Design Across Disciplines: The Evolution and Constancy in Design

    Chenlu Wang is a talented UX designer whose diverse expertise spans accessibility design, tangible interface design, and urban design. After graduating from Harvard Graduate School of Design, Chenlu pursued her career at Google Youtube. Through years of experience in design, Chenlu is dedicated to using her skills for social good, volunteering as a design expert with VIVA, a global art organization that connects people through the arts.

    If you are to capture highlights of your design career, what will you say?

    My journey started from urban design about 10 years ago. In 2016, I was awarded Global Winner of VELUX International Design Award. For the first time, I stepped out of urban design and touched a broader scope of interactive design. Attending Harvard as well-I got professional training, explored across disciplines, and built my industry connections. Another highlight I’d say is working for Google. There’s so much to learn: collaboration with top-talents, cutting-edge technology, diverse project areas, focus on user-centered design. One last thing is my volunteer work as a designer at VIVA. I’ve been with VIVA for 5 years. I designed posters, curated exhibitions, designed workshops and hosted events – those are not daily tasks for UX designers, but only make the experience more fun and rewarding.

    There are many areas of design you touched, accessibility design, ARVR, digital products, exhibition curation etc. Would you say they are different or very similar?

    I’d say they are most of the time more similar than different. For all the design, there are users who we care for and serve. It’s always a type of interaction. For the digital products, users are interacting with interfaces, tabbing and swapping. For ARVR, users are interacting with the wearable in gestures. For exhibition, it’s the static interaction of the things on display with people who look at them. They are the same in that designers need to step into the users’ shoes and their journeys to understand their goals, the barriers, and help them reach the goals.

    Differences exist as well. For example, in the accessibility design domain, there are more specific things to learn about in order to make reasonably good designs like color contrast and screen reader adaptability. 

    In your perspective, how’s the emerging technology impacting the UX design industry, and UX designer?

    It boosts UX designer’s growth and the industry’s growth, and it alters the way we design. Emerging tech is not something new at all. Back in the 1950s, human machine interaction as a term was developed for the first time. The earliest interaction stems back to the command-line interface, nothing like the interfaces we interact with everyday today e.g. mobile, laptop, ATMs. We are already adopting new tech’s impact on UX like voice user interface, ARVR, and brain computer interface. They are not dominant yet, but developing fast. 

    In the field of UX design, sometimes technology goes first and we work on applying this to a field that’s most usable and accessible to everyone. It’s kind of like “the food here is so good, but how do we cook it?” Other times, we have great ideas and wait for technology to reach a point that’s mature enough to bring to industry at large scale. It’s more like “I know what I want to eat and what I can cook with that, I am waiting for the fruit to grow.”

    As we discussed before, the key core is always the same in interaction design: designing for the users, understanding their goals and helping them go there through interacting with the devices, environment and machine. Those machines were command lines in the 1950s, are interfaces today, and might be our brains in the upcoming 10 years. Emerging technology will only change the methodology, but not the thing we are going to do itself. 

    What’s your perspective on AI’s application in design? There are concerns that AI is replacing designers.

    I am more optimistic here. AI frees me from time-consuming labor work, allowing me more time and energy on highly-complex work. When looking for design ideas, I can spend less time collecting mood board resources but instead, get a dozen ready there for me to digest with a few lines of input. When working on a deck, I no longer need to look for images, but could generate ones that speak the exact story. And when I need to check the meeting recordings, I could spend 70% less time by reading the smart notes. That’s why I believe with the new technology application, there will be a new dynamic balance of supply and demand. It’s nothing like there were 100 jobs, AI does 50 so there’s only 50 left for humans. It’s like people will create another 1000+ job needs because designers are placed at meaningful tasks that will generate new demands to match the supply. 

    AI’s application in design and technology is also not new. Search engines are powered by AI. Generative AI is now boosting, and there will be more areas and fields to apply that like ads, creative marketing and many more. AI is not replacing us, it’s assisting us. And AI is not perfect today. It needs humans in the loop to do the fine-tuning, correction and “education” to serve people of various abilities and dimensions of identities better.

    Abbie Wilson
    Abbie Wilson
    An experienced writer, Abbie has written for several publications, including Homaphy, covering various niches, including film and television, gaming, fashion, and the arts.

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