Archive for category Insight

Date: May 2nd, 2011
Cate: design, Insight, issue

Changing the Essentials of Carrying

Mr. Ishii explaining us about Twin Wave, a whistle that can generate sounds in two audible frequencies.

What do you carry with you and how? I have asked this question many times and through earlier project Where’s The Phone, which one of the main purpose was to understand the diversity, or rather, the concentration of the things people carry in modern times. The answer was fairly consistent, and throughout the research, we constantly saw the presence of mobile phones, cash, and keys.

The photo above I took in Sendai on March 11th. Mr. Ishii was kind enough and showed us what he carries and how. Mr. Ishii mentioned, that considering the chance of another large earthquake is still high, he has decided to change the way he dress and what he carry. He now wears a fashionable yet practical wind breaker which looks perfect for mountain climbing, where you should keep heat yet release your sweat.

He also mentioned that he has quite a few things strapped around his neck. What particularly caught my eye was a stylish and sleek whistle called Twin Wave (produced by Kokuyo S&T). This whistle, which costs about 4.5 euros, relatively expensive for a simple plastic, produces two different yet audible sound waves in one blow. The whistle is designed for anyone who is stuck underneath any collapsed construction upon large earthquakes. Other things he carried from his neck included a small book lamp that can be charged via USB stick. He also carried coins in the wallet: “With earthquakes, one of the first things that go down is electricity. And that means you cannot rely on credit cards for transactions, and we all need coins.”

Not everyone can change the way they dress and what they carry out and about, but what he did prompts us with a great question: What are the challenges we have faced upon large earthquakes and how can we be prepared? And what are the things you carry more, or perhaps less, than how things were before 3.11?

Date: November 29th, 2010
Cate: Insight, Photo of The Day

Warranty for the Fakes

A battery purchased in National Market, Bangalore. My intention of visiting the market was not about purchasing a battery, but end up so because they managed to find one. They went through hundreds of battery shapes, for various cameras and gadgets. All in a same packaging. Which suggested, the shop did not have a single authentic battery which I was supposed to use.

Whether you’d call them fake or illegitimate, we tend to think they are purchased at your own risk and there will be no chance for you to get your investment back. The reality is in fact otherwise, as most shops would give you a warranty of some kind, for a duration of few days or in some cases up to six months.

How would the purchase date and location will be recorded? Simply a shopkeeper jotting down the date of purchase along with a sign. As most shops run in a small booth and owners being there most of the time, this is sufficient for them to identify the information they need. As most markets would have several booths with same products lined up, satisfying customers are equally important for these shopkeepers as the ones which only deal with ‘real’ products.

The battery I purchased performed alright, enabling me to record a video clip for about an hour, instead of three to four hours I usually expect from the authentic battery. Nevertheless I was reasonably happy as I only paid about one-eighth of the original price. How much should a product perform for a price you pay is surprisingly reflective of the demand and supply logic.

Date: September 26th, 2010
Cate: Insight

Printer is new but the box is open. Don’t be mad.

I wonder how many people consider important that a newly purchased box would look new. I do feel that to some extent, I do enjoy the feel of opening a new box. Of course, that maybe because I am Japanese, as most people know, as a country of excessive wrapping culture.

As the research team had to purchase printers in two target cities, Chengdu and Shanghai, we had an opportunity to see how newly purchased electronics could arrive in your hands. In both cities, the box was opened. Most of the plastic wraps were removed, and we could see that someone had actually used it for once.

An opened and re-sealed box, is in fact, a sign that the electronics had been properly tested and both the shopkeeper and the customer had confirmed that it is moving properly. Just like when people handle with money: Instead of taking a risk of noticing the inaccurate amount of money delivered or malfunction of an electronics, consumers in China would prefer to rather have them checked on site.

Perhaps it may appear cumbersome and diminishing the fun to Japanese consumers, as crisp and new are the game they play; but when I see this practice, it also makes sense. Just like you will wear the clothes, people would make sure that the product actually works for you. Before getting back home to find the problem later. So do not be mad if your shopkeeper opens before you know it.

Date: September 25th, 2010
Cate: Insight, Photo of The Day

Safety alert and how to get away with it

Behold. This, is a buckle for a seat belt. Without, the belt part.

It happened on our way to the city center, as we arrived to Chengdu Airport. We took a car and one of our research staffs took the front seat. He was trying to find a way to buckle seat belt. (Mind you, quite a few people I know in China do not have a custom to wear seat belts. But our staff was from Shanghai, and probably have developed more urbanized habit than most of the people in the country.)

Then he realized, something has already occupied the spot of where he is supposed to buckle: there was this metal part inserted. Without the belt.

We were confused at that point, but it became so obvious once the driver took away the buckle out. Beep beep beep…subtle but loud enough to be disturbed. The taxi driver told us as if it’s nothing, that he purchased it a dollar or two.

What should we do when people do not have the custom of taking the safety measure which you consider to be useful? How can we design so that it would actually mean something rather than a beep that they need to shut it up by putting a meaningless piece of metal? The taxi in Chengdu is a fascinating reminder.

Date: June 23rd, 2010
Cate: Insight

Personalizing Your Door

During the previous research, we came across with one informant who lives in an apartment house which used to be a typical dormitory in Japan.

As I walked across the corridor, realized that every door for the individual room came with a small window. The glass was so old and not very transparent to indicate details, however, enabled light to go through so that others will be able to know someone’s presence in the room. As the dorm has been converted to an inexpensive shared house, these small windows are sealed, which gave us hints about the personality of the residents.

Date: June 21st, 2010
Cate: Insight
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Why Personalization Is Important

Japanese school girls going on their way back home. With most schools having strict rules on what to wear and what bags, shoes, and socks to wear, everyone in Japan learns quickly about putting mascots, charms, and trinkets on their belongings to distinguish items they own with others.

Date: May 15th, 2010
Cate: Insight
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Train Behavior Norms

How do you define an asocial behavior? Taking several seats and lying down can be considered ill-mannered, yet looking at how people place shoes differently, make you feel one is more well-mannered than the other.

How about this one? Another sleepy couple in Tokyo? In fact they were strangers. Typically when the train becomes empty and strangers are seated next to each other, the one who sits further from the corner stands up swiftly and change one’s seat to give more space to the one at the corner. However, this time the lady was too sleepy; She started to lean her heads on the young man instead of standing up and making any space. He seemed confused, but decided that he will just let go. For another few stations, she leaned to his shoulder until she realized it was her stop and left the train.

Living in a dense city is about creating your own comfort zone and letting others to have one. And although it is in a small level, it seems that people are practicing this in their everyday lives.

Date: May 13th, 2010
Cate: Culture, Insight
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Sugar for Tea?

The answer for the question in Japan for Japanese tea, would definitely be a no.

But here in China, the answer depends. Like here, in a home style, everyday use restaurant in Beijing, Chrysanthemum tea is served with sugar crystals. Although not every tea is served with sugar, it is certainly an optional flavor you can have.

This subtle difference in how tea are consumed make a huge difference in products. While ready-to-drink (RTD) tea will never come with sugar flavor in Japan, here in China, you will find both options for the same brand, sugared, and non-sugared. In fact, it is the one with the sugar which attracted the consumers more.

Both culture enjoys tea, but the final product can be in different taste.

Date: May 11th, 2010
Cate: Insight

The Internet Device for Japanese Children

Nikkei BP online released a survey results concerning the children’s Internet usage in March 2010. According to the release, the very first Internet device children own are:

  1. Nintendo DS, 62.9%
  2. Other game devices, 20%
  3. Play Station Portable, 6.9%
  4. Nintendo Wii, 5.1%

Mobile phone in fact comes as 5th, 4.1%. PC comes at the very last of this list as 6th, 0.7%.

While adults in Japan utilize the mobile phones excessively, from emails, browsers, mobile TVs, and e-wallets, the penetration of mobile phone used as an Internet device for children, is extremely low.

So when do children start owning mobile phones? According to the government’s survey in 2007, 31.3% of the primary school student (< age 12), 57.6% of of junior-high (up to age 15), and 96.0% of high-school students own one.

The primary reason for this low penetration of mobile Internet use is naturally the data cost. In many cases parents will pay for their phone bills and accessing online can be costly. Features like Wi-Fi is a feature yet associated with relatively new, smart phones, which will be too expensive to give away to their kids. Beyond that, the survey focuses on the ownership of the device, it fails to explain how much these devices are used to access online, and for what.

Game devices, they are simply the very first electronics that most kids own. Whether Nintendo DS or PSP, they both come with Wi-Fi feature by default. When I met quite children between ten and 14-years-old, they mentioned that they cannot recall anyone in the class without Nintendo DS. When they can name one, they always explained me the reason why: “His/Her parents are very strict, they are school teachers.” Somehow, children had good explanation why these kids did not have one.

When most start their portable gaming with DS, but as boys reach to the age of 10 or 11, some start to feel DS is not exciting enough: They want games to be more real, and in some cases, more violent. That is when they turn to PSP.

From what I gathered, children did not seem too enthusiastic about radio communication. It was quite a contrast, considering how adults went crazy last year with the classic Dragon Quest game, enabling passers-by to exchange virtual items on the street. Children do use radio communication, but from the way they have described, it was only an occasional and perpetual act: they spend far more time on their own fiddling with the game by him/herself, and they did not feel that they are so dedicated to wireless interaction.

I tend to forget, but children are very busy. Simply, they do not have time to see friends any more. Many children start preparing for the junior-high exams around the age of 11, and the ones they do not, tend to be engaged in football practices or ballet lessons, if not both. “I used to see my friends a lot more, now we just don’t have time.” The way they described sounded as it was one of the big changes in their life. By the age of 12, they are already looking back how things were when they were 10.

Turning back to the question on mobile phones, what is the situation? Mobile Internet has been publicly labeled as evil for youth. For a past decade or so, the very nature of personal device made children to access Internet behind parental control, which led some children to engage in accidents and crimes. One unfortunately common tragedy associated with mobile phones, is children committing suicide. Bullying others can be observed in many youth culture, but because these activities shifted from physical to virtual, it seems became even harder for teachers to spot before too late.

Although parental controls and filtering services took place, that did not appear sufficient to the government. Ministry of Education has officially announced that compulsory educational institutions forbid children to bring their mobile phones to school. Many schools individually set rules about what children should or should not bring to school, but mobile phone is the very first device the government itself has defined the rule. One city even have a slogan: “Do not possess, do not bring, do not let them bring.”, which follows the tone of the nation’s Three Non-Nuclear Principles.

If educational institutions kick out the technology, then it will eventually become individual household’s responsibility to discuss and think of how to use the technology. That seems like a challenge, as I encountered difficulties to follow what children spoke of during the research. I personally would hope to see something in line with this for a change: Here a history teacher in Massachusetts utilizes mobile phones for his class, the message seems quite different from the government here in Japan.

Date: May 3rd, 2010
Cate: Insight

Bilingual with Priority

When it concern the safety of children, warning signs are provided in multiple languages. The image above, from a slide placed in a playground in Tokyo, and below, from a public charging station in Beijing airport.