JUNE 24, 2019


Less, but better — Dieter Rams

I recently spoke at a Sketch Vancouver Meetup about what makes good design. The Spark co-founder (Cody Curley) who spoke before me quoted Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles (Hackernoon), which made it easy for me to follow by posing the question of whether or not people* (*designers) pondered consequences. How might we design for ‘good’? Asking the right questions before starting your next sprint is just as important as designing the right thing.

Take Netflix’s Auto-Play feature: how many of you know that there’s a checkbox you can untick in your Settings, so that this temptress in the night doesn’t autoplay the next telenovela episode of Jane the Virgin? I didn’t expect that 90% of the Meetup crowd would be incredulous to the fact that there was even such a feature.

Deadly cliffhangers — but quirky writing good in small doses

Deadly cliffhangers — but quirky writing good in small doses

Turn that Auto-Play off!

Turn that Auto-Play off!

Did the designers of Netflix’s Auto-Play feature consider how it would effect people’s sleep in the wee hours of the morning, or were they only concerned about meeting engagement KPIs?

A possible ‘dark pattern’ (https://www.darkpatterns.org/). Want to sleep? Turn that Auto-Play off!

If you were the designer, keeping in mind that everyone has some form of time constraints before client approval, would you consider letting people opt-in to use this feature during its rollout, or would you purposefully layer it into a deeper Playback Settings menu so that people wouldn’t think twice about letting the next show auto-play?

“It depends.”

Define: Good

Before I started my talk, I asked everyone what they thought iteration meant, and what ‘good design’ meant. The verdict: meaningful, intuitive, and simple designs (aka ‘good’) cross paths with better and better re-designs that result from sound usability testing and UX research. My favourite!

Benefits of Qualitative Research

Once we all aligned on the same perspective as a starting point, we talked about how to get there. I shared some case studies about how live usability testing, using qualitative methods such as Fly on the Wall observation, Shadowing, Experience Sampling Method, Card Sorting, Paper Prototyping, and Cognitive Walkthroughs helped hone in on the right research questions. We all have our personal biases, regardless of how many years we’ve been doing this. Taking ourselves outside of our assumptions, and (re)immersing ourselves in the shoes of the people we are designing for more often than not results in new ideas.

Ever had a stakeholder be skeptical about spending money on qualitative research? Whenever we gave them direct access to end customers who interacted with their product or service, which is better than any video recording or verbatim quote, leeriness transformed into confident advocacy for user research prior to validating a product strategy.

Of course, we always triangulate qualitative insights with quantitative data, wherever possible.

Why ask The Five Whys

Good designs fit our needs so well they are invisible.  Donald Norman

When I shared an example from my Master of Interaction Design project with Tuen Mun Nursing School (Experience Sampling Method) that was featured in TU Delft’s Pick-A-Mood product manual, I also remembered how Donald Norman (interaction-design.org) swore by The Five Whys when I had a master class with him in Hong Kong as his favourite design methodology.

Whether it is at the beginning Discovery phase, middle Synthesis, or conclusive Design and Test part of the design process (which doesn’t need to be sequential), asking ‘why’ is important in any good design. For example:

  1. Why does the client want people watching this video?
    Because we want people to learn what the video has to say.

  2. Why do we want people to learn what the video has to say?
    Because that’s the whole point of creating this tool.

  3. Why are we creating this tool?
    Because people are complaining about this change.

  4. Why is this change happening?
    Because more and more people don’t understand it.

  5. Why don’t people understand it?
    We’re not sure why people don’t understand it…

This is a great question to answer the original question, and one way to ask the primary research question: How do people currently understand the changes that are happening?

Don’t be afraid to ask ‘why’. Here’s why.

You may be wondering why this topic is discussed at a Sketch meetup anyway. Why not? As designers, we make meaningful decisions in any UX and UI Sketch file that impacts people. Every atom, molecule, organism, component, design system, webpage, website, and product or service leads to an interaction (read Brad Frost). Every interaction I currently design is between a human and a computer, where time is a constant, though a constant change. If time is always ticking away, how might we spend it with the people who matter most to us? I hope you spent your time well (see Humane Tech, aka Time Well Spent) reading this reflection, and consider this a break in your day to get back to what’s left of your day. Thank you for reading!

Sketch Vancouver Meetup, June 13, 2019 (Photo Credit: Jessica Lau)

Sketch Vancouver Meetup, June 13, 2019 (Photo Credit: Jessica Lau)

MAY 27, 2018


Finding the ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ balance in life

Life is made up of a series of choices, and we can choose to be happy with our work, consumption, temperance, or lack thereof. We can find balance or flow (Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi, 2004), or let our low moods bury us into a inward spiral of pessimism. As Csikszentmihalyi says,

Happiness is not a rigid state. Happiness takes a committed effort to be manifested

I wish I got to listen to Dr. Csikszentmihalyi lecture or teach (aside from listening to his TED talk), but these five entrepreneurs I did get the chance to meet with face to face in Vancouver and Hong Kong, have said inspiring quotes that constantly rise up to the surface of the ebb and flows of life, even after many years have past:

1. Don’t let life randomly kick you into being the adult you don’t want to become.

— Chris Hadfield, first Canadian astronaut

2. If you want something enough, you will do anything in your power to make it happen.

— Jackie Kai Ellis, owner of Beaucoup Bakery and author of The Measure of My Powers

AUG 9, 2017


Results from a self-induced airplane mode experiment

You got a notification!

Made you look.

Photo by Rachael Crowe from Unsplash

Photo by Rachael Crowe from Unsplash

It’s getting trickier not to look at our phones the minute a notification pops up. Whether it’s in the car, at work or in the gym, the only thing missing in order to turn our phones into another appendage is flesh-like body glue.

Have you ever taken a photo of a photo?

Or flopped onto the bed to check Face-ter-gram quickly before getting some shut-eye, and then realizing 3 hours later you’re still scrolling?

One too many times, I’ve reflected on how sickened I felt knowing that my phone’s notifications had so much control of my thumbs, swiping my lock screen to check the latest message.

It was physically effecting my sleep, not just because of screen time, but because of how obliged I felt to go to every single Facebook event that I was invited to. And yet, each new event was full of silent conversation and glazed eyes with the exception for the minute minute when the filter-perfect group selfie with forced grins.

JUN 23, 2017


Further connecting sustainable interaction design with sustainable infrastructure 

Co-authored with Dr. Eli Blevis (Indiana University), Chris Priest and Daniel Schien (University of Bristol)

In applying transdisciplinary design theory to sustainable design we are led from the present to the future by asking how we can reduce environmental harm now, alter practices to reduce environmental harm in the future, alter practices to promote a healthier society, and create new technology and practices to face future challenges. This is a completed interaction design project inspired by notions of work and life balance.


The project is inspired by various design research concepts, including disconnecting, flow (after Mihály Csíkszentmihályi [12]), and FOMO—fear of missing out, a phenomenon related to constant connectivity to social media and digital devices. The project is a digitally connected tea service, named “Steeped in Flow.” The designer, Priscilla Ho, states that the project is connected as a genre to disconnecting, maker culture, well-being, and performative objects. Ho [22] provides the following description: “Apropos of the concept of flow, we may be happier if we spend less time online and more time face-to-face with the people who matter most to us. This interactive tea set allows people to set limits on their online activities. The embedded lights are triggered when these limits are exceeded. The Chinese kowtow gesture is required to reset the tea set lights, a nod to how drinking tea is generally a social activity.”

FEB 18, 2016


How to make this Hong Kong tram race game


This game pays homage to Hong Kong’s stressful streets, where the iconic Hong Kong “Ding Ding” trams bring locals and expats together. This project was also inspired by current research studies being done on stress and emotional responses, and our way as Masters of Interaction Design students to externalize people's physiological responses and poke fun of how one person’s stress effects another.

With a pair of inexpensive GSR sensors, which have been used in lie detectors and other biofeedback devices, players power miniature laser-cut “Ding Dings” in a race while playing the popular Liar's Dice Game.

This project took 3 weeks with a team of 4 interaction designers, who have previous experience as a web developer (Denny Hurkmans), graphic designer, illustrator and marketer.