Posts tagged “india”

Emily’s War Story: Getting To The Point

Emily Mayfield (Twitter, LinkedIn) is a User Experience Researcher at The Kroger Co. in Cincinnati, OH.

Before my current job, I spent six months in Bangalore, India, doing research for a lab that was part of a design school in the northern part of the city. I did not drive while I was in India – I took public transportation and little “autos,” which resemble a golf cart in terms of size and a lawnmower in terms of sound. At that time Uber was barred from India. The driving style in Bangalore struck me as very different from the States: sometimes the traffic lights/stop signs are ignored, sometimes drivers go well beyond oncoming traffic lanes, sometimes when a freeway exit is missed drivers throw their cars into reverse on the freeway. I saw enough daily to get my heart pumping.

I was doing research to understand what the notion of “smart city” might mean in India? As part of the research, I made cold calls to different innovation centers and companies, setting up expert interviews that would inform the research. I learned a lot about how companies had explored the concept of “smartness” in cities. In retrospect, the interview part was easy. Finding the location of the interviews was the challenge.

I had a smart phone. I had a camera. I took photos of the locations on Google maps on my computer or on my phone in case the connection on my phone was lost or hiccuping. One time, I got on the bus headed south and rode it two hours deep into the city to a neighborhood I was unfamiliar with. I hopped off when it seemed like I was close to where I needed to be. There was a queue of auto drivers at the bus stop. I showed my phone and camera screens, with their neat pin-point of my destination on the digital map, to the first driver in the queue. I showed him the address: a building number and street name. The driver waved me in. “No problem!” I thought to myself. I smiled and held on tight to my bag and the rail of the auto. We were off! Turning and bending through little streets and big ones, weaving in between cars and buses. We flew past people crossing the street, animals doing the same, and carts selling food and tea. We drove and drove and drove some more. Minutes led to double-digits. The driver was flying…in what felt like circles. Checking the time, I thought “Oh boy…”

Eventually the driver pulled over to ask other auto drivers for help finding the location. Local folks came to help. A cop or some kind of military person joined in the effort. The mass of people tried to help, pointing around like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz guessing all directions to try next. They discussed, pointed, checked and double-checked the address and the maps. At last I got a solid idea: I called my interviewee and he chatted with the driver. We met in a place that the driver could find and then I walked with the interviewee to the building together.

Afterwards, a colleague let me know that the European conventions of maps as we know them don’t make sense to some people in India who have never seen a map in that form. Also, Bangalore is constantly changing, adding streets and changing names of streets. Later on I learned that landmarks are the way to go, as well as calling people sooner rather than later. Still, the worst case scenario was handing my phone to friendly-looking strangers to communicate with a driver when I’m really lost and it worked. A quick shout out to the kind and patient people of Bangalore: Thank you for your constant help getting me to and fro!

Side note: It’s possible my geographical difficulty is just a me thing. More than once I’ve gone to conduct research at the wrong Kroger store on the same street here in Cincinnati!

ChittahChattah Quickies

Patton Oswalt’s Letters to Both Sides: His keynote address at Montreal’s Just For Laughs 2012 [The Comic’s Comic] – We’re regularly exposed to wicked-problem discussions about complete upheaval in many industries: manufacturing, newspapers, music, books. Patton Oswalt addresses the upheaval in comedy, how he struggles with it, and how he thinks performers and producers can address it. Inspiring stuff.

You guys need to stop thinking like gatekeepers. You need to do it for the sake of your own survival…Our careers don’t hinge on somebody in a plush office deciding to aim a little luck in our direction. There are no gates. They’re gone…Comedians are getting more and more comfortable with the idea that if we’re not successful, it’s not because we haven’t gotten our foot in the door, or nobody’s given us a hand up. We can do that ourselves now. Every single day we can do more and more without you and depend on you less and less…I want you, all of the gatekeepers, to become fans. I want you to become true enthusiasts like me. I want you to become thrill-seekers. I want you to be as excited as I was when I first saw Maria Bamford’s stand-up, or attended The Paul F. Tompkins show, or listened to Sklarbro Country.

For More Pianos, Last Note Is Thud in the Dump [NYT] – Another example of the old slowly, gradually, and then finally being replaced by the new.

The value of used pianos, especially uprights, has plummeted in recent years. So instead of selling them to a neighbor, donating them to a church or just passing them along to a relative, owners are far more likely to discard them, technicians, movers and dealers say. Piano movers are making regular runs to the dump, becoming adept at dismantling instruments, selling parts to artists, even burning them for firewood…It is strange to think of them as disposable as tissues. Yet economic and cultural forces have made many used pianos, with the exception of Steinways and a few other high-end brands, prone to being jettisoned. With thousands of moving parts, pianos are expensive to repair, requiring long hours of labor by skilled technicians whose numbers are diminishing. Excellent digital pianos and portable keyboards can cost as little as several hundred dollars. Low-end imported pianos have improved remarkably in quality and can be had for under $3,000. “Instead of spending hundreds or thousands to repair an old piano, you can buy a new one made in China that’s just as good, or you can buy a digital one that doesn’t need tuning and has all kinds of bells and whistles,” said Larry Fine, the editor and publisher of Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer, the industry bible.

Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare as Corporate Focus Groups [NYT] – A misleading headline; social media allows high quantities of shallow consumer input. In focus groups, the numbers are much smaller but there is the chance for a discussion.

Frito-Lay is developing a new potato chip flavor, which, in the old days, would have involved a series of focus groups, research and trend analysis. Now, it uses Facebook. Visitors to the new Lay’s Facebook app are asked to suggest new flavors and click an “I’d Eat That” button to register their preferences. So far, the results show that a beer-battered onion-ring flavor is popular in California and Ohio, while a churros flavor is a hit in New York. “It’s a new way of getting consumer research,” said Ann Mukherjee, chief marketing officer of Frito-Lay North America. “We’re going to get a ton of new ideas.” When Wal-Mart wanted to know whether to stock lollipop-shaped cake makers in its stores, it studied Twitter chatter. Estée Lauder’s MAC Cosmetics brand asked social media users to vote on which discontinued shades to bring back. The stuffed-animal brand Squishable solicited Facebook feedback before settling on the final version of a new toy. And Samuel Adams asked users to vote on yeast, hops, color and other qualities to create a crowdsourced beer, an American red ale called B’Austin Ale that got rave reviews. “It tells us exactly what customers are interested in,” said Elizabeth Francis, chief marketing officer of the Gilt Groupe. Gilt asks customers to vote on which products to include in a sale, and sets up Facebook chats between engineers and customers to help refine products. “It’s amazing that we can get that kind of real feedback, as opposed to speculating,” Ms. Francis said.

Women Outdoors [Metropolis] – A review of an interesting new book Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets.

Mumbai’s public spaces belong to all of its 13 million inhabitants, but at any time of day or night the ratio of men to women is glaringly disproportionate. Men have no qualms about hanging around on street corners or at tea stalls, but women make a point of looking busy, striding with purpose, or talking on their cell phones. Thousands of women travel by trains or buses, but it’s not easy for them to find a toilet, a park bench, or any public place in which to linger. “If Mumbai is the best city for women in India,” says the sociologist Shilpa Phadke, “then the bar is set very low indeed.” Why Loiter? Women & Risk on Mumbai Streets, coauthored by Phadke, the architect Shilpa Ranade, and the journalist Sameera Khan, takes a close look at the public spaces of a city where women are said to live more independently than anywhere else in India. But over three years of “extensive, not intensive” research through ethnographies, mapping, interviews, and workshops, the authors found that the city doesn’t quite live up to its egalitarian reputation. And while the book is specific to Mumbai, the ideas in it apply to any metropolis – are public spaces anywhere truly gender neutral?

Can Geoengineering Solve Global Warming? [The New Yorker] – A discussion of innovation in the context of a wicked problem provides some delicious quotes.

“What is fascinating for me is the way the innovation process has changed,” Eisenberger said. “In the past, somebody would make a discovery in a laboratory and say, ‘What can I do with this?’ And now we ask, ‘What do we want to design?,’ because we believe there is powerful enough knowledge to do it. That is what my partner and I did”…”There is a strong history of the system refusing to accept something new,” Eisenberger said. “People say I am nuts. But it would be surprising if people didn’t call me crazy. Look at the history of innovation! If people don’t call you nuts, then you are doing something wrong.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • [from steve_portigal] Check-In On Foursquare Without Taking Your Phone Out Of Your Pocket [TechCrunch] – [Solutions tell you a lot about the culture you are looking at because they indirectly – or directly – announce a problem – in this case a real First World Problem] Future Checkin is an app that allows you to check-in to your favorite Foursquare venues automatically when you’re near them. You don’t have to do a thing besides simply have your phone on you and this app will check you in while running in the background with iOS 4. Check-in fatigue in particular is a growing problem. A number of heavy users of Foursquare that I know (myself included) have been complaining in recent months that it’s getting a bit tedious to have to pull out your phone each time to check-in to a venue. This app is really designed for people who are getting check-in fatigue, who often forget to check-in to places, or who don’t want to be rude by pulling out their phone in social settings.
  • [from steve_portigal] Cameo Stars | Have Celebrities Come Over…To Your Facebook Page! – It’s always been fun to see celebrities in unexpected places – whether playing themselves in a cameo TV or movie role, or just being themselves in their everyday lives. Cameo Stars takes the fun of celebrity cameos to a whole new level by enabling today’s top entertainers and athletes to make virtual cameo appearances right in your and your friends’ everyday lives, where they come to life right in your social network profile or mobile device! Launched in 2010, Cameo Stars is partnering with today’s top personalities in entertainment and sports to break new ground in the burgeoning virtual goods market by enabling celebrities to make virtual cameo appearances in the everyday lives of fans online. These “social cameos”, invented, created, and distributed by the company, transform exclusive celebrity content into virtual goods designed expressly for the intimate stage that social media provides.
  • [from steve_portigal] Delhi Police Use Facebook to Track Scofflaw Drivers [NYTimes.com] – Almost immediately residents became digital informants, posting photos of their fellow drivers violating traffic laws. As of Sunday more than 17,000 people had become fans of the page and posted almost 3,000 photographs and dozens of videos. The online rap sheet was impressive. There are photos of people on motorcycles without helmets, cars stopped in crosswalks, drivers on cellphones, drivers in the middle of illegal turns and improperly parked vehicles. Using the pictures, the Delhi Traffic Police have issued 665 tickets, using the license plate numbers shown in the photos to track vehicle owners, said the city’s joint commissioner of traffic, Satyendra Garg. With just 5,000 traffic officers in this city of 12 million people, the social networking site is filling a useful role, he said. “Traffic police can’t be present everywhere, but rules are always being broken,” Mr. Garg said. “If people want to report it, we welcome it. A violation is a violation.”
  • [from steve_portigal] 1962 glass could be Corning’s next bonanza seller [The Associated Press] – An ultra-strong glass that has been looking for a purpose since its invention in 1962 is poised to become a multibillion-dollar bonanza for Corning Inc., expecting it to be the hot new face of touch-screen tablets and high-end TVs. Gorilla showed early promise in the '60s, but failed to find a commercial use, so it's been biding its time in a hilltop research lab for almost a half-century. It picked up its first customer in 2008 and has quickly become a $170 million a year business as a protective layer over the screens of 40 million-plus cell phones and other mobile devices. Now, the latest trend in TVs could catapult it to a billion-dollar business: Frameless flat-screens that could be mistaken for chic glass artwork on a living-room wall. Because Gorilla is very hard to break, dent or scratch, Corning is betting it will be the glass of choice as TV-set manufacturers dispense with protective rims or bezels for their sets, in search of an elegant look.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Books Travellers Read in Mumbai Locals [Windy Skies] – This is Part I of my ongoing attempt to note the books my fellow travellers read in Mumbai local trains on their way to work and back. I ride the infamous Mumbai local train network to work each day, unconsciously observing my fellow passengers when I’m not squeezed breathless or pounded into submission in the surging crowds that bring a new meaning to the concept of pressure. While it is not always easy to move around once inside the train, it is sometimes possible to pull off a picture of the reader and his book. The readers will rarely look up from the books they’re reading. They don’t need to, tuned in as they are to approaching stations from years of travelling on the local train network.<br />
    (via Dina Mehta)
  • Duncan Hines Brownie Husband – [Saturday Night Live] – "The perfect blend of rich fudge and emotional intimacy." Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. (via Design Observer)

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • From a New Yorker profile of wine-in-China enterpreneurs, the St. Pierre family – [The "these are not our customers" reaction is something we see a lot when we take our clients, with their naturally aspirational views of who should be using their products, out into the 'real world']
    The Bordelais have never quite acclimated to the embrace of distant customers. “In the very beginning of the eighties, there was a huge demand from Texas, and in France we were saying, ‘These Texan people–they don’t know how to drink our wines. They are like barbarians,’ ” Engerer told me. “Then there were the Japanese at the end of the eighties, beginning of the nineties, and they were not even drinking it; they were giving it as gifts. That made us laugh also. Now there are the Chinese.” But today, Engerer said, France cannot afford to be arrogant. “We should be a little more calm about this and say, ‘Thank you for buying something that might not be in your culture,’ ” he said.
  • Google Maps India describes user research and design process for culturally useful navigation – We knew from previous studies in several countries that most people rely on landmarks — visual cues along the way — for successful navigation. But we needed to understand how people use those visual cues, and what makes a good landmark, in order to make our instructions more human and improve route descriptions. To get answers to these questions, we ran a user research study that focused specifically on how people give and get directions. We called businesses and asked how to get to their store; we recruited people to keep track of directions they gave or received and later interviewed them about their experiences; we asked people to draw us diagrams of routes to places unfamiliar to us; we even followed people around as they tried to find their way.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Google Maps India describes user research and design process for culturally useful navigation – We knew from previous studies in several countries that most people rely on landmarks — visual cues along the way — for successful navigation. But we needed to understand how people use those visual cues, and what makes a good landmark, in order to make our instructions more human and improve route descriptions. To get answers to these questions, we ran a user research study that focused specifically on how people give and get directions. We called businesses and asked how to get to their store; we recruited people to keep track of directions they gave or received and later interviewed them about their experiences; we asked people to draw us diagrams of routes to places unfamiliar to us; we even followed people around as they tried to find their way.

User experience and Indian cowboys

A few weeks ago I was driving to work and heard a story on NPR about an initiative to use cowboys to clear out the stray yet sacred cattle that roam the streets and marketplaces of New Dehli.

I thought the story was fascinating and wanted to post something about it, but I wasn’t sure which program or even which of several local NPR stations I’d been listening to.

When I did a quick search for the story, I couldn’t find it anywhere. What I did find was one of the best user experiences I’ve had on the Web.

Having trouble finding something? NPR can help you find a story or music you heard on an NPR program.

This was the promise on NPR’s Search page, but all I knew was the general topic of the story I was interested in, and the approximate time and location where I was driving when I heard it. I wasn’t too hopeful, but I filled out the search form anyway.

npr-search-form

Three days later, I received this email (excerpted slightly):

Dear Dan,

Thank you for contacting NPR.

The piece you are referring to was aired on the public radio program Marketplace. Although heard on public radio, Marketplace is neither produced nor distributed by NPR.

Here is the link to the story you have requested: http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/02/02/dehli_cowboys/.

For contact information, or to learn general information about the program, please visit http://marketplace.publicradio.org/.

Hats off to NPR for understanding that many of their customers need to engage in the kind of follow-up activity I was, and for creating a straightforward tool to help us get what we want from the experience.

It seems simple, but in so many cases, companies miss these opportunities completely, or offer solutions that don’t work so easily and elegantly.

cows
Some cows I often pass on my way to work

As far as the Indian Cowboy story itself, I find the tradition-meets-attempt-at-purposeful-change aspect intriguing, as well as the way a whole business model has formed around these cows and the way they’re positioned in the culture.

They belong to thousands of unlicensed dairies around the city that make an estimated $120 million a year selling milk and yogurt. The owners of those dairies let the cattle forage for themselves, taking advantage of a Hindu custom of feeding cattle as a spiritual good deed.

It will be interesting to see how New Dehli’s attempts to alter this complex set of relationships plays out.

Japan’s new education model is India?

Excerpted from this story

Japan is suffering a crisis of confidence about its ability to compete with its emerging Asian rivals, China and India. One result has been a growing craze for Indian education.

Many are looking for lessons from India, seen by many in Japan as the world’s ascendant education superpower.

Bookstores are filled with titles like “Extreme Indian Arithmetic Drills” and “The Unknown Secrets of the Indians.” Newspapers carry reports of Indian children memorizing multiplication tables far beyond nine times nine, the standard in Japan. And the few Indian international schools in Japan are reporting a surge in applications from Japanese families.

At the Little Angels English Academy & International Kindergarten, the textbooks are from India, most of the teachers are South Asian, and classroom posters depict animals out of Indian tales, including dancing elephants in plumed turbans.

Little Angels is in Mikata, a Tokyo suburb. Only 1 of its 45 students is Indian. Most are Japanese.

As with many new things in Japan, the interest in Indian-style education has become a social fad, with everyone suddenly piling on.

Indian education is a frequent topic in public forums, from talk shows to conferences on education. Popular books claim to reveal the Indian secrets for multiplying and dividing multiple-digit numbers.

Interesting to see how “foreign” India may be to the Japanese, such that a mythology emerges. Reminds me of the tantric sex mythology (one of many, no doubt, over the centuries) that the West has built up around India.

Maximum Story

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I’ve mentioned Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found by Suketu Mehta in a previous post, but thought it was worth its own post now that I’ve finally finished it.

We learned about this book on our 2006 trip to India, but it took me over a year to finally get to it.

The book is Suketu Mehta’s collection of stories from his return to India after 21 years. He’s an insider and an outsider all at once. He shares his own experiences (say, in trying to rent an apartment, or get his kids into a decent school) but also picks a number of different subcultures (life in the slums, commuting, gangsters, Bollywood, sex workers, homeless artists, religion, politics, law enforcement) and goes deep. He develops intense relationships over time and tells the stories of the characters he encounters, many of whom live outside the norms that most of us could tolerate. He goes deep enough that as a writer, he’s pulled into writing a screenplay for a Bollywood film.

Although he goes into these subcultures as individual forays, many of the threads overlap (Bollywood and gangsters, the police and politics and religion, etc. etc.) and collide and so a more complete portrait begins to emerge.

I really appreciated having my own experiences contextualized by the author’s similar (if much more extreme) personal experiences and subsequent explanation, and then the opportunity to see so much further into the city, as an icon of Indian life. This is classic participant-observation. What’s the Hindi word for gonzo? How’s about gonzoti?

There’s a lot of exuberance about India nowadays and I think that needs to be tempered with some other perspectives. It’s not necessarily an easy place to live, work, visit, or develop.

What symbols stand for

In Suketu Mehta’s stunning Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found is the following passage

I ask him about the rituals of the renunciation. He gives me a parable. A long time ago, a man was conducting a wedding. A cat was running around the marriage hall, disturbing things. So he tied it to a pillar. Afterward generations of the man’s family, whenever they had a wedding, found a cat and tied it to one pillar of the hall, believing it to be a required wedding custom. The goings-on around this diksha, the doctor says, are like that cat tied to the pillar: The original meaning has been lost, and people are just doing it because that it how it has always been done.

Reader’s Digest reports, via the New York Times about the growing presence of fake wedding cakes. Average price for a wedding cake is $543, and

“For as low as $100, you can snag a pretty good replica made out of foam, with a secret compartment tucked in the back for hiding that special first piece,” the article states.

It’s intriguing to play an Idiocracy-esque futurist and imagine how the ritual will decay (or is that evolve?) further. In 50 years will we wave a knife around and toss sugar packets, to symbolize the symbols of the cake and the cutting-of-the-cake?

Anne points out the similarity to the Roast Beef story where successive generations cut the ends of the roast beef because that is how they were taught. When they go all the way back to the origin, it turns out they didn’t have a big enough pan and so that “ritual” was simply a coping mechanism.

Learn more about cake rental at CakeRental.com.

Buying and Using Cars in India

A couple of little cultural tidbits about cars and car users in India. Param writes

the cup holder, that’s now there almost by default in the newer Indian cars, is hardly used for keeping coffee or any other drink for that matter. This is one of those classic examples of how you blindly re-use a concept from the West and include it in your design it in a different country. And what people actually end up using it for in India is, keeping some currency/change or keeping your mobile phone.

and USATODAY tells us that

the head of BMW Asia says the defining characteristic of Indian consumers is their desire to buy every available feature.

“What the Indian consumer wants is the latest technology, and in the premium car segment, they’re looking for a fully loaded car,” Linus Schmeckel says. “They don’t like to be seen as second-class consumers.”

Cultural norms

A couple of weeks ago there was some concern over the SF Indian Consulate getting rid of old visa applications in a very insecure manner:

Thousands of visa applications and other sensitive documents, including paperwork submitted by top executives and political figures, sat for more than a month in the open yard of a San Francisco recycling center after they were dumped there by the city’s Indian Consulate.

The documents, which security experts say represented a potential treasure trove for identity thieves or terrorists, finally were hauled away Wednesday after The Chronicle inspected the site and questioned officials at the consulate and the recycling facility.

The article goes on to detail what data about what types of people they found in their examination of the site and the expected quotes from security experts about what type of risk this creates.

Having gone through the visa application process ourselves for our trip to India last January, it’s a little disturbing to read that

a sampling of documents obtained by The Chronicle indicate that the boxes contained confidential paperwork for virtually everyone in California and other Western states who applied for visas to travel to India between 2002 and 2005.

But I was sadly amused by the response from the consulate

Consul General Prakash said there may be a cultural dimension to the level of outrage related to the incident among Western visa applicants.

“In India, I would not be alarmed,” he said. “We have grown up giving such information in many, many places. We would not be so worried if someone had our passport number.”

Deputy Consul General Sircar said that in other countries, Indian officials are able to go to the roofs of their offices and burn documents they’re no longer able to store.

“In America, you cannot do that,” he said.

You can just hear the bristling bureaucratic response, colored with that cliched “no-problem”!

Supermarkets begin to open in India

bu_india_shopkeepers.jpg
A few tidbits from this story

On a recent Friday morning in the southern India city of Hyderabad, one of the country’s biggest companies, Reliance, plunged into the retail market by opening 11 neighborhood supermarkets simultaneously across the city.

The stores offer customers long, clean, brightly lit aisles lined with deep black plastic bins full of produce, all clearly labeled with prices. There are even modern juice bars near the exits.

“I’m already a Reliance fan,” said one early customer, Amrit Dugar, a wedding planner. “I use them for my telecom and petrol.”

Such a different notion of brand. Phone company, gas station, grocery store? Seems like these large companies in India have unique combinations of holdings, but their brands transcend their categories.

India has only a few dozen very large supermarkets, but Reliance plans to change not just the scale of what Indian retailers have seen before, but also the way they get products to market.

The Reliance Fresh stores are a mere fraction the size of the average Western supermarket, but huge compared to the majority of Indian shops; fewer than 5 percent of the country’s stores are more than 500 square feet. In three to six months, Reliance Retail will open a few flagship stores with about 100,000 square feet of space each (the average Wal-Mart is 85,000 square feet) focusing on foods, not manufactured goods.

It plans to spend $5.6 billion to open more than 4,000 stores in 1,500 towns, cities and villages over the next four years, exceeding 100 million square feet of retail space.

The article goes on to describe the coming of retail in a big way, beyond just Reliance, and the impact that this can have on small businesses, and on employment in India. The numbers in this story, the size of the country and the tiny-ness of the current retail footprint and the plans — all are mind-boggling.

Our readers write

Charles Frith emailed a question that he hoped I could address here

Is ethnography more suited to shedding light and depth on peoples relationships with some products or services over others? Are there times when it’s completely unnecessary?

That’s a two-parter! I’ll take a shot at this all, but I hope that others will jump in to clarify, correct, disagree, or whatever.

Are there times when ethnography is completely unnecessary?! Absolutely. But your second part is about time and your first part is about category. In terms of time, in terms of the process of developing a product or service, there are different types of research that may be more or less appropriate at different points along that process. There’s no overall answer, for me, it always depends.

For example, who is the organization? What do they know about the category, or the customer, or the channel, or the market, at this point? Is it a new product in a new category, or a redesign of something they’ve been doing before that they are improving? These are all facets of “what do you need to know more about?” I guess.

The best times to do any sort of customer research (and sorry if this is obvious) is when you can take some action with the results. If there are decisions to be made and they need informing by a user/customer perspective, then try to do that research ahead of time.

Depending on how you define ethnography, you may wish to see it only as a discovery process, as something that happens early on to define needs so that you can create solutions to match those needs. But putting solutions – prototypes – back into that conversation as a way to further validate the needs or dive deeper into them is a great way to go. You can read a case study of ours here that relates how an early prototype was taken into homes in order to have a more meaningful discussion about what the needs were and how this product could address those needs. You can always hold back your artifact for some portion of your session; that’s a standard technique we use.

As far as categories of products and services go, I don’t see that as a big dividing line in terms of the usefulness of research (and I’m speaking about research in general, whatever methodology you want to consider, some way of bringing customer perspectives into your design and decision process). I’d point again to the organization and its process as the crucial gating factors.

And

Also, are there precedents for ethnographic research in Asia?

Wow – two opportunities to cite DUX conference papers in one blog post. This PDF uses research in Japan (conducted by us, and by Adobe, over several years) as a template for considering research in global locations.

I think there’s two flavors here: Global companies coming to Asia to understand these markets, and Asian companies doing for their own domestic markets something like ethnography. For the first, absolutely. Japan, China, and India have all been high-profile destinations for user research (and in case anyone wonders, we are very keen to go back and do some more). For the second, I hear more about India, specifically, with an increasing drive by Indian companies to understand how their products and services will be received. A colleague in India does a regular audit of teenager attitudes for MTV India. I don’t know in much more detail the market for this sort of thing in any part of Asia, only the different anecdotes I’ve collected from various Asian colleagues.

Should I also re-plug CultureVenture at this point? For companies looking to get a handle on these other markets, this is our service to drive inspiration through immersion. Facilitated hanging out, if you will?

How’s that Charles? I hope you’ll add some follow up questions in the comments.

This Week In Globalization

We have some time before we can expect to be driving Chinese cars.

Despite growing anxiety that the Chinese would quickly seek to conquer yet another important industry, it now looks as if it will be at least another several years before Chinese automakers start exporting large numbers of cars they both design and make. They had intended to start selling their own brands in the United States as soon as 2007 but have pushed off their plans by a couple of years.

And now, some Chinese auto executives admit, it could be as late as 2020 before they will be ready to take on the world auto market.

That’s not to say that the Chinese will not follow in the footsteps of Japanese automakers, who first sent over chintzy cars that were roundly criticized, only to set new standards for the industry in later years.

Still, despite China’s manufacturing prowess, it is, for now, proving a lot harder than automakers here anticipated to make cars that appeal to Western tastes.

Here’s a story about who these Indian engineers are, or aren’t. Frankly, I was glad to see this article, not for protectionist reasons, but simply to acknowledge that we’ve got dramatically different cultures around work, collaboration, education, success, and everything else, and that’s obviously going to play out in the hiring/working space.

India still produces plenty of engineers, nearly 400,000 a year at last count. But their competence has become the issue.

A study commissioned by a trade group, the National Association of Software and Service Companies, or Nasscom, found only one in four engineering graduates to be employable. The rest were deficient in the required technical skills, fluency in English or ability to work in a team or deliver basic oral presentations.

And finally here’s yet another story about Americans working for Indian firms (I last blogged about it here)

For the job seekers, India represents a new kind of ticket. Katrina Anderson, 22, a math major from Manhattan, Kan., accepted the Infosys offer because, she said, it provided the most extensive training of any company that offered her a job.

An added bonus was the chance to travel halfway around the world. “Some people were scared by the India relocation,” she recalled. “But that pretty much sold it for me.”

When she finishes the training in January, Ms. Anderson, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame, will return to the United States, to work in the Infosys office in Phoenix.

For the Americans at Infosys, culture shock combines with surprising discoveries. Mr. Craig and Ms. Anderson admitted to having their stereotypes of India quickly upturned. Mr. Craig expected elephants and crowded sidewalks; Ms. Anderson expected stifling heat and women who covered their heads.

The Infosys training center, with its 300 acres of manicured shrubbery, is a far cry from the poverty of much of this country. There is a bowling alley on campus, a state-of-the-art gym, a swimming pool, tennis courts and an auditorium modeled on the Epcot Center.

Mr. Craig, who still calls home nearly every day, says he has made an effort to teach himself a few things about his new, temporary home. He has learned how to conduct himself properly at a Hindu temple. He makes an extra effort to be more courteous. He has learned to ignore the things that rattle him in India – the habit of cutting in line, for instance, or the ease with which a stranger here can ask what he would consider a deeply personal question.

“I definitely feel like a minority here,” he said, sounding surprised at the very possibility.

Ms. Anderson has tried to ignore what she sees as a penchant for staring, especially by men. She has donned Indian clothes in hopes of deflecting attention, only to realize that it has the opposite effect. She has stopped brooding quietly when someone cuts in line. “I say, ‘Excuse me, there’s a line here.’ “

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