generate diverse and interesting content, but still keeping the option for those who only want to text. Thus, by this detail design WeChat provides a means for posting different content separately while keeping it very simple and concise.

To design a powerful product, it usually means the product should include a great amount of functions. Then again, they should not be displayed simultaneously but displayed as needed, especially when it comes to those features which are indispensable to only a small group of people.

Last but not the least, I want to talk about “dynamic”. Since I used to work as a graphic designer which means I dealt mostly with still pictures. To be honest, it really was not the ideal way to work as a designer, since the user experience consists as a series of behaviors which should not be separated into a pile of screens. Moreover, with continuously renewed technology, the interaction between users and products will be achieved by multi-media and will be free from the limitation of devices before long. (And this is one the reasons I came to CMU — to be prepared for the fast changing world and to design for the future.)

[Design]

As for design, of course, it is more complicated with more abundant meanings. Although many people define design simply as problem solving, in my view, it is more important to first find out what the critical problem is, which should be very simple and expressed in a single sentence. Otherwise, it just might not be the right question.

For example, the COEDO beer, which is a Japanese beer brand, once nearly disappeared. Although winemakers mastered fermentation skills learned from Germany, it was not popular among consumers. Thus the owner asked a designer to do rebranding, hoping a miracle would happen. But the job was very difficult since COEDO was neither a special Japanese local beer or an original German beer, which meant it had no unique characteristic to propagandize. In the rebranding, the designer defined the new strategy as “Beautiful beer”, and changed the bottles from green long bottles into short brown ones. Meanwhile, he used five main colors in VI design to represent five flavors of beer. Thus, instead of being considered as a option of all kinds of beers, COEDO had become a sign of modern lifestyle for consumers. Therefore, by defining the right question: what COEDO represented for — instead of other possible questions such like “COEDO tastes good” — the designer accomplished a great work.

This picture comes from a article named COEDO Craft Beer Festival published on www.covermagazine.hk/.
This picture comes from a article named COEDO Craft Beer Festival published on www.covermagazine.hk/.

Here is another good example. Architect Kengo Kuma once was asked to design a monument on the top of Mt. Kirosan — which was a mountain — located in Japan’s Seto Inland. But instead of building something huge and magnificent, he chose to “hide” the construction within the mountain and make the building a normal viewing deck. Meanwhile he applied a series of special techniques or methods to enhance the experience of viewing sea and mountain from the top. By asking the right question “How to make people awe?”, without building a monument, he turned the whole island into one.

Top view of the construction. (This picture comes from a book named 美学企业力.) The Chinese on the picture means: Make the building hide in the Mt. Kirosan, Form a structure of mutualistic symbiosis, while heading to equalization.
View from the top. (The picture belongs to Tzu-hsun, Hsu.)

[Some thoughts after the second class]

What is a designer’s job?

Obviously it includes synthesizing, visualizing, forming, representing, crafting, etc. But what else?

As for me the key design skill is design thinking. Discarding all these existing rules, without being obsessed with aesthetics forms, a designer’s job is to find out the most suitable solution with all kinds of constraints. Instead of leave all the “design work” to designers, I believe that everybody could and really should master some design thinking skills. Although most companies choose to establish huge design centers and to hire a great amount of excellent designers to show how much they care about design, expecting it is the right way to generate good user experience. From my point of view, what they really should do is to educate every employee who is responsible for a part in the product design procedure, such like product managers, software engineers, even salesmen to learn how to think like a designer. Thus, not only will they collaborate more smoothly, but also produce some greater products and services.