Hardware, Software & the Internet of Things
June 23–25, 2015 • San Francisco, CA

Crowds, algorithms, and computation: The new materials of design

Normative Normative (Normative)
1:15pm–1:55pm Thursday, 06/25/2015
Location: Herbst Pavilion
Average rating: ***..
(3.50, 8 ratings)

Prerequisite Knowledge

This session is non-technical, but attendees should have a general understanding of networked technologies, experience design, computer science and computation.


This is a session about designing software, not just as a user experience, but as networked human augmentation.

As the world transitions to an environment where networks and their physical endpoints are everywhere, the focus of software begins to shift from enabling individuals to shaping culture and environments. The challenge for design is that, in a world where understanding web scale truly matters, designers are still focused on designing for individual users and discrete screens.

To take design practice to the next level and enable the truly connected world, design practice needs to evolve in a number of ways. One of the critical areas where design must grow is in its understanding of the materials of the web.

The new materials of the web aren’t just pixels and code anymore; they’re complex things like crowds and algorithms. The future of design increasingly looks like a systems-level practice that’s able to create new kinds of computing infrastructure out of people and machines. We’re already seeing software that’s expressly creating new computational forms with people and algorithms. Designers must move beyond designing just the user experience, and focus on how to use these materials to augment people with computational capability.

This talk will focus on how designers and engineers can think about these ideas and materials in tangible ways. Taking examples from web systems, mobile apps, and connected devices, we’ll reframe some of the most successful software applications not as great user experiences, but as examples of good computational design. We’ll draw out the core ideas of these apps to provide a framework for extending user experience design so it can build on the scalable nature of the modern web and the connected world it enables.

Photo of Normative Normative

Normative Normative


Matthew is a designer and entrepreneur who likes to get his hands dirty in as many places as possible. Currently this means a mix of experience design, service design, and strategy, but in the past he’s designed everything from spatial technology to ski hills.

He is currently a partner at Normative, a Toronto-based design and technology studio that helps companies make their products, services, and experiences relevant and valuable in an increasingly complex world. Over the last ten years, Matthew has lead large design and strategy teams, slept under his desk at successful startups, and tried most of the things he’s been told he couldn’t or shouldn’t. In his free time, he obsesses over soft systems theory, maneuver warfare strategy, urban technologies, and the notion of the hacker family.