china posts

Michael’s War Story: All About Face (Sichuan Adventures) June 5th, 2013
Part 54 of 58 in the series War Stories

Michael. B Griffiths is the Director of Ethnography for Ogilvy & Mather, Greater China.

I’m in Sichuan province, at a small town called Anxian. I’m with a US film producer and a Chinese research assistant. We are documenting lower-tier city lifestyles in terms of the human condition as well as how people consume. We’ve just finished up our morning session with a man who shared emotional stories about the impact of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.

We were operating in two groups, doing home visits at different sites. It was time to pick up the other team from the town center and head off to Mianyang, our next destination.

But the other team called in late. There was a problem. The primary informant’s mother had returned home and reacted badly to their presence. While we didn’t have the details at this point, it seemed that the team could not easily leave the field site. On the phone, I could hear an intense argument in the background.

I had the driver park up around the corner from the site. The junior member of the team came round to meet us, shaking her head and heaving with frustration. Apparently the situation in the home had turned nasty and the senior member was trying to deal with it.

The primary informant, aged nineteen, had not told her mother about our research, although she had given us her formal consent. And now her mother was furious with her daughter for not seeking permission, and worse, she suspected us of being cheats or swindlers. We later learned she had been the victim of an identity-theft crime in similar circumstances.

An hour and more passed without a resolution. It seemed ridiculous that we were wasting so much time on this. Could we not just explain the situation, apologize for the inconvenience, and leave? I was inclined to intervene in person but various team members advised that a foreigner’s presence might exacerbate an already inflammatory situation.

Another phone call came through-

The argument was by now on the street outside the home. The mother was ferociously lashing out and forcibly preventing the senior team member from leaving. Concerned for her safety, I advised that she run around the corner and come over to the car – the site was only 30 meters away.

Once in the car, I proposed that we just leave. We had done nothing wrong, and were increasingly sure this fractious episode was symptomatic of a pre-existing tension between the mother and daughter. Right?

Right! So, let’s hit it, driver!

We sped off in the direction of the Mianyang highway.

As we cut through the breeze with the sun in our faces, the team members answered rapid-fire questions and shared their perspectives as they eased themselves out of the tension. We thought we were home free.

Not by a long shot.

Not long had passed before our phones started to ring. Representatives of the local recruitment agency with which we had partnered were with the enraged mother and phoning to ascertain our whereabouts. This was the agency who had recruited the daughter for our research and I wondered why it seemed beyond their capacity to handle the communication deficit.

We agreed that our overall objectives demanded that we press on with our schedule. Too much time had been wasted and we were quite clear were we stood in terms of our legal agreement with the informants; the local recruitment agency were better placed and, as we saw it, obligated to resolve any misunderstanding about our identity and purposes.

As solution, we agreed that the rest of the team would switch off their phones while I would use my phone to call the recruitment agency bosses we dealt with back in Shanghai headquarters. Better to have just one channel of communication open rather than several at the same time.

This we did, but before any intervention could be launched our driver started to get the same calls from the local recruitment agency. One of our team took the call on the driver’s phone and tried to explain our position on the situation and that we just wanted to continue with our schedule. The agency had also helped us plan for further research in Mianyang and Chengdu, so they were well aware of our tight schedule.

If only the situation could have been so simple! Our driver insisted on keeping his phone switched on since this made him available should his employer need to call. Presumably alerted by the local agency representatives, the driver’s employer did call and insisted he return to Anxian at once. We were unwilling to return with him since we were sure that the two hour return journey would be followed by further time wasted on senseless arguing. Could the situation not be resolved via the proper channels?

Unfortunately, the driver’s open line of communication meant that he could be contacted by people other than his boss. He began to get calls from an unfamiliar number over and over again.

Perhaps the driver should switch his phone off too!?

Then the real shock came.

What? The Public Security Bureau was on the phone? The mother had called the police before we had left. We had left the mother baying for our blood in the street and now the police had arrived to find us gone!

Things went rapidly downhill from here, as arguments erupted about what to do next. Returning to the site would not be an option, the local staff felt, since we would get in trouble for leaving the scene. My explaining things to the local police would not help either, they felt, since the police would not “take my side” because I was a foreigner. Any interaction with the police was bound to be long and protracted anyway, and there was also some notion about market researchers needing to obtain local police permission in advance, which the local recruitment agency had neglected to mention!

Tempers flared and leadership was called for. But leadership on this project had been passed to the woman who got into the argument with the mother in the first place and she now called her father in a panic!

The idea that the police were actually pursuing us over this seemed ridiculous but it was very real. We were still driving up the highway away from Anxian, and with visions of flashing blue lights at every intersection it felt like we were on the run from the law.

It was decision time: the driver had to return to Anxian and could not avoid answering his phone when the police called. We asked him to pull in at a remote roadside restaurant and unload our bags. He would remain with us to get some lunch; it was late afternoon already. Then he would return to Anxian and his boss would send an alternative driver to take us onto Mianyang.

We ate a meal and for a while believed the heat in the situation had burned itself out. I called in to update our superiors. Apparently, the bosses at the recruitment agency were starting to get a handle on it. There was still disagreement about our next move, but at least the police were not calling us every few minutes. They were probably having lunch too.

With our phones all back on and the driver gone, the police began calling us directly. Several hours had passed since the original incident and the mother’s demands had become more specific: she wanted the tapes we had recorded in her home. This presented a problem for our research and our film producer was particularly against this: his movie would be incomplete without these tapes. Moreover, even if we returned the tapes to the mother, she the professional format meant she wouldn’t be able to play them.

Our conversations thus became more practical and technical as the police sought to broker a mutually satisfactory solution to the problem. An agreement was struck whereby the majority of the team would proceed to Mianyang while two personnel would return to Anxian with the tapes and play these for the mother at the local police station.

It was well into the evening when we arrived in Mianyang, about the same time as our team representatives arrived back in Anxian. After a torrid day, they had to sit and play through the entire 4 hours of footage for the purposes of the mother’s verification. With the police there with her, she gradually adjusted herself to the idea we were not crooks or foreign spies and found a way to climb down from her rage whilst saving face.

Exhausted, we spared a thought for the daughter who was probably going to get the raw end of whatever remaining anger could not now be justifiably directed anywhere else. Our analysis of the film footage revealed a wealth of insights into a specific tension between the daughter’s almost angelic nature and her mother’s oppressive, almost ogre-ish nature. It appeared our fieldwork had exposed an underlying tension after all.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies January 28th, 2013

Restaurants Turn Camera Shy [NYT] – While on one level this is a story about shifting norms, where an emerging behavior is deemed rude and disruptive. Where it is or not is another question, not really explored here. But there is at least one example of finding alternative ways to address the need rather than just banning what is considered wrong.

But rather than tell people they can’t shoot their food – the food they are so proud to eat that they need to share it immediately with everyone they know – he simply takes them back into his kitchen to shoot as the plates come out. “We’ll say, ‘That shot will look so much better on the marble table in our kitchen,’ ” Mr. Bouley said. “It’s like, here’s the sauce, here’s the plate. Snap it. We make it like an adventure for them instead of telling them no.” Mr. Bouley is setting up a computer system so that diners can get digital images of what they’ve eaten before they even get the check.

‘Friends’ Will Be There For You At Beijing’s Central Perk [NPR] – While in the west the show might be a somewhat-beloved artifact of a decade past, in another part of the world, the possibility for a different meaning is ripe. Perhaps, as the article suggests, this somehow embodies freedom that young Chinese are yearning for?

Tucked away on the sixth floor of a Beijing apartment block is a mini replica of the cafe, orange couch and all, whose owner Du Xin introduces himself by saying, “Everyone calls me ‘Gunther’ here.” Indeed, he is a Chinese version of cafe owner Gunther from the show, down to his giddy passion for Rachel (the character played by Jennifer Aniston). “I’m crazy about Friends,” Du says. “For me, it’s like a religion. It’s my life.” The extent of Du’s Friends obsession is clear on entry to Beijing’s Central Perk. The level of detail is scary: same window, same doorway. People sitting on the orange sofa are watching TV – reruns of Friends, naturally. The cafe only serves snacks mentioned in Friends, and the menus are even annotated.

The Role of Anecdotes in Science-Based Medicine – An imperfect but perhaps illustrative analogy to user research, about the relationship between stories and what some may call “proof.”

Here are two limiting factors in how anecdotes should be incorporated into medical evidence: The first is that anecdotes should be documented as carefully as possible. This is a common practice in scientific medicine, where anecdotes are called case reports (when reported individually) or a case series (when a few related anecdotes are reported). Case reports are anecdotal because they are retrospective and not controlled. But it can be helpful to relay a case where all the relevant information is carefully documented – the timeline of events, all treatments that were given, test results, exam findings, etc. This at least locks this information into place and prevents further distortion by memory. It also attempts to document as many confounding variables as possible. The second criterion for the proper use of anecdotes in scientific medicine is that they should be thought of as preliminary only – as a means of pointing the way to future research. They should never be considered as definitive or compelling by themselves. Any findings or conclusions suggested by anecdotal case reports need to be later verified by controlled prospective clinical studies.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
Elaine’s War Story: I thought my client was going to die October 16th, 2012
Part 29 of 58 in the series War Stories

Elaine Ann, the CEO of Kaizor Innovation in Hong Kong tells a story about consciousness – both cultural and physical.

One of my most memorable research experiences was ten years ago in China. My Western client fainted in broad daylight in the middle of our Beijing field trip. We had completed field research work and were touring an exhibition. She just plopped on the floor without any previous sign that she had any health problems.

We called the ambulance and a white van came along. There was nothing on it – no ambulance emergency lights, no oxygen equipment, no CPR equipment, only a stretcher. Not knowing what was wrong with my client’s health, we (me, my colleagues and her co-workers) decided to take her to the hospital anyway.

Upon arriving at the hospital, we had to first pay for the ambulance fees in cash (this is China). Then the client was carried onto a hospital bed. I was caught in between cultures at that point as my client’s Western co-workers were dubious about the medical standards in Chinese hospitals and refused an injection from the doctor; while the Chinese doctor was quite annoyed by the Westerners’ attitude (reading their horrific facial expressions) and challenged them whether or not they really want to be helped after coming to the hospital. Meanwhile, I was trying to translate everything in both English and Mandarin, amidst all the chaos, trying to not offend either party (who couldn’t communicate directly with each other).

Finally, the client’s co-worker decided to take a risk with her boss’s health rather than risk it with the Chinese hospital, so we had to shuttle the client back to the hotel instead. (We then discovered that five-star hotels usually have English speaking travel doctors for emergencies – a handy tip for researchers doing field trips in China). In the hotel elevator, my client fainted a second time and we had to drag her off the elevator, along the corridors and into her room like a dead fish.

My client finally became conscious again and luckily we found out this was caused by a low blood sugar syndrome and happened all the time. All she needed was a candy. We had to decline her request to visit the Great Wall the next day. I really wouldn’t know how to carry her down from the Great Wall if she fainted on top of that, as it’s a defense wall designed to make it difficult for invaders to climb even in ancient times!

Seriously, I would have made the national news if my client died on our China research trip! Phew!

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies September 26th, 2012

Mice as Stand-Ins in the Fight Against Disease [New York Times] – Looks like this has been happening in some measure for a while, but some new methods are increasing the usage. The most science-fiction thing you’ll read all week.

In what could be the ultimate in personalized medicine, animals bearing your disease, or part of your anatomy, can serve as your personal guinea pig, so to speak. Some researchers call them avatars, like the virtual characters in movies and online games. “The mice allow you the opportunity to test drugs to find out which ones will be efficacious without exposing the patient to toxicity,” said Colin Collins, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

Australia 2012 [Flickr] – My complete set of pictures from Australia earlier this month.

Chinese families’ worldly goods in Huang Qingjun’s pictures [BBC] – We’ve seen other projects like this, but the focus on China captures a material culture in transition.

Amid China’s tumultuous dash to become rich, one man’s photographs of families posing with their worldly goods will soon seem like records from a distant era. Huang Qingjun has spent nearly a decade travelling to remote parts of China to persuade people who have sometimes never been photographed to carry outside all their household possessions and pose for him. The results offer glimpses of the utilitarian lives of millions of ordinary Chinese who, at first glance, appear not to have been swept up by the same modernisation that has seen hundreds of millions of others leave for the cities. But seen more closely, they also show the enormous social change that has come in a generation. So the photo of an elderly couple of farmers outside their mud house reveals a satellite dish, DVD player and phone.

Four Big Things, a phrase dating from 1950s for most sought-after goods for newly married couples: sewing machine, bicycle, watch, radio. It’s since come to refer to whatever is most fashionable at the time. By 1980s the four big things were: TV, washing machine, rice cooker, fridge. Now, consumer goods flood China’s cities, it tends to be used to describe people’s aspirations for the latest thing.

Must-See Video: How a Woman With No Arms Dresses Herself. What Assistance Can Design Provide? [Core 77] – I love the reaction; that excitement of discovering how current solutions could be improved. Designers are so great at bringing that creativity and know-how to bear to make change for the good. But let’s remember, we don’t need videos to be posted by users to uncover what things aren’t working for them. Are designers waiting for broken products to appear in front of them so they can spontaneously improve them, or are they out there looking at current behaviors and solutions in order to proactively find opportunities. Designers: you don’t need the disabled (or anyone) to post their own videos, go and shoot your own!

I hope that more folks with disabilities make videos like this, not just to share with others what their particular trials are, but to enable us designers to improve upon the objects they use.

FILMography – a Tumblr with an incredible series of images where a printout of a still from a film is held up in the actual location where that scene was shot. It’s a “trick” I’ve seen before but mostly as a one-off; the breadth here is fascinating.

FILM + photography = FILMography.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
Tom’s War Story: Go with the flow June 20th, 2012
Part 8 of 58 in the series War Stories

Tom Williams, Principal of Point Forward is confronted with his own health concerns, and with some unexpected practices for managing bureaucracy.

Our ethnography research team visited a small neighborhood health clinic in Beijing to study its workflow. It was 2009 and concern over H1N1 swine flu was at its peak. There was a special flu screening at the airport and yet the folks at the clinic seemed concerned that we, as Americans, might be seen as potential carriers of the virus that was causing near-panic at the time. To make matters worse, I had awoken that morning with a scratchy throat. It was just a reaction to the hazy air quality in Beijing but still, it would be very bad to be coughing in this situation so in the taxi on the way to the clinic I stuffed multiple cough drops into my mouth.



The Health Services clinic in Beijing where ethnographic research was conducted. Inside, a dispenser for free contraceptives.

Doing field research in China is always a little bit surreal for me, an American. The cultural differences are pretty subtle on paper but can be stark in person. They reveal themselves in that weird way that cultural differences do; unexpected little variations in design, procedures, or personal manners. In this setting in particular, lots of little things stood out when first walking into the clinic: the scale to weigh patients was in the waiting area, not near the exam rooms. Next to the scale was somebody’s bicycle and a broom was propped in the corner. The waiting room chairs were plastic, not upholstered and there was a vending machine offering free contraception. There were brochures but no magazines.



The clinic’s waiting area.

“How long have you been here in China?” the nurse manager asked us through an interpreter. “Three days,” I replied, willing myself not to cough. “Well, we occasionally get unannounced spot-checks by government health officials and, because of the swine flu, if they show up while you’re here doing research we’ll need you to say you arrived in China two weeks ago, not three days ago.” Huh? Wha? Lie to Chinese government officials? Is that in my job description? I’ve seen way too many prison movies to be comfortable with this. Plus, isn’t my time in the country a pretty easy thing to check on by just – oh, I don’t know – looking at the stamp in my passport? And the request was made in such a matter-of-fact, this-is-no-big-deal way that we weren’t exactly given a chance to voice our concerns; it was simply on a list of mundane procedures for the day: “the bathrooms are down the hall, you’re scheduled to interview two nurses, then two doctors, then you’ll do an hour of straight observation, then we’re gonna have you lie to government officials, and by then it’ll be time for lunch.” Ugh! Fidgeting nervously, and imagining what would happen if this were a movie, I glanced around to see if there was a back door for a hasty exit (of course – fleeing from government officials is surely better than lying to them!).

We were taken to a room for our first interview and the oddness continued: we sat in reclining chairs normally used by dialysis patients. They graciously served us tea and watermelon but then placed bucket in the middle of the floor for seeds and rinds. I was wondering what the bucket was normally used for but decided not to ask. We interviewed a very kind and helpful nurse but she kept a surgical mask on her face the whole time.



My colleague Priya mans the video camera near the tea and watermelon while the rest of the team discards seeds and rinds into a bucket.

But then something happened: it was the simple magic of focusing on what I was there to do: field research. I got absorbed in hearing people tell their stories, obsessing about getting good video and good still photos, asking good questions, and listening closely. I enjoyed the watermelon and stopped worrying about how weird it felt to be spitting watermelon seeds into a bucket during an interview. By letting myself go with the flow, I actually forgot about my scratchy throat and even forgot about the possibility of being confronted about the date I arrived in China.

The interviews and observations went very well and for all my initial impressions of differences, we noticed many similar workflow patterns to clinics we had studied in the U.S. and Europe. In the end, there was no surprise visit by health inspectors. After feeling uncomfortable as an outsider at the beginning, by simply sticking to the process and not pushing against prevailing cultural norms, I now felt at ease. We truly bonded with the clinic staff and developed a very solid understanding of their process. We said our goodbyes, left the clinic, and walked to a nearby Buddhist vegetarian place for lunch. When we stepped into the crowded restaurant, all the customers turned in unison to look at the foreigners. I reached in my pocket for a cough drop and the process started all over again.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies May 10th, 2012

Innovations Like Instagram Are Tough for Large Companies [NYT] – Large companies try so many different ways to create subsets of their culture that is somehow more free. Ray Ozzie did it at Microsoft, through architecture and interior design. I do wonder how many leaders treat this like a cultural problem, though, and bring the appropriate solutions to bear.

Leica, Nikon, Canon, Pentax and Olympus didn’t build Instagram, either. Michael Hawley, who is on Kodak’s board, said the answer could be summed up in one word: culture. “It’s a little like asking why Hasbro didn’t do Farmville, or why McDonald’s didn’t start Whole Foods,” said Mr. Hawley. “Cultural patterns are pretty hard to escape once you get sucked into them. For instance, Apple and Google are diametrical opposites in so many ways, have all the skills, but neither of them did Instagram, either.” Neither could Facebook. If it could, it wouldn’t have paid $1 billion to acquire the small team of engineers and access to the program’s 30 million users. The challenge of creating something small and disruptive inside a large company is one that many face today.

Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies – A nice library of dark patterns for persuasion, manipulation, and bluster. Available in a printable poster, too.

A logical fallacy is usually what has happened when someone is wrong about something. It’s a flaw in reasoning. They’re like tricks or illusions of thought, and they’re often very sneakily used by politicians and the media to fool people. Don’t be fooled! This website and poster have been designed to help you identify and call out dodgy logic wherever it may raise its ugly, incoherent head. If you see someone committing a logical fallacy, link them to the relevant fallacy to school them in thinky awesomeness.

The Outsourced Life [NYT] – Arlie Hochschild with an insightful and slightly alarming perspective on the consequences of a service society. How does the increasing possibility for outsourcing (also: buying our way into something) change what we bring, expect, or get out of our lives?

The very ease with which we reach for market services may help prevent us from noticing the remarkable degree to which the market has come to dominate our very ideas about what can or should be for sale or rent, and who should be included in the dramatic cast – buyers, branders, sellers – that we imagine as part of our personal life. It may even prevent us from noticing how we devalue what we don’t or can’t buy. A prison cell upgrade can be purchased for $82 a day in Santa Ana, Calif., and for $8 solo drivers in Minneapolis can buy access to car pool lanes on public roadways. Earlier this year, officials at Santa Monica College attempted to allow students to buy spots in oversubscribed classes for $462 per course. Even more than what we wish for, the market alters how we wish. Wallet in hand, we focus in the market on the thing we buy. In the realm of services, this is an experience – the perfect wedding, the delicious “traditional” meal, the well-raised child, even the well-gestated baby.

As we outsource more of our private lives, we find it increasingly possible to outsource emotional attachment. A busy executive, for example, focuses on efficiency; his assistant tells me, “My boss outsources patience to me.” The wealthy employer of a household manager detaches herself from the act of writing personal Christmas-present labels. A love coach encourages clients to think of dating as “work,” and to be mindful of their R.O.I. – return on investment, of emotional energy, time and money. The grieving family member hires a Tombstone Butler to beautify a loved one’s burial site.

Snack makers’ “Red Caviar” Lay’s and “Mango-orange” Oreos appeal more to global tastes [Winnipeg Free Press] – Some possible acquisitions for my Museum of Foreign Groceries.

After noticing sales of Oreos were lagging in China during the summer, Kraft added a green tea ice cream flavour. The cookie combined a popular local flavour with the cooling imagery of ice cream. The green tea version sold well, and a year later, Kraft rolled out Oreos in flavours that are popular in Asians desserts – raspberry-and-blueberry and mango-and-orange…To get a better sense of what Russians like, PepsiCo employees travelled around the country to visit people in their homes and talk about what they eat day-to-day. That was a big task. Russia has nine time zones and spans 7,000 miles, with eating habits that vary by region. The findings were invaluable for executives. In the eastern part of the country, Pepsi found that fish is a big part of the diet. So it introduced “Crab” chips in 2006. It’s now the third most popular flavour in the country. A “Red Caviar” flavour does best in Moscow, where caviar is particularly popular. “Pickled Cucumber,” which piggybacks off of a traditional appetizer throughout Russia, was introduced last year and is already the fourth most popular flavour.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies June 29th, 2011
  • [from steve_portigal] rep.licants.org – enhanced virtual self – [I'm trying this although I may come to regret it; meanwhile the notion is so fascinating, giving virtual extensions of our presence and personality to make us "more" human in our interactions rather than less human!] rep.licants.org is a web service allowing users to install an artificial intelligence (bot) on their Facebook and/or Twitter account. From keywords, content analysis and activity analysis, the bot attempts to simulate the activity of the user, to improve it by feeding his account and to create new contacts with other users…The bot does not born with a fictitious identity, but will be added to the real identity of the user to modify it at his convenience. Thus, this bot can be seen as a virtual prosthesis added to an user's account. With the aim to help him to forge a digital identity of what he would really like to be and by trying to build a greater social reputation for the user.
  • [from julienorvaisas] Venture Inside China’s Tiny Public Housing Cubes [Flavorwire] – [A surprising variety is borne of extreme domestic constraints: approaches and techniques for featuring and concealing objects, decoration and overall effect or mood.] The dwellers of the Shek Kip Mei Estate public housing project in Hong Kong occupy just ten feet by ten feet of living space. The humble rooms that originally served as relocation units for fire victims in the 1950s are furnished with bunk beds. The crowded units balloon with dozens of plastic bags for all-purpose storage and are decorated with a varying amount of patriotic paraphernalia.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Cupcake Take: Julie November 4th, 2010

We believe in the power of transparency at many different levels. We regularly advise our clients to leverage transparency as a design strategy. Over the years, our research repeatedly shows that people are more comfortable when they know where their stuff comes from, what’s in it, and who’s making it, and that this comfort leads to good things like loyalty, brand affinity, adoption.

Transparency around gadgets is getting some attention these days. Some of the spotlight has been focused on

While our shiny devices have made our individual worlds more transparent through features such as GPS, augmented reality and user reviews, the devices themselves still feel magical. Their origins and inner workings are utterly mysterious. As our relationships with these devices deepen, as a culture we are becoming more interested in what we’re consuming.

Take a look at how transparency feels in this much lower-tech analog: gourmet cupcakes. At a cupcake shop in San Diego, ingredients were featured rather than hidden because of a refrigerator malfunction. The backstage became front-and-center, as Steve talks about here.

As a customer, it felt great to have a window into the process, in a kind of “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!” way. Gourmet cupcakes are made of the same things we use at home! Wholesome! Recognizable! Comforting! Trustworthy. When I took a bite of the finished product my enjoyment was subtly enhanced by knowing what I was sinking my teeth into.

Transparency as a policy is risky in some cases, of course. Knowing more about my cupcake felt good; finding out about what’s inside my iPhone is not producing those same reassuring feelings!

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
ChittahChattah Quickies July 24th, 2010
  • [from steve_portigal] Monster Cable announces deal with Yao Ming [SF Chronicle] – [It's easy to be cynical about these sort of deals when they use the verb "design" to characterize the role that the endorser will play. What is the generative process involved to develop these new products? I can't help but think of Homer Simpson creating his dream car] Monster Cable Products Inc. announced a deal with Houston Rockets basketball center Yao Ming to design a line of consumer electronics and related products to be sold in China, his home country. The "Yao Monster" line, which will include headphones, bags, home theater cables and performance glasses, is part of the Brisbane company's latest marketing push into China.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies June 15th, 2010
  • [from steve_portigal] Rent a White Guy [The Atlantic] – And so I became a fake businessman in China, an often lucrative gig for underworked expatriates here. One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image—particularly, the image of connection—that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.” We were supposedly representing a California-based company that was building a facility in Dongying. Our responsibilities would include making daily trips to the construction site, attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony, and hobnobbing. During the ceremony, one of us would have to give a speech as the company’s director. That duty fell to my friend Ernie. His business cards had already been made. (via @Kottke)
  • [from julienorvaisas] Hey Facebook! Here’s your privacy redesign [Fortune.com] – [The community is now literally begging Facebook to fix this issue. Free design!] We asked several leading user experience designers how they'd overhaul the social network's obtuse privacy settings interface if given the chance. Here, in their own words, are their innovative solutions.
  • [from steve_portigal] For Forgetful, Cash Helps the Medicine Go Down [NYTimes.com] – [The challenge of marketing, design & other forms of corporate persuasion is revealed when you see that people need incentive/motivation to take medication] One-third to one-half of all patients do not take medication as prescribed, and up to one-quarter never fill prescriptions at all, experts say. Such lapses fuel more than $100 billion dollars in health costs annually because those patients often get sicker. Now, a controversial, and seemingly counterintuitive, effort to tackle the problem is gaining ground: paying people money to take medicine or to comply with prescribed treatment. The idea, which is being embraced by doctors, pharmacy companies, insurers and researchers, is that paying modest financial incentives up front can save much larger costs of hospitalization…Although “economically irrational,” Dr. Corrigan said, small sums might work better than bigger ones because otherwise patients might think, “ ‘I’m only doing this for the money,’ and it would undermine treatment.”
  • [from steve_portigal] Creativity thrives in Pixar’s animated workplace [SF Chronicle] – At another company, the employee in Payne's position might be a feared corporate rules-enforcer – the guy who tells you not to put tack holes in the plaster or forbids you from painting over the white walls next to your cubicle. But the architect and 14-year Pixar veteran embraces the madness. Among the more creative additions on the campus: One animator built a bookcase with a secret panel – which opens up into a speakeasy-style sitting area with a card table, bar and security monitor. Other employees work in modified Tuff Sheds, tricked out to look like little houses with front porches and chandeliers. "Sometimes I just have to let go," Payne says with an amused sigh, as he walks into a newer building with a high ceiling – where someone has interrupted the clean sightlines with a wooden loft. A couch and a mini-refrigerator are balanced 10 feet above the floor. [Did a mini-ethnography of Pixar a few years ago and the cultural factors around creativity and community were outstanding]
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Local norms for listening vs. telling April 20th, 2010


Fieldwork transcripts are divvied up among team members

Over a few days spent reviewing interview transcripts from the US and China, I was struck by the observations around storytelling vs. listening vs. followup questions in Returning to America from a life in China (abstract only)

[I]n the States, I often had trouble responding to personal stories. But soon I realized that it didn’t make much difference what I said. Many Americans were great talkers, but they didn’t like to listen. If I told somebody in a small town that I had lived overseas for fifteen years, the initial response was invariably the same: “Were you in the military?” After that, people had few questions. Leslie and I learned that the most effective way to kill our end of a conversation was to say that we were writers who had lived in China for more than a decade.

At the times, the lack of curiosity depressed me. I remembered all those questions in China, where even uneducated people wanted to hear something about the outside world, and I wondered why Americans weren’t the same. But it was also true that many Chinese had impressed me as virtually uninterested in themselves or their communities. That was one of the main contrasts with Americans, who constantly created stories about themselves and the places where they lived. In a small town, people asked very little of an outsider – really, all you had to do was listen.

  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
ChittahChattah Quickies March 24th, 2010
  • Last supper ‘has been super-sized’, say obesity experts [BBC News] – The food portions depicted in paintings of the Last Supper have grown larger – in line with our own super-sizing of meals, say obesity experts. A Cornell University team studied 52 of the most famous paintings of the Biblical scene over the millennium and scrutinized the size of the feast. They found the main courses, bread and plates put before Jesus and his disciples have progressively grown by up to two-thirds. Based on the assumption that the width of an average loaf of bread from the time should be twice that of the average disciple's head, the researchers plotted the size of the Passover evening dishes. The main meals grew 69% and plate size 66% between the oldest (carried out in 1000AD) and most recent (1700s) paintings. Bread size grew by about 23%.
  • Butch Bakery – Where Butch Meets Buttercream – "Butch Bakery was born when David Arrick felt it was time to combine a masculine aesthetic to a traditionally cute product -the cupcake. When a magazine article mentioned that cupcakes were a combination of everything "pink, sweet, cute, and magical", he felt it was time to take action, and butch it up." Flavors include Rum & Coke, Mojito, Home Run, Beer Run, Campout, Tailgate, Driller, and (ahem) Jackhammer
  • Making Design Research Less of a Mystery [ChangeOrder] – Design researchers don't work exactly like professional detectives. We don't sit down with their users and start asking them point-blank questions regarding a single moment in time, such as, "Exactly where were you on the night of November 17th, when Joe Coxson was found floating face-down in a kiddie pool?" We don't consider the users as criminals, having perpetrated crimes against the state—our clients?—that must be solved. The crimes are the points of friction that go remarked (or unremarked) about the course of our subject's lives, in using the tools that surround them, and in the myths and beliefs that drive their everyday behavior. Our methods of detection are geared towards being sponges, soaking up both the large-scale and minute details that indicate layers of behavior that may have gone unremarked in the design and everyday use of various products, services, and interactive systems.
  • The Medium – Shelf Life [NYTimes.com] – People who reject e-books often say they can’t live without the heft, the texture and the scent of traditional books. This aria of hypersensual book love is not my favorite performance. I sometimes suspect that those who gush about book odor might not like to read. If they did, why would they waste so much time inhaling? Among the best features of the Kindleis that there’s none of that. The device, which consigns all poetry and prose to the same homely fog-toned screen, leaves nothing to the experience of books but reading. This strikes me as honest, even revolutionary….Most of these books were bought impulsively, more like making a note to myself to read this or that than acquiring a tangible 3-D book; the list is a list of resolutions with price tags that will, with any luck, make the resolutions more urgent. Though it’s different from Benjamin’s ecstatic book collecting, this cycle of list making and resolution and constant-reading-to-keep-up is not unpleasurable.
  • Human-flesh Search Engines in China [NYTimes.com] – The popular meaning of the Chinese term for human-flesh search engine is now not just a search by humans but also a search for humans, initially performed online but intended to cause real-world consequences. Searches have been directed against all kinds of people, including cheating spouses, corrupt government officials, amateur pornography makers, Chinese citizens who are perceived as unpatriotic, journalists who urge a moderate stance on Tibet and rich people who try to game the Chinese system. Human-flesh searches highlight what people are willing to fight for: the political issues, polarizing events and contested moral standards that are the fault lines of contemporary China.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies January 25th, 2010
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
ChittahChattah Quickies August 25th, 2009
  • Words Move Me – Sony adds social networking around reading (but doesn’t seem you can *buy*) – "Words move me" was created by Sony to celebrate the words that move us and to share our reading experiences with others. Connecting with readers around literary moments enables us to express our individuality, share our own stories, and find commonalities with others.
    (Thanks @gpetroff)
  • Sony’s Daily Reader – Kindle Competition: Touchscreen Plus AT&T, for $399 – Includes software to link with local libraries and check out a library-based electronic book. Also has portrait reading mode (showing two pages), touchscreen, and broadband wireless access to add books without a PC.
  • IKEA as destination retail, in Beijing – Although the store is designed similarly to Western IKEAs, the meaning and usage has changed. In Beijing, It's a place to rest and eat, more theme park than shopping emporium.
  • The lost art of reading: David Ulin on the challenge of focus in an era of distraction – Who do we want to be, she asks, and how do we go about that process of becoming in a world of endless options, distractions, possibilities? These are elementary questions, and for me, they cycle back to reading, to the focus it requires. When I was a kid, maybe 12 or 13, my grandmother used to get mad at me for attending family functions with a book. Back then, if I'd had the language for it, I might have argued that the world within the pages was more compelling than the world without; I was reading both to escape and to be engaged. All these years later, I find myself in a not-dissimilar position, in which reading has become an act of meditation, with all of meditation's attendant difficulty and grace. I sit down. I try to make a place for silence. It's harder than it used to be, but still, I read. (via Putting People First)
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post    
ChittahChattah Quickies May 19th, 2009
  • FitFlops – the FlipFlop with the Gym Built In – What we girls really need is something like a flip flop that tones and trims our legs while we run errands. We have no free time…We Want a Workout While We Walk!” FitFlop midsoles incorporate patent-pending microwobbleboard ™ technology, to give you a workout while you walk. One woman reported feeling like she’d had a ‘bum-blasting’ workout after a half an hour of FitFlop-shod walking.

    (Thanks to CPT!)

  • Love Land, first sex theme park in China closed before construction completed – Photographs showed workers pulling down a pair of white plastic legs and hips that appear to be the bottom half of a giant female mannequin towering over the park entrance. The mannequin is wearing a red G-string. The park manager, Lu Xiaoqing, had planned to have on hand naked human sculptures, giant models of genitals, sex technique “workshops” and a photography exhibition about the history of sex. The displays would have included lessons on safe sex and the proper use of condoms. Mr. Lu told China Daily that the park was being built “for the good of the public.” Love Land would be useful for sex education, he said, and help adults “enjoy a harmonious sex life.”
  • Air Traveler Satisfaction Goes Up? Look Beyond The Data – The airline business scored 64 out of 100 in the first quarter of this year, a 3.2% increase over the same period a year ago. Airlines were still among the lowest-scoring businesses in the index, which measured customer satisfaction with the products or services of hotels, restaurants and 14 other sectors. Full-service restaurants scored highest at 84. Airlines scored far below their own index high of 72, achieved in 1994. "It certainly looks like most of these increases, if not all, are due to lower passenger load," says Claes Fornell, professor of business at the University of Michigan and index founder, noting that the recession has kept many Americans from traveling. The lower number of passengers "means more seat availability, shorter lines, more on-time arrival, fewer lost bags, and all that probably adds up to a slightly higher level of satisfaction." He noted that a reduction in the number of flights offered could erase the slight gains achieved in passenger satisfaction.
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • del.icio.us
Comments Off  |   Email This Post