The value of using design research to inform tech innovation in the developing world
By Erin Weber
Jan Chipchase is a master of human-centered design. For the past ten years he has been the eyes and ears of Nokia, traveling the world and gathering insights into opportunities for mobile technology to improve the lives of people throughout the developing world. Various corporations have recognized the value of immersing their employees in the lives of potential consumers, but many enlist anthropologists to do the research. In contrast, Jan is a designer by trade and brings the principles of human-centered design to the table.
This insightful article by the New York Times chronicles the benefits of insights provided by professionals like Jan. Mobile technology has improved the income opportunities for many of the people with whom Jan has spent time. For instance, a day laborer is able to receive notices of where to travel for work, versus requiring a potential, fruitless morning search. Mobile phones also enable people who have been displaced by natural disasters, wars, etc., to remain connected to their loved ones and sources of income. In order to discover insights into the lives of people who live so differently than us, Jan and his team find themselves traveling to third world countries on a regular basis. They generally rent a house (there are complex liabilities involved with staying in local’s existing home) and live with a handful of locals for 10-12 days during which they gather insights into their daily lives.
Jan presented more of those insights at the TED conference in 2007.
What stood out to me was his finding that across cultures people identify their keys, money and their mobile phone (if they own one) as the items they take everywhere. I am interested to see if Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), Bluetooth and other technological innovations lead to the further consolidation of those three items into a single item: the smartphone…but I digress, let’s return to Jan’s insights into global opportunities.
Jan’s blog is a treasure trove of information ranging from design inspiration, to details regarding research methods and equipment used by his team, to observations about cultural norms around the world. It’s well worth a look!
I am excited that Jan recently joined our team at frog design and will be working out of our growing Shanghai office as the Creative Director of Global Insights. Stay tuned for more human-centered observations from this design master!