Last night I visited JWT to hear PSKF’s latest Good Ideas Salon with Nokia researcher Jan Chipchase. Recently I’ve slowed down on the advertising and marketing talks because the speakers tend to be a bit flaky and more about their own ego. I’m happy to report that Jan’s talk wasn’t like that at all, and if I was a Design Chair for a University trying to encourage design undergrads to continue with school—they should bring in Jan to talk about his experiences. The presentation itself was an overview of a number of his adventures out in the field away from Nokia. While the images and stories he shared were interesting, to keep the audience engaged he was quite active in asking people questions about what they thought he was documenting.
While I wasn’t skeptical of his talk before it started I did hold some biases about being forward thinking research as a general concept. I live in a very closed world of the iPhone. While I don’t know what the worldwide penetration of the iPhone vs. Nokia as a whole is, I did wonder how mobile phones didn’t really evolve much until the iPhone came to market. Again that’s my bias and I’m guessing that fans of Nokia would say that they were ahead of the curve on a lot of the features, but if that’s the case why did the iPhone get all the press and shake things up? I know it’s a pretty weak argument on my part but it was something I was thinking about.
But as the talk progressed, the ideas were less about technology and features, and much more about observing behaviour. Typically he and a team will be out in the field for two weeks. He described how they often collect over 10,000 images and have procedures in place to sort and organize them. He stayed away from talking about methods and geared the conversation to what I think the audience was more interested in. Stuff like symbols that have multiple meanings. In China a woman sitting on a curb with a baby might suggest that she’s selling porn. That kind of stuff for an evening talk is probably more appropriate than methodologies of field work. Or maybe not…
One example that really stood out for me was when he showed a hacked sim card that could switch from one network to a different one. Something that closed loop systems kind of frown upon for obvious reasons. The card represented a way to undermine a business model. That got me to think about business strategies. If someone has taken the time and resources to create a system that busts a business model, why not study it, replicate it and turn that thinking into an advantage. Perhaps that what Nokia is doing and we just haven’t experienced it yet.
Another topic that was briefly touched upon was the digital divide between people who have the ability to track their personal data over a lifetime and those that do not. While I don’t think he had a definitive answer, he seemed optimistic that it wasn’t a bad thing for people to collect their own data. (Once the video of the talk goes live I’ll re-watch what he said to make sure I’m quoting things correctly.) Other things that got my attention was the idea of wearing in, not out—making stuff from nothing new, making stuff that’s interesting and relevant, and even the business culture of needing to be in the office after short periods of time away. Apparently being away for more than two weeks can cause you to be out of the loop.
If you’re curious to read more about Jan, there’s an article at the NYT titled Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty? that should be checked out and he has a number of presentations on Slideshare.