Posts tagged “china”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • The McGangBang: a McChicken Sandwich Inside a Double Cheeseburger – (via Kottke) Another awesome example of customers co-opting (or trying to) the corporation. It's a user-generated menu item and people are trying to order it by its (rather unpalatable) name and then documenting the results. Like the obscene Skittle comments on Twitter, this is people taking a brand (and an experience) and playing with it. And then using the Internet to bring energy to that small piece of celebratory rebellion. If we ever needed another example of the brand being created by the customers not the producers, this would be it.
  • Chinese Internet meme about Grass-Mud Horse is a form of social protest – An online phenomena features a mythical character is built on the name – in Chinese – sounding close to an obscenity, but presented as an innocent song (with some fable-like plot twists) that the censors (so far) can't/won't remove. “Its underlying tone is: I know you do not allow me to say certain things. See, I am completely cooperative, right?” the Beijing Film Academy professor and social critic Cui Weiping wrote in her own blog. “I am singing a cute children’s song — I am a grass-mud horse! Even though it is heard by the entire world, you can’t say I’ve broken the law.”

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Wired on the big big money being made selling virtual items in online games – With about 30 workers on staff, Liu was able to keep a gold-farming setup running around the clock. While the night shift slept upstairs on plywood bunks, day-shift workers sat in the hot, dimly lit workshop, each tending three or four computers. They were "playing" World of Warcraft, farming gold at an impressive clip by hunting and looting monsters, their productivity greatly abetted by automated bots that allowed them to handle multiple characters with little effort. They worked 84-hour weeks, got a couple of days off per month, and earned about $4 a day, which even for China was not a stellar wage.
  • Wired on Ray Ozzie and cultural change at MSFT: At first, the skunk works-like nature of Ozzie's operation engendered suspicion and resentment – Previously, a big part of any development team at Microsoft was making sure its new product worked in lockstep with everything else the company produced. While that approach avoided annoying conflicts, it also tended to smother innovation. "This philosophy of independent innovation…is something Ray pushed very strongly," Ozzie's approach was to encourage people to rush ahead and build things. Then he'd have a team of what he calls the spacklers fill in the gaps and get things ready for release.
    He spent a lot of time on the physical workspace for his team. He had workers rip down the labyrinthine corridors on one floor and called in architects to create a more open design. Now, walking into the Windows Live Core group is like leaving Microsoft and visiting a Futurama set. Office windows open onto hallways so that quick eye contact can trigger spontaneous discussions. Whiteboards are everywhere. Pool tables, mini-lounges, and snack zones draw people toward the center of the space.

Me go pee-pee (a non-PC childhood song)


It appears the user of this public toilet in China is able to gaze into the printed face of a woman while he does his bidness. Why, exactly? Sure, the whole idea is challenging to Western norms (and maybe even Chinese norms) which is part of the story, but that detail is particularly intriguing to me.

Charles (who passed this along) sez “I think it’s great design myself.”

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.


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.’ “

Ah. I’d like to have an argument, please.

The Rising Sun Anger Release Bar in Nanjing, China offers a seemingly inevitable user experience: permission to abuse the staff. You can break stuff, yell, or even hit the folks who work there (one wonders if this would be any fun if sanctioned). Local psychology students are also available for personal counselling. Argument Sketch, anyone?

[via Slashfood]

Primping for the Cameras in the Name of Research

Cosmetics companies are striving to understand how their products are used differently in their various emerging markets. Presumably, they are elsewhere looking at differences in meaning, in addition to simply understanding usage.

Crucial to that effort is the search for differences that could help build a brand in critical emerging markets like India and China. L’Oreal has an expanding network of 13 evaluation centers around the world created to observe grooming and ponder a variety of burning questions: Do national differences exist in primping styles? Would women in Japan and Europe, for instance, stroke on mascara with the same lavish hand? (The answer is that in Japan, women apply mascara with an average of 100 brush strokes compared with Europeans, who are satisfied with 50, a difference noted by ethnologists for L’Oreal.)

It was observations like these that ultimately affected how the company made and marketed its mascaras or developed the foaming quality of its shampoos. “We are far from understanding everybody everywhere. It takes time,” said Fabrice Aghassian, director of international product evaluation for L’Oreal, which is seeking to map the world’s beauty routines in a landscape the company calls geocosmetics. “When we know the behaviors of people, we know what unexpressed expectations we do have to consider.”

Haier today

Rob Walker’s latest Consumed piece looks at the strategic approach of Haier, one of the few Chinese brands making inroads in the US.

Instead of a “technology push” approach (a Bell Labs cranking out wonderful inventions that are then pushed into the marketplace), [Sull] says, they are adept at using a “consumer pull” strategy, studying and responding to their customers’ needs.

Sull, the business-school professor, says that U.S. companies operating in China already know that the fiercest competitors there are the domestic ones. “The thing that should really make them nervous,” he says of U.S. companies, is the ability of Chinese manufacturers to export “their ability for rapid consumer-pull innovation” to the United States. Which is exactly what Haier is trying to do.

You can tattoo a pig, but it’s still a pig


As CNN reports, a Belgian artist in China is giving pigs tattoos of mermaids, roses, cherubs, and the Louis Vuitton logo.

The pigs get sedatives before they go under the needle and are carefully raised until their natural deaths. The artist has been inspired by China’s rampant piracy of everything from DVDs to Paris’s latest fashions (i.e., the LV logo).

Video cameras will allow collectors (who may purchase the post-mortem pigskin art) or anyone else to watch the tattooed pigs cavort and sleep live on the Internet, a program dubbed “Pig Brother”.


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