The origin of engineer’s design bias

Quickly imagine a map of the world. What does it look like?

Like this?

Or is it?

If you look closely at the two pictures above, you can see the difference:

If you search in English, most world maps are centered on America and Europe. But if you search in Chinese, the center of the map is Asia.

Why is that?

Because we have always constructed the world around our own experience, and the map above is just a demonstration of the difference in the construction of the center — Asians centered on themselves, Europeans and Americans centered on themselves, and then further down the geocentric theory, the earth was the center of the universe.

The real world is very complex, and the amount of information that flows through our senses at any given moment is almost endless, but only a few of them are ever perceived by us. There is a limit to how much our brains can process information, but evolution has given us the ability to avoid information overload.

One is the ability to model things in order to make sense of the chaotic world, often constructed from bits and pieces of experience, with only a superficial understanding of the ins and outs of events, and based on some popular psychology, to form opinions about causes, mechanisms and interrelationships.

This is known as a mental model, and it helps us understand our experiences, predict the consequences of our actions, and cope with the unexpected. These simple mental model reduces the cognitive burden of mankind, and in most cases can meet the needs of human beings (such as the former face is not the problem of map building and opposite position themselves in the center of the world, help to build the cognition of the whole world picture), but some error model can lead to people in daily life, or the misunderstanding of others, Or bias.

It’s like a blind man touching an elephant

There are some things we don’t understand

There are some that we would think — WTF?

But when you add a little empirical theory…

The image above shows Picasso painting a bull in action, a simplicity abstracted from extreme complexity. Picasso said the last image had all the characteristics of the picture that comes to mind when the concept of a bull is mentioned.

It’s no surprise that in the images above, the doctor and the average person have almost identical images on their retinas after viewing the entire bull process as before. But the doctor and the rest of us, the you before and the you after, have different perceptions. This is a commonly accepted idea in cognitive psychology:

Our perception of things depends both on the images on our retina and on the structure of knowledge we already have in our head.

When engineers look at design from the center of their own experience, the bias is already there. If you don’t understand the whole process of Picasso’s painting, you may come up and laugh at it as a child’s doodle.

2. Understanding of concepts

We don’t know as many concepts as we think we do

Like these words:

  • “Modal boxes” and flow

  • “Rhetoric”

  • “Engineering”, “design”, “art”

Think about it for yourself. How well do we really understand these words?

The engineer community’s perception of design concepts

Engineers’ cognition of design basically stays in the narrow sense of UI, while their cognition of UI basically stays in the level of visual design. What is the general understanding of visual design? They tend to stay in a simple aesthetic perspective, that is, to make it beautiful, to make things beautiful.

And so you often have this thought:

Designing a ball is just drawing pictures and choosing colors.

In fact, in the sense of popular aesthetics, the design understanding is often a mere formality. If the level of design only lies in the visual processing of make it beautiful, what will the design be? “Put lipstick on a pig” is one of America’s best-known expressions of this understanding

Put red lips on a pig, but the pig is still a pig

3. Re-understand the concept of design

Only by eliminating design bias can engineers settle down and really think about design, and in order to eliminate design bias, some key concepts have to be clarified.

So… what is design?


Design is the creation of a plan or convention for the construction of an object, system or measurable human interaction (as in architectural blueprints, engineering drawings, business processes, circuit diagrams, and sewing patterns). Design has different connotations in different fields.


1. To arrange or plan;

2. A plan;

Design: work plans and plans in advance according to the objectives and requirements of the task;

Design, purpose, intention

I think you can see that this definition really means…

Sorry, there’s no way to define the concept of “design” very precisely

We only know it as conscious action with “purpose” and “intention” in some domain

What if there is no precise definition?

It doesn’t matter because:

On the one hand, the lack of a precise definition does not prevent us from using it normally, such as “game”.

We use the term “game” a lot, but if you define it precisely, by definition, to distinguish it from other forms of human activity, it’s not an easy thing to do.

On the other hand, there are other ways to understand this

  • Compare other concepts

  • Put it in a particular scene

  • .

    A lot of our understanding of concepts is gained by comparing them with other things, through which we can better understand things and the things we are comparing.

    We can narrow down the scope of a word to get a more accurate understanding of its meaning in that context.

Seek understanding in contrast with other concepts

Design and art (purpose, intention)

We often use these two words together, but the important difference is:

  • The artist’s goal is to create a visible artifact that inspires an aesthetic response.

  • Art is a means by which the artist, or society as a whole, expresses itself on an emotional or rational subject of concern

  • Design must meet the needs of others, not your own

  • Have pursuit to aesthetics of course, but focus on different

  • If art can be detached, then design must have a secular side. Design pursues the unity of function and form, and when pursuing function, it must involve anthropological knowledge

From this comparison, we can see that design is a kind of behavior with purpose and intention to meet the needs of others, unify function and form, and pursue aesthetics appropriately

Design and Engineering (Constraints)

The obvious fact is that in the real world humans face all kinds of constraints

  • On the resource

  • On the time

  • technical

  • Human capacity

These constraints mean that we can’t do whatever we want, like build a pyramid with a breath, or solve the ozone hole with a sleep.

Work on the scale of building the Golden Tower requires humans to get organized, cooperate with their peers, cooperate with their future selves in order to overcome these various constraints. That’s one of the key problems that engineering has to solve, and there has to be design in engineering, and without careful design engineering is just empty talk.

Even a software project, but also have complicated the need to engineering, the degree of intervention, in the last century has emerged a variety of software engineering theory, to help people better organize software development, the theory of small to annotation, variable naming, big to the structure of the whole project, including the time online to develop the model (the waterfall flow, agile iterations, etc.), Both, and more recently the concept of User Stories, are engineering and design ideas.

Why choose good names, good comments? It is easy for others to understand and for myself in different periods.

Why object oriented programming? To better organize your code? But why organize code? A big part of it is to make it easier for others to understand and for yourself to understand at different times.

Why user story maps? The goal is to divide and conquer the entire project through a complete process, with minimal impact on the user experience, to produce a rapidly iterating usable product.

It can be seen that engineers design in the code, except for part of the performance improvement, the other engineering class design is basically for the purpose of understanding and cooperation.

Compared with engineering, we can see that design in engineering is an action with clear purpose and intention, which overcomes the constraints of human beings and technology, pursues system optimization, and aims at understanding and cooperation

Context-specific understanding — take your eye back to the product design

The birth of a product must be bearing some kind of mission, from what on earth designers to influence the audience? The missing link in the middle of the diagram is “product design expression”.

Product design expression?

Again rhetoric

Rhetoric li its honesty, so residence is also; — Zhou Yi · Gan · Classical Chinese

We start from primary school to learn all kinds of figures of speech, metaphor, personification, exaggeration, synesthesia and so on; Teachers were sure to pay the bills, and students used a variety of rhetorical devices in their essays, but how many of them asked themselves this question:

What is “rhetoric” anyway?

Rhetoric, as the name suggests: to modify words. Rhetoric has always been a technique of expression in literary creation, from the rhetoric of Zhou Yi zhong to the technique of fu bi xing in the Book of Songs and the metrical technique of Tang poetry and Song ci. The west began to study rhetoric systematically from Plato and Aristotle.

Aristotle’s “rhetoric” is a concept closely related to his “dialectic”. He believed that “dialectics” is a truth-oriented method, that is to say, people will debate through dialectics to achieve the purpose of approaching the truth.

Rhetoric, on the other hand, is the public-facing approach, which emphasizes expression and is a technique of communication and persuasion.

There are many ways for us to express our thoughts in language. For the same idea, we can say this or that. Different words and different ways will have different effects on the audience.

You are already engaged in “rhetoric” when you are trying to figure out how to say it in a communication or writing. What are the characteristics of our audience, and how do we express them? For example, if you’re speaking to elementary school students, you need to be as simple as possible. But if you’re talking to a group of PhD students, it’s nice to get straight to the point and say something in depth.

Product design itself is a kind of rhetoric, through the product modification to achieve the desired purpose, such modification does not stay in the visual level, but throughout the whole product, so we will consider some similar things in product design:

For what purpose, to whom, and how?

Purpose, intention

Is the designer offering a service like Amazon, a message like Toutiao, or a bit of both? What is the purpose of providing this service (information)?

To whom?

The above picture shows the design of chopsticks from three different countries. Can you tell which countries they are?

The shortest is Japanese, the longest is Chinese, and the middle is Korean. Because Japan is a country where people eat independently of each other from the utensils in front of them, chopsticks are very short. In China, however, people like to eat together, so long chopsticks are needed to help them easily. Koreans, on the other hand, eat kimchi, which can be easily torn open with flat chopsticks made of iron.

As can be seen from these details, different contents should be considered in the design for different cultural groups. For example, douyin’s young group, connotation of the middle-aged group and so on.

Each audience has its own hierarchy of needs. The most basic may be clothing, food, housing and transportation, followed by emotional appeals, the realization of personal ideals and so on. A product that doesn’t take these concerns into account and simply consumes the user’s white space is pale.

How to express?

In daily communication, there are various rhetorical devices for expression. In product design, there are also models for auxiliary expression, such as the product hierarchy model from User Experience Elements:

It is important to note that the “model” does not mean that the appearance of real things, but to help human analysis, understand, predict things framework tools, if a model can do these is a good model, whereas should abandon it, whether it’s physical or more specific mathematical modeling, are doing such a thing.

The product hierarchy model in the figure above covers the entire process from the designer’s purpose to the final visual implementation. In a more structured form, it helps us clarify the aspects that need to be considered in the overall product design, as briefly explained below:

  • Strategic layer

Why do we make this product?

What are our goals? What is the user’s goal?

For example, I want to create a wechat, which aims to make people socialize in a more intimate way

  • The scope of layer

What should we include in order to meet our goals?

For example, wechat mainly includes instant chat and circle of friends

  • The structure layer

How should this be organized?

How to form a systematic “conceptual structure” that is easier for users to understand and use?

For example, in wechat, how to combine chat and circle of friends to form an integrated conceptual structure: This may be obvious in social relations, as contacts, friends and circle of friends have become mature structural forms in life. But in the q&A community of Zhihu, you can see a more complex integration: Q&A, articles, columns, bookstores and round tables. How are these concepts designed to fit together into a system?

  • The framework layer

Once the conceptual structure is formed, what about layout and navigation?

Where should the buttons go?

How can information be better presented?

Or wechat as an example, how should I place my four bottom tabs? What steps will the user go through from opening wechat to using a certain function?

  • The presentation layer

The level of the visual designer

Color scheme, font?

What color should wechat use? How to design the icon?

For more details about the hierarchical model, please refer to “User Experience Elements”. In ordinary domestic companies, the strategic layer and scope layer are basically the work of the boss and product manager, the structure layer and framework layer are the work of product manager and interaction designer, and the performance layer is the work of visual designer. The boundaries of these efforts are fuzzy, but they all contain these key elements.

Other considerations in design expression

  • Resources & Constraints

  • Human concerns or philosophical considerations

  • Form follows function

  • Let man adapt to machine, or let machine adapt to man

  • UCD: User-centered design

  • A bunch of design principles

  • There is no design

What do we need to know about the visual design layer

Design language

In visual design, the first priority should be the concept of visual language. Each product has its own set of colors to be selected, fonts, ICONS, window styles, animations, etc. All these visual elements combine to form a small “design language”.

The word “language” may interfere with understanding.

In the real world, the most essential part of each person is hidden in the skull box, connected to the outside world through various senses. We have many languages (written and spoken, physical) and use them to express and communicate ideas.

That is to say, language is a communication system of thinking, which is also the same in design. Visual designers make a design to convey some ideas to the final audience, and the media needed for communication are various visual elements, which together constitute “visual language”.

A good example of a visual language is Google’s Material Design. As we all know, due to the openness of Android, the design style of APP on the whole platform can be said to be diverse and chaotic. In order to strengthen the constraints on designers, Google has introduced its own design language and set of specifications.

You’ve all studied tang poetry and Song ci poetry. These genres have strict requirements of form and tone. If a poet wants to write a poem, he must organize his content according to these constraints, which can be called “domain specific language”.

The benefit of the Material Design language is obvious. It restricts the form of APP design and makes the platform more consistent.

However, design language also has its own shortcomings, just like poets need to set content in form and rhythm, which will have some feeling of cutting one’s feet to fit the shoes. There are countless poets, but only a few are famous.

Design Pattern

Another important concept is patterns, which are abstracted strategies that are commonly used in particular scenarios.

There are well-established patterns in many industries. This idea comes from Alexander’s The Language of Architectural Patterns, in which the author summarizes some common scenarios and solutions in architecture. Then it is used for reference by software engineers to form the design pattern of code, which is no exception in design.

The existence of patterns lowers the threshold, but patterns are also a solution out of context, with defects. If you want to do better design, you need to go back to transaction flow, information flow, goals, visions, human cognitive characteristics.

The last

Interested students can refer to the following books from simple to profound:

Don’t Make Me Think, Elements of User Experience, Usability Engineering, Essence of Interaction Design, Information Architecture, Cognition and Design, Cognitive Psychology…