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Core of design, emergent tech, iconic examples

Cover by Author
by Author

Products change, technologies change, the core of design is the same. A pursuit of understanding and to express underlying truths.

Framing & Frame Creation

Design outputs are visual & functional. But the fundamental reasoning pattern of design is framing and frame creation. The simple ‘frame’ metaphor describes a complex statement:

If we look at the problem situation from this viewpoint, and adopt the working principle associated with that position, then we create desired value (Kees Dorst)

Novice designers almost randomly generate proposals for what the outcome is and how it should exist, then search for a matching pair that leads to aspired value. Experienced designers strategically frame complex creative challenges by establishing what something is and its working principle to achieve value, while testing both in parallel.

The most logical approach is to work backwards, starting with what’s already known. Sometimes,

  1. Both the means and outcome are known, deduction.
  2. The means is known but outcome is unknown, induction.
  3. The outcome is known but means is unknown, abduction, I.
  4. Both the outcome and means are unknown, abduction, II.

Each scenario calls upon different skills for designing within varying levels of ambiguity. Designing mature products is often 1. We generally know what capabilities to build, expand, and have resources to get there.

Ideating with emergent tech is often 2. A known technology is desirable to be applied towards outcomes yet to be defined.

Product and design visioning is 3. The outcome is generally known, but methods of execution are not yet.

Innovating new products is 4. A collection of human needs and technology capabilities still waiting for the right match to be made.

Research shows when working with emergent tech, Designers tend to come up with futuristic ideas that can’t be built. But sometimes, the technology for an idea to come to life is not yet here. And when it is here, we revisit current ‘frames’ connecting methods and outcomes, then seek new truths based on what is now possible.

Truth-seeking is the search for reasonable connections, where some connections feel like they should be obvious, while others propose a different perspective

Theories of truth span centuries. Truth is reality, correspondence theory. Truth is useful, pragmatic theory. Truth is consistent with a larger frame of ideas, coherence theory. Truth speaks for itself, minimalist theory. Truth is relative, relativist theory

Designs through history embody different theories of truth, enabled by technology (new mediums), asserted through aesthetic choice, revealing universal truths that speak for themselves, or dependent on context, norms, preference.

They reflect the collective vision and understanding of their creators. And reveal degrees of acceptance from the public.

Here are a few iconic examples from design & tech

Truth enabled by technology (new mediums)

Google Search requires people to formulate precise keywords. ChatGPT re-frames search, presenting a different way to find results through conversation. Same task, efficient method, one step further.

People accomplish the same task of retrieving information. Now in a new way that saves time, feels natural, and further helps with reasoning, introducing new practicality to our online interactions.

Interestingly, things that look the same can feel completely different

Google Search bar, ChatGPT message input field
Google Search, ChatGPT

Truth asserted through aesthetic choice

Tesla Cybertruck violates common belief about what a car should look like. Reactions are mixed, but it successfully introduces a new perspective. The design makes a statement about utility, innovation, futurism.

What appeals to someone may be unattractive to another. But through exposure & use, people tend to become familiar with anything, regardless of first impressions.

Tesla Cybertruck
Tesla Cybertruck

Philippe Stark’s Juicer, Dyson’s vacuum cleaner, Humane’s Ai pin, the Eiffel Tower, Macintosh GUI… also make unique statements through aesthetics

Philippe Stark’s juicer, Dyson vacuum cleaner, Humane Ai pin, the Eiffel Tower, Macintosh GUI
Philippe Stark’s juicer, Dyson vacuum cleaner, Humane Ai pin, the Eiffel Tower, Macintosh GUI

Truth speaks for itself

The iPod revealed universal truths about the convergence of technology and lifestyle. Simplicity, elegance, seamless integration could transform how people experience music.

2001 Launch: 1,000 songs in your pocket captures the essence of the iPod’s appeal in a brilliantly succinct and memorable way

2003 ‘Silhouette’ campaign taps into universal love for music, resonating with audiences word wide. Joy, freedom, expression. Strong visuals, emotional connection with music, beyond boundaries, universal appeal.

Apple Silhouette campaign

2016 AirPods became an obvious choice. Eliminate tangled wires. A stylish accessory you can’t leave without. Seamless integration & continuity with Apple devices, anywhere, anytime.

Apple AirPods
Apple AirPods

The obvious solution can be hard to conceive & easy to make, meaning there’s a narrow window before competitors catch on. The obvious solution can also be easy to conceive, but hard to make, which is a feat of innovation when done.

Rhode lip case, IKEA Billy bookcase, Instagram stories, the Little Black Dress… are examples of clear value, simplicity, cultural resonance.

Rhode lip case, IKEA Billy bookcase, Instagram stories, the Little Black Dress
Rhode lip case, IKEA Billy bookcase, Instagram stories, the Little Black Dress

Truth that speaks for itself is evident when little explanation is needed to convey value. It may take hundreds of iterations to arrive at the simple solution or simple explanation. But obvious to everyone when brought to existence.

Truth is relative

Dark and light modes in software design represent the subjective nature of truth in user experience. Either choice is made based on personal preference, lighting conditions, individual comfort, even brand identity.

Spotify, Google Workspace
Spotify, Google Workspace

Simple & focused app experiences are familiar to some, while complex service integrations, all-in-one apps are familiar to others. For example, WeChat and Line are known for its feature-rich design, reflecting Eastern cultural preference for multifunctional services, comprehensiveness, & thorough explanations over visual implications.

Enterprise & developer workflows are known for complex, yet valuable capabilities in one product. Consistency is essential for people who have already mastered the tool, & know where things are based on familiarity over extended use.

Pro tools are subject to user knowledge. The domain expert is skilled in their protocols, while the novice starts with limited knowledge about what’s possible and how to begin. Beginner tools may optimize for learning. Pro tools optimize for experts, & users’ transitions toward expertise.

An addendum to the title:

Design is to seek truth, introduce new truths, modify existing ones

History exemplifies this through product experiences, aesthetic choices, & narratives. Rooted in reality, functionality, & the human experience.

Elaine designs human-AI interactions for robotics, with experience in AI/ML consumer and enterprise products, ML tools, & research in interaction design

Thanks for reading!

To design is to seek truth was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






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