New design innovation and technology are creating new problems in our community.



Min Liu


Purdue University

610 Purdue Mall

West Lafayette, IN 47907, USA






Nowadays, design technology and innovation is developing in a high speed. More and more new products, systems or design solutions are provided for people to help them get a better user experience in daily life. However, sometimes, users may found that when they enjoy the convenience from the modern design innovation and technology, some unexpected problems or phenomenon happened in using process. For example, when using convenient sharing bicycles transport in China, citizens may realize that many sharing bicycles have been abandoned on the sides of roads. When drinking the clean drink water in front of vending machine, you may found that the trash bins beside are filled with plastic bottles. These kinds of problems of phenomenon always happen in our community and they can contribute to more serious problems or social issues in the end. Too many abandoned sharing bicycles can block the traffic, affect the image of a city. Plastic bottles can be an important impact in environment problems, especially plastic pollution problems. Based on elaboration and analysis of these problems that modern design innovation and technology created, the purpose of this paper is to discuss why these problems happened and how could designers avoid these problems in design process. More design potential approaches will also be talked in order to solve the problems.


Keywords: design approaches and methods, user-centered design, sustainable design, design complexity


1. Introduction


1.1.Current situation of sharing bicycles in China

  Last year, bike sharing took off in China, with dozens of bike-share companies quickly flooding city streets with millions of brightly colored rental bicycles. However, the rapid growth vastly outpaced immediate demand and overwhelmed Chinese cities, where infrastructure and regulations were not prepared to handle a sudden flood of millions of shared bicycles. Riders would park bikes anywhere, or just abandon them, resulting in bicycles piling up and blocking already-crowded streets and pathways. As cities impounded derelict bikes by the thousands, they moved quickly to cap growth and regulate the industry. Vast piles of impounded, abandoned, and broken bicycles have become a familiar sight in many big cities.[1]


  This kind of situation seems will keep happening in a lot of big cities in China. Sharing bicycle is a typical problem created via new innovation and design technology. In the beginning, the goal of this innovation is to provide people a convenient transportation. However, something unexpected happened during the using process. More similar case will be rise to talk about the reason why this kind of problem happened, how to solve it and what can we predict in future design innovation work in the following content.


1.2.New design technology and innovation really created new problems

  There are also many different kinds of cases, which share the similar problem with sharing bicycle case. For example, disposable products, straw and water bottle design. Recently, a bill proposed in California would make it illegal for restaurant servers to give guests plastic straws unless requested — with the threat of a $1,000 fine or jail time attached. “We need to create awareness around the issue of one-time use plastic straws and its detrimental effects on our landfills, waterways, and oceans,” Calderon, majority leader of California's lower house, said in a statement. [2] Plastic water bottle design also contributed to a plastic pollution to our environment. "We were surprised by the amount of large plastic objects we encountered,” said Julia Reisser of the foundation. “We used to think most of the debris consists of small fragments, but this new analysis shines a new light on the scope of the debris." Since plastic has been around only since the 1950s, there's no way of knowing exactly how long it will last in the ocean. If left alone, the plastic could remain there for decades, centuries or even longer.[3] 


  In the beginning, the purposes of these disposable or plastic products innovation really provide us a huge convenience in daily life. Straw helps people a lot when drink some special drinks. Water bottle design helps delivery the clean and direct clean water to each place we want conveniently. People don’t need to use water tank in transport any more after the appearance of plastic water bottle design. However, these kinds of new innovation and design technology always contribute to more new problems in the end. Sometimes, it even causes a more serious problem comparing with the problem already solved, such as environment problems or climate changes problems. So, an argument can be rise now: do our new design innovation and technology always cause more new unexpected problems in our community? How to cope with that? Is any other suitable solution now? What can be predicted in the future? More discussion and analysis will be demonstrated to talk about these questions.


2.      Research and study methodology

  In this paper, case study is the primary research method. Cases of sharing bicycles current situation in China, air pollution purifier, water bottles design, plastic revolution and smart home current situation in China will be discussed and analyzed.


  First, sharing bicycle in china will be describe to demonstrate as the background to demonstrate a current problem that already caused by new design innovation. Based on the current problems, some thoughts and doubts will be rise based on more specific cases to let the readers consider what the new problem is.


  Second, after clarify the problems, the reason why we may have these problems will be explained. Design complexity will be talked in this part. A Japanese “less is more” life style will be discussed to help analyze that if we try to avoid new design innovation and technology in our life, will it helps solve the problem?


  Third, some suggestion and comments on the existing solutions to these current problems will be displayed to help expound which kinds of the solutions should be better. User-centered design, sustainable design and other design approaches will also be illustrated to analyze a better solution.


  At the end, what can be expected or predicted in the future design work to avoid or reduce the effect from the problems our new design innovation and technology created will be talked.

3.      Main body

3.1.A new design innovation and technology can cause both physical and mental problems

3.1.1. Different details of physical problems

  Now, it’s clear that sometimes, new design technology and innovation will cause more new unexpected problems in using process. However, how it happened? What will show up following these problems?


  To explain these questions better, these unexpected problems can be categorized into two main types: physical problems and mental problems. Physical problems are those problems which can cause a chaotic and incomprehensible surroundings such as the sharing bike issue. Or it can create a series sequential social problems, such as environment pollution and climate changes. More cases and analysis will be demonstrated and to explain the detailed problems that our new design innovation and technology created. 


  Sharing bicycles mentioned before really create a bunch of problems and they can be summarized into three different parts. First over launching waste the recourses. Second, too many bicycles stuck in the urban area and disturb the regular order of society. Third, lack of management, maintenance, and control aggravate the problems. The initial purpose of launching sharing bikes is to solve the short distance transport problem and provide traffic convenience to the public. However, the problems happened now even much more serious comparing with the original problems.


  Disposable products sharing the same situation with sharing bicycles. In China, actually, the innovation of disposable plastic bags was considered as a “white revolution”. However, it becomes “white pollution now”. White pollution, increasing rapidly, stands for some plastic waste due to its major color, caused by single-use plastic tableware and thine plastic bags, which are parts of municipal solid waste. They meet Chinese people’s favor and have become a part of their daily lives, when people ask for take-out food, it normally comes with single-use plastic containers.[4] This white disposable products were designed according to people’s favor and provided a huge convenient in daily using. However, it caused serious environment pollution which people didn’t expected.


  Other similar cases are water bottles design and air purifier designed for air pollution. These design are all plan to meet users’ demands and make life convenient. However, they all both cause more pollution and create more greenhouse gases in using process.


3.1.2. Mental problems contribute to bad user experience and emotion 

  Mental problems will affect people’s user experience. It may create a lot of redundant messages, information or some chaotic data which is unnecessary for people to learn about it. It will divert users’ attention from their usual work or waste their energy and attention on worthless things. Even worse, it may even affect people’s emotion during their life and work. Smart home products in China is a good example to expound it. Innovative smart home solutions aim to create a smooth and connected environment for users. Life becomes smarter while people do not need concern to much in their home or heavy housework. However, users need to install an application every time they add a new smart device. In the end, their cell-phone will be filled with many different kinds of applications.


  The fig.1 below shows the relationship of mental and physical problems that these design innovation and technology caused. All these different designs all have a similar and prefect anticipation and purpose in the beginning. However, things always develop through an unexpected way and may cause a bunch of different kinds of problems.







Figure.1 Relationships between different kinds of problems


3.2.Why these problems appeared?

  Different types of problems that new technology and innovation created has already been talked in the section above. Since what these problems are is clear now, the reason for the appearance of these problems or how these problems happened will be elaborated.


3.2.1. The property of this world is complexity

  The reasons of why these physical and mental problems appeared during using process can be talked from three aspects. First, the world is a complex system, and design is a complex human activity.6 There must be some problems happened during the design process, it’s hard for the usual public to understand avoid it. 


  Nowadays, various kinds of consumer products, new design technology or innovation achievements are full of our life. The world is becoming more and more complex. Conversely, there is a new way to live in Japan which is entirely different from the normal one. “Extremely austere” lifestyle now is becoming popular in Japan. This kind of lifestyle follows “less is more” tenet, which claims that too many goods at home are not suitable for people’s work and life. People usually live in an empty house without any redundant goods. They wear the clothes which they bought when they were young. They continue using a same old washing machine for more than thirty years. Unnecessary things are thrown away from their house. They reject too much consumer goods and technology, trying their best to keep their life clean, natural and straightforward. If something is broken, they will try to fix it first instead of buying a new one. They believe this is a sustainable lifestyle way. More focus and attention can be put into their work since no energy can be wasted on redundant goods. They work more efficiently every day. They are trying best to release their world from a complex and full of problems surrounding.[5]


These “Japanese” lifestyle is trying its best to avoid the complexity property of the world and keep everything simplest. Is it a good way to solve the complexity of the world and avoid the problems created by modern design innovation and technology? The answer may be no, though it avoids the attendance of new technology and innovation in daily life, which seems like solve the problem. A report of Japanese economy situation can be an evidence to prove it.


Table 1. Japanese Economy Data from 2013 to 2016







Population (million)





GDP per capita (USD)





Economic Growth (GDP, annual variation in %)





Domestic Demand (annual variation in %)





Consumption (annual variation in %)





Investment (annual variation in %)





Exports (G&S, annual variation in %)





Imports (G&S, annual variation in %)





Industrial Production (annual variation in %)





Retail Sales (annual variation in %)





Fiscal Balance (% of GDP)





Public Debt (% of GDP)





Policy Interest Rate (%)





Stock Market (annual variation in %)







  The table.1 above illustrates the economic situation in Japan in recent years from 2013 to 2016. What can be leant from this table is that GDP almost keep decreasing in these four years. Industrial production, retail sales and import situation is not positive enough during these four years, which was contributed by the extremely austere” lifestyle mentioned above. Industrial Japan society is becoming a low desire society now. If people in Japan continue keeping this simple and natural life style, the society will stop developing soon.  


3.2.2. Modern design technology is complex

  So, complexity is the basic property of this world. It cannot be changed by human activities or subjective thoughts. Modern design technology is complicated too, since it’s a part of this world. It can be complex are to be found in two aspects of understanding. First is the design of the thing itself that determines its understandability. Second is our own set of abilities and skills.[6]


  Design is a human activity which is too complicated to be understood by the public. Our designers work is to translate this complexity to the users. However, the initial property of the world decide that it’s not an easy work.


  Designers and users abilities and skills also determine the degree how people understand the design and the behavior in using process. So, to some extent, if an innovation create more new problems in the end, it’s also attributed to designer’s own responsibility. The lack of design experience, knowledge and can lead to the some potential problems in using.


  For example, there is a water tank design for people in Africa to collect the rain since designers find the problems that it is not convenient for them to transport water from river to home via pots in a traditional way. However, in the implement of this design, what surprised designers is that peoples still prefer the traditional way to transport the water via pots since this behavior has become one of important habit and custom in their life. Since the lack of understanding of users’ custom, the result is unexpected and unsatisfied. And there is another solution to this phenomenon, the Aqueduct, designed by IDEO.[7] It’s bicycle design with a water tank onside, which can help people in Africa to delivery their water from the lake to their home. Comparing with the water tank deisgn before, it’s really a smart idea and innovation. The cost of this design is not too high to be afforded and it’s really a fast and efficient way to delievery the water. Most important of all is that people can accpet that. The design can fit their original cogintion. This case explain that designers need to own an ability which can predict the trend of design development with a far insight. They need to have enough understanding of their users’ behavior and habit.


  Users can accept the results which they can predict the trend or learn what it is going to be, which means that design should meet users’ cognitive level or guide users’ cognition. So users’ abilities, knowledge especially understanding of their users are also important in the whole process. One reason that we cannot accept these social problems which new design caused is that it does not follow the trends it must be.


3.2.3. Design innovation and technology are working for users and business instead of the problem

  Most design work on the market today are most based on User-Centered Design (UCD), which means that these design works focus more on users, user requirements and business demands instead of the problem itself. To tell the truth, UCD is really an efficient way to do the design work, optimize the user experience and maximize the business value of the design but it may not suitable in solving the real original problems.


  User-centered design (UCD) is a kind of design which aims to analyze the usability goals, user characteristics, environment, tasks and workflow of a product, service, or process are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process.[8] It will optimize the product according to what they want and what they will do instead of letting users adapt to the products. UCD can help find a balance between user demands and business requirements, which can add a larger business and market value on a design work.


  The hierarchy of users’ needs are like that way fig.1. Functionality needs have to do with meeting the most basic design requirements. Reliability needs have to do with establishing stable and consistent performance. Usability needs have to do with how easy and forgiving a design is to use. Proficiency needs have to do with empowering people to do things better than they could previously. Creativity is the level in the hierarchy where all needs have been satisfied, and people begin interacting with the design in innovation ways.[9]


  However, if designers move their focus from users’ demands to problems’ demands, the hierarchy level map should look like fig.2. Design creativity and usability are not very important in solutions’ needs, since it is not focused on users. Sustainability should be the crucial part because it will be related to the potential developing problems in the future. The reason that the plastic pollution broke out in the water bottle case is that designers didn’t take sustainability into consideration in their design work. All design activities will all create waste to our environment since it is one step of production. Based on consideration of sustainability, functionality can be the next important factor, which is the basics of the solutions. And then, it can be the environmental-friendly and mental-friendly design, in order to avoid a bunch of social problems in the future. Usability should be the final factor in this hierarchy structure because in the real solution, convenience to users is less important as solving the problems. So some design with this hierarchy level may not be as thoughtful as other consumer products on the market but it will consider more about future and our environment.



Figure.2 hierarchy level of users’ needs and solutions’ needs


3.3.Solution or suggestions to some certain problems

  Because of the huge effects of these problems that our new design innovation and technology already created, some solutions have been came up with to help release or solve the problems. Here are some real solutions or to the cases or some ideas or options which have be rise to help solve the problems I mentioned before. Some analysis will be summarized to elaborate do these solutions or ideas can solve the problems or not.


3.3.1. Current solution or suggestions to disposable plastic bottles

Actually, there is no special solution to the ocean pollution problems caused by plastic bottle design. "It's a ticking time bomb of larger material," Dubois said. "We've got to get it before it breaks down into a size that's too small to collect and also dangerous for marine life." However, no governments have stepped up to clean the trash, which is in international waters, so it's up to privately funded groups such as the Ocean Cleanup Foundation to take the lead in getting rid of the garbage.3


Sometimes, the problems that our new innovation and technology created are very hard to be coped with via the current science and technology. It will continue contributing to the damage to our environment or society. At this time, trying to avoid this kind of problems before it happened is very essential. More solution and ideas will be explained below.


3.3.2. Current solution or suggestions to sharing bicycles

  Now, since the bike share problems are more and more dangerous, society and government all focus on it and think of the solution. Here are some efforts or suggestion in this problem now:[10]

1.       Regulate  management and establish control and punishment mechanism

2.       Improve and upgrade infrastructure

3.       Establish competition mechanism to keep the original intention of this service

4.       Strengthen market control and establish an operation management mechanism

Table.1 shows that it is evident that the leading roles in each solution are all not designers or users. It tries to control the behavior instead of guide the behavior. Indeed, capital and market are hard to be guided by the things beside profits, and this kind of solution can work, but we still can do more work on the users’ part or focus more on the problems themselves.


Table.1 main roles in different solutions.




Main roles


Control their behavior via law mechanism

Social policy


Control their behavior via profits and market mechanism

Capital and Social policy


Government control


3.3.3. Current solution or suggestions to smart home products in China

Here are some comments and suggestions for the smart home products online[11]

1.       One united control for a series of products.

2.       Interoperability. Products from different company or producer cannot be operated together.

3.       Many products need to be changed manually, which is not smart

4.       The biggest problem: too much redundant information, push and data, try to optimize it.

  It begins to thinking the more efficient interaction way between users and products. But these solution still pay more attention to users. If it can switch to the view of products, some other different solutions may show up.


3.3.4. Problems in current solution

  So far current solution or suggestions cannot really solve the problems efficiently since these solutions are based on the demands of users and the market or start from a macro-control view instead of focusing one the problem itself. Or the problems even cannot be solved by the current science and technology.


3.3.5. Sustainability and sustainable design

We mentioned that in order to design for the real solution, sustainability should be the most important part in design process in the hierarchy level structure. So what is the specific content of sustainability and sustainable design? Sustainable design is the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment, and services to comply with the principles of socialeconomic, and ecological sustainability.[12] Since sustainable design service for our socialeconomic, and ecological sustainability, the physical problems can actually be avoid or released via sustainable design.


3.4.Current challenges

  So, sustainable design will protect our environment surroundings, which can avoid most physical problems that new innovation and technology may create. The problems that new technology and innovation can create can be divided into physical problems and metal problems. Sustainable design actually can be a good way to solve the physical problems. However, mental problems are still not easy to be solved. At this time, UCD is still the efficient way to deal with this problems since it can provide a better user experience and satisfy users’ emotional needs in design process.


In conclusion, the challenges we are facing now are below:

1.       Find a balance between solving the problems themselves and meet the users’ demand, creating business value.

2.       Find a balance between sustainable design and UCD since their hierarchy level content and requirements are totally reversed

3.5.What can be expected in the future

3.5.1. Switch to sustainable design and pay more attention to our environment

Sustainable design may replace user-centered design in the future because of the sustainability requirement worldwide.


3.5.2. New design thinking approaches[13]

We also can change our thinking mode to avoid creating the unexpected problem during the design process. New thinking can solve new problems caused by new design innovation. Innovation is the result of thinking. If we can improve our thinking, we must get a better innovation.

Design sometimes will create more problems in our daily life because our design thinking cannot catch up with the high speed developing of technology. Briefly, design innovation should keep pace with design technology. If we break this balance, the problems will come out. sometimes, if we can add more layers of technology into the design, some complicated problems may be solved directly. For example, one crucial reason for smart home products problems is the limitation of the development of technology nowadays cannot match the designers’ innovation of intelligent life.


a.       Think for human instead of only users

Traditional design approaches all require to focus more on users and their behavior. It is right but not exactly right. According to what mentioned before, it’s not a right way in providing a perfect solution. A user is a complicated group which may develop and changes. To learn more about human’s desire and sensitive needs, the designer may understand their user group better since the complexity of human-beings contain the complexity of individual users.

b.        A new design approach which is dynamic and flexible and has a strategic plan.

The world is changing every day, but our design approaches do not. Nowadays, designers still follow the specific design methods or approaches to figure out the problems in design. It can work now but may not be suitable in the future. Some new and flexible thinking must be created to adapt to the change in the world.

c.        Cross innovation should be utilized

The world is complicated. Different kinds of problems must be rise via many different elements from different fields or aspects. Comparing with the traditional design solution, cross innovation must solve the problems better since the current primary design approaches still start their point for the view of design inside of other different fields. We need this kind of difference in our future design approaches.

d.       More sustainable design and innovation are necessary

However, nowadays, we still don’t have enough power of technology and innovation to support this kind of design thinking way since it requires a condition and the technology and innovation all arrived at their peak situation. At that time, some substantial qualitative changes must happen. Moreover, new design thinking is a meaningful way to contribute to this qualitative change.


4.      Conclusion

  In summary, this paper is talking about that our new technology and innovation can create more new problems in our community based on these cases: sharing bicycles problems in China, ocean and environment problems cause by design of plastic water bottle, white pollution cause by plastic disposable products, smart home problems and carbon emission caused air purifiers. The first three of these case have been elaborated to explain and discuss based on the content of this topic. More detailed framework is showing in fig.3 below to explain the content of this paper.


  Then, three reason have been discovered to demonstrate why these problems happened. The reasons are the complexity of our world, the complexity of design work and technology and the problems in our current UCD approach.


  However, the current solutions to the problems happened didn’t show the understanding of these three main reasons. People still focus on the public control or a better UCD approach. So the challenges now is to break this current situation and add new blood (now design approaches) into our design work.


  So, in the future, from short term view, more sustainable design approaches should be utilized in new innovation and design work. From the long term view, new design thinking and philosophy should be taken into consideration.






Figure.3 Structure of this paper




[1]     Alan Taylor, “The Bike-Share Oversupply in China: Huge Piles of Abandoned and Broken Bicycles”,, Mar, 22, 2018

[2]     Josh Hafner, USA TODAY, “Plastic straws illegal unless requested under California bill — with up to a $1,000 fine attached”,, Jan. 29, 2018

[3]     Doyle Rice, “World’s largest collection of ocean garbage is twice the size of Texa”,, March 28, 2018


[5]     Donald A. Norman, “Living with Complexity” The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 2011

[6]     Donald A. Norman, “Living with Complexity” The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 2011


[8]        “Sustainable design”,

[9]     William Lidwell Kritina -Holden Jill Butler “Universal Principles of Design”





[14]  Jan Gulliksen, Bengt Goransson, Inger Boivie, Stefan Blomkvist, Jenny Persson & Asa Cajander, “Critical principles for user-centered systems design”, 19 May 2010

[15]  Martin Maguire, “Methods to support the human-centered design”, 2001 Academic Press


[1] Alan Taylor, “The Bike-Share Oversupply in China: Huge Piles of Abandoned and Broken Bicycles”,, Mar, 22, 2018

[2] Josh Hafner, “Plastic straws illegal unless requested under California bill — with up to a $1,000 fine attached”,, Jan. 29, 2018

[3] Doyle Rice, “World’s largest collection of ocean garbage is twice the size of Texa”,, March 28, 2018

[4] "White Pollution in China Paper”,


[6] Donald A. Norman, “Living with Complexity” The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England, 2011



[9] William Lidwell Kritina -Holden Jill Butler “Universal Principles of Design