Sunday, June 15, 2008

Interview: The cellphone anthropologist - being-human

An interview with Jan Chipchase ...

"Most of us take mobile phones for granted. Not so for Jan Chipchase, a design researcher for Nokia, who travels the globe exploring how people use their mobile devices, discovering how to make them better, how to reach the billions of people who don't own a phone - and learning a whole lot about people along the way. Jason Palmer caught up with him in Japan - by phone of course - and found that nothing about the mobile phone is as straightforward as it seems

What exactly do you do?

I specialise in taking teams of designers, psychologists, usability experts, sociologists and ethnographers into the field. It's called "corporate anthropology", but personally I'm more comfortable with "design research", because I'm not an anthropologist by training. We're interested in design and in how what we design affects people's lives. The tough part of the job is using the data we collect to inform and inspire how my colleagues think, and in turning this research into new ideas.

But you started out studying economics.

My first job out of university was designing software for an economics project, but I realised that I didn't know what I was doing, so I took a master's in user interface design. In 2000 a job in the usability group at Nokia came up. At the time I didn't even own a mobile phone. The remit was to carry out "user experience research" - they wanted to ask some really basic questions. So we pitched a year-long international study on what objects people carry with them and why.
How do phones fit in?

The common denominator between cultures, regardless of age, gender or context is: keys, money and, if you own one, a mobile phone. Why those three objects? Without wanting to sound hyperbolic, essentially it boils down to survival. Keys provide access to warmth and shelter, money is a very versatile tool that can buy food, transport and so on. A mobile phone, people soon realise, is a great tool for recovering from emergency situations, especially if the first two fail."    (Continued via New Scientist)    [Usability Resources]


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