If you're not already, I strongly recommend reading Jan Chipchase's blog, or at least some of his articles. Jan is a field researcher who used to do work for Nokia, and now works for a company called Frog Design. His area of expertise is studying the way people use mobile phones in developing countries, and I'd wager that a lot of his insights over the past 15 or so years have made their way into the a lot of the Apps and phones we use today.
Some of his recent papers include:
This is an excellent look at the way local Afghani's are using new or different ways of transferring money amongst each other. As Jan writes, "Many people associate mobile banking with cities like London or New York, but it's potential impact is far greater in countries where there is limited access to fixed banking infrastructure." As a result, I think we're likely to see more innovative solutions and work arounds come from these places. His study was done by travelling throughout Afghanistan with a team of researchers and fixers to interview different types of people and agents who use or are involved in the various services of transferring money in the country. Although the report is from 2011, I think it's still highly relevant. Some of the trends (like mobile banking/money lending) are really only in their infancy both there and in more developed countries.
"If you're reading this there are some nuances I'm guessing you haven't truly absorbed: as the global economic centre of gravity continues to shift towards China++ many of the multi-national companies that put products on your shelves will increasingly be designing for China 1st, they'll increasingly design out of China; and will increasingly be led by and draw from a pool of highly skilled highly experienced Chinese talent whose design sensibilities appeal to a global consumer base, but which is also ground in and for 'China'….In the next decade we're going see new hybrid products/services that have a global impact on the scale of the mobile phone an nascent social networking social services, but created, designed and manufactured in China, whose primary market is Chinese, that couldn't have been made anywhere else and for whom the Rest of the World is a marketing afterthought," Jan writes as part of the background for this document.
Not content with simply studying the industrial and money transferring economy in China, Jan wanted to be actively involved in it so he set up a bit of a design experiment for himself.
In this report, Jan outlines the steps he took to conduct a design experiment that he developed. The rules he set out for himself were that 1.) It must engage people from across China 2.) Every Chinese person must be able to recognize the final thing that is made 3.) None of the people taking part should understand what is being made, until the exact moment that it is made 4.) Only Chinese people and services can be used. 5.) That the experiment goal and process is reviewed after each step 6.) The process must be transparent in-so-far as it doesn't compromise rule three.
I don't want to spoil much about the project, but is well worth the read both for a greater understanding of China, but also for the very hands-on and experimental approach Jan takes to learning more about an area both he and his clients are interested in.
One of the things I find most inspiring about Jan's work is that he does research by embedding himself in whatever community it is he is looking at, truly understanding how the native users actually interact with each other and technology.
It's a lesson advertisers can learn. While a lot of the research we do and get in advertising is great, I think it still comes from a place where we're looking at the topics and subjects of advertisers. We shouldn't be looking at what some of the bigger brands and companies are doing that are innovative. We need to be looking more at people and communities, and how they interact and how they don't interact. That's where we'll great insights find success.