Keynote: Adapting the path – by Jan Chipchase

Jan is my hero. He’s like the James Bond of user research and design. For the first time, I think it’d be pretty cool to be a bond girl ;D

All joking aside, Jan’s doing some really cool stuff, jet-setting around the world engaging in researching the way people live in emerging markets. His group is located in Japan, tracking technology trends along with human behavior. Answering questions like:

  • Who are you?
  • How can you prove it?
  • How do illiterate people communicate?
  • What do you carry where and why?

Seems like a random set of questions, but I guess Nokia would be interested in that. To answer these questions, he and his team engage in some international investigation in allies and homes. They get challenges like: “you have one month to design a phone for illiterate people.” Turns out delegation is a big deal in that situation, good thing people who do that often live within strong knitted social networks.

He is now involved in the study of the future of urban spaces. Which turns out, as expected, to be a huge, elaborate study involving 20 translators, months to prep, tons of local guides, other experts, creative team, street survey team, running 6 types of social gatherings…

Co-creation (participatory design) is also a big part of what they do. Watching people express themselves can be a great learning experience.

Observations are the most important part of field work. What do things around people tell you about their values, perceptions, and how they will interact with your stuff.

Local norms are telling. For example, in Thailand they sell fake braces, people wear them to show status = being able to afford dental care.

All of this adds up to having an informed opinion. It builds credibility.

Our international man of mystery offered some valuable advice to the young ones:

What’s worked:

  • Make your colleagues smarter: how can I do what I do to make you smarter?
  • Know who you are: what are you interested in? what are you not interest in? Communicate boundaries, use resources at your disposal, shit happens in the field.
  • Let go: we want to know so much about people, let people in control of helping you find out more about them.

Jan’s blog.


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