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Reflection: How Social Context Matters in Design

During the pandemic, I joined MyData – Taiwan Chapter and designed a decentralized and privacy-protected application. Named Mylog 14, it helped track and control spread of covid footprint without violating citizens’ rights or creating fear of surveillance by the central government. Unfortunately, though, it did not become popular.


However, later our government came up with their own system: name registration, a design in which citizens simply scan a quick response code upon entering places they visit to create a personal record of times and places traveled. The purpose is to help track transmission of the virus via exposure tracing in real-world spaces to better identify, manage, and control infectious spread. This had the spectacular outcome of preventing community spread in just two months – the local infection number dropped to zero very quickly – but I began to wonder why this worked so well without much complaint.

I realized it was not the design that mattered or that conducting user studies is a must; directly confronting the real-world problem with a simple, convenient approach was enough to gain the public’s favor. Getting to know the difference between what people value the most indeed help problem-solving. The trade-off between privacy, human rights, and convenience, and what people are willing to exchange, has become an issue. Values affect design, and in this specific case, the design and its convenience made a seemingly difficult task easier to execute by producing a low level of resistance.


I noticed that the reaction to the name registration design was specific to Taiwan, a country which handled the onset of the pandemic remarkably well and whose people largely trusted their government to protect them from the virus. While it was accepted by the citizens in Taiwan, it is not the case that other countries’ citizens would be willing to cooperate in the same way. For example, New Zealand has low registration in its tracing system. Actions and behaviors in one nation do not carry to others as all people have different backgrounds. Realizing this, I noticed that good designs are adapted to localities rather than a universal principle. In Taiwan, it seems the fear of “being infected” outweighed the fear of “being tracked,” making this seemingly unacceptable privacy-deprivation design solution extraordinarily effective. I also concluded from this situation that each nation’s “social context” varies and should always be taken into consideration when making country-wide decisions.


This discovery provided me the opportunity to introspect and reminded me of my original intentions – developing designs in the hopes of creating a more frictionless world. My involvement in a real-world dilemma equipped me with the ability to solve real-world problems and implement change, and gave me practice in my ultimate career goal: doing human-based design for social good.

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