Perhaps the most remarkable talent that Jan Chipchase showcased in his talk last week (I promise this is my last post on the subject) was his ability to create powerful community-based organizations on the fly in some of the least likely environments - urban slums in Ghana for example. While this started out as a SWAT activity to support rapid immersion and research, with Open Studios he is making his pop-up organizations much more visible in the community (which raising some interesting branding questions which I will cover in a later post).
If you havent checked out Open Studios, the basic idea is that Chipchase and team turn their SWAT ethnography into a design lab - reaching out to the community in a very visible way to gather ideas as part of a competition. The samples he showed last week centered around a competition to design your dream mobile handset. I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the topic. Seemed like they got alot of cheesy hardware design. Jan was clear the real value was not the designs themselves, but the needs and desires implicit in those designs. But I think he may be missing an even bigger opportunity to create value.
There is a long list of specific insights that Jan shared about how he 'designs' his research expeditions. These have been covered elsewhere in bits and pieces. I thought I would highlight some of my favorites:
1. Integrate Local Teams:
Most of his research involves a combination of a few nokia colleagues and a local team - that need to cross HUGE cultural and economic barriers. He placed special emphasis on the need to rapidly integrate these teams. A lot of this is motivational. He sets huge store in establishing a sense of equality from the start - everyone eats, sleeps travels in the same manner. He likes to rent houses or small hotels that the team can take over within the community. This has posed some risks on occasion, such as a recent trip to favelas in brazil. But in most cases this model seems very strong and worth applying even if you are not traveling so far. See if you can find an alternative to the embassy suites next time you are doing a set of in-homes in Omaha. Some place with some common space.
This week I had the pleasure to host Jan Chipchase, FuturePerfect, renowned Nokia research guru, at a frog and IxDA sponsored event in NY. I first met Jan at DUX in 2005 where he did a brilliant presentation on a research study around what people carry in their purse. His premise being that this is the ultimate value threshold that we should use to measure the success of a personal device like a mobile phone. What emerged were insights around how the phone could better integrate with the other things we carry (keys, wallet...). His talk was fun and fascinating. His style was very casual. what I didnt realize, and found out on wednesday, was that this project launched his research practice over at Nokia, establishing the value of his methods as an efficient way to inform product design decisions.
I had a chance to grab dinner with Jan after the talk and we reflected a bit on the trajectory of that practice. It was very clear to me from that early experience that his goal back then was to effect product design decisions at the feature level – to help Nokia understand how to create products that were stickier, better suited to our personal needs and emerging social behaviors. I am sure that is still an essential part of his work but he has come along way (in no small part due to his personal influence). He is now finding that his most meaningful collaborations are with strategy groups within Nokia. He has been invited into much larger conversations about new markets and product strategies. Pretty cool, and no small feat in a company as large as Nokia. Particularly for an outsider like Jan (he is the only research / design employee based in Japan).