Category Archives: ghana

Behaviour-shaping public signs

Public signs are good indicators of the prevalent behaviours, concerns, or ideal norms in the society. Here are a small collection of such public signs collected randomly during my travels in Japan, South Korea, Thailand, Switzerland, India, China, Ghana, Vietnam, Denmark, and UK. I compiled these photos for THEME magazine article in 2008 (unfortunately the magazine is no longer in publication).

A few public signs are culturally unique. Most of them demonstrate the nuances of the expected norms of the public behaviours. One of my pet interests to write and dig more about in the future.

Use of Multiple Mobile Phone Numbers (part 2)

Continued from part 1….

There are several tactics to use multiple phone numbers. Four notable solutions are listed here – please keep in mind that at the time of this research (2007), there was only very few mobile phone models that had the dual SIM feature.

Solution 1. Carrying two or more SIM cards but only one mobile
Not everyone can afford to buy multiple phones, or wants to carry two mobile phones with them all the time. The extra SIM card is carried in a safe place such as inside wallet or inside the battery cover of the phone, which makes an intuitive storage for switching the cards. Some people who go for this solution are typically well aware of call divert function as it allows receiving calls from both numbers even though there is only one active number to make calls at a time.

Solution 2. Multiple phones – A phone per number
In markets where users do not have separate SIM cards, this is the only solution for the user to get multiple phone numbers – while in GSM markets it is a matter of users’ preference and affordability. Users may maintain separate phone book on each of the phones – sometimes intentionally (refer to 1. lowering the cost of communication), sometimes because they do not have the option of easily synchronize them. When affordability is not an issue, physically separating the phone per number provides the greater control over managing the multiple points of contacts.

Solution 3. Mobile phone with multiple SIM card slots
At the time of research, there were very few multiple SIM phones in the market from the known brands. However we observed a few Shanzai phones featuring dual SIM. Obviously after 4 years, this feature has become a de facto requirement for a mobile phone. There are numerous new mobile phone brands popping up in India, and invariably all their products feature dual SIM, sometimes triple SIM functionality.

Indian mobile phone brands’ ads: Most phones have the dual SIM feature

Solution 4. Stitching up multiple SIM cards into one
We found a service offered by a local mobile phone dealer (Mobile Phone People, one of the Nokia authorized dealers) in Ghana. It costs 15 euros to have the two SIM cards combined into one. There is an even more advanced operation, which requires a special SIM card imported from Finland. This card can host up to 16 SIM cards into one, but costs 40 euroes. Either of these operations costs considerably high for the market, as it is more than purchasing a mobile phone. Therefore the clientele is mostly business people who do need to have two or more numbers but do not want to go through the inconvenience of switching SIM cards or carrying multiple phones.

Interviewing the engineer who was working at this service center mentioned that this technology is from Finland, but cannot tell more about its source as it is a business secret. He was proud to say that he was the first one who got trained for this operation in Ghana, and subsequently he trained others working currently in the shop. The way this operation worked was brilliant at the short sight, but obviously I suspect that it may have the legal issues in terms of manipulating the network SIM card directly. 4 years down the road, I don’t see this service booming in the market.

User’s two SIM cards are punched out and combined into one new card

A special chip can host up to 16 SIM cards into one, at high cost of €40

Application to control the stiched SIM card settings. Works with any phone.

I haven’t had a chance yet to study how people actually manage multiple phone numbers – the multiple identities on their dual SIM phones. If the mobile usage goes beyond the voice calls, it will definitely require design considerations in various parts of the mobile phone applications, as it no longer is going to be an issue of cost management, but identity management. Technologically and as a matter of market availability, owning multiple mobile phone numbers is now very easy. But its potential and implications is largely unexplored beyond the manufacturing of physical hardware.

Acknowledgment of the project team: Ti el Attar, Jan Chipchase, Fumiko Ichikawa, Indri Tulusan and local collaborators

Use of Multiple Mobile Phone Numbers (part 1)

2 SIM cards with chips punched out to make one integrated SIM card, Accra, Ghana, 2007

I recently visited a shanzai phone market in Shenzhen, China. Due to its proximity to the main production hub of mobile phones of all brands and manufacturers, it is a true showcase of all kinds of mobiles you ever imagined to exist. As with the timing, there were a lot of design copy products of Nokia’s recent model N8. On one visit to the market, I saw several versions of N8 design copies, with very different feature sets – which was a trend I did not witness when I visited the shanzai market in Chengdu a few years ago.

Various fake copies of Nokia N8 in Shenzhen shanzai phone market

The copies of N8 can be categorized as:
– Dual SIM with TV functionality
– Copy close to the real product
– Various chipset (price tag changes according to the CPU speed)

It is interesting to note the competition space even within fake phones of the same product. While these ‘enhanced’ unique selling points may be just a gimmick, you might also think that there is some level of genius in those features reflecting the market norms.

Fake N8 with the antenna out stresses that it has the TV functionality.
Shanzai phone market, Shenzhen, China, 2010

There are numerous mobile phone models designed to take more than one SIM card. Most of fake mobile phones or lesser-known brand names in the market now has the dual SIM feature as if it is as essential as having the mobile network radio itself. In fact, it is one of the big yet stealth changes in the basic feature set of mobile phones in the last 4 years – especially among the lesser-known brands, low-end of the price tags, and shanzai markets. Despite the popularity surrounding us in several large mobile phone markets including India, China and African countries – I have seen few buzz on the ‘dual SIM’ phenomenon. Thereby I put together a brief post, digging information from an internal research report I wrote for my employer in 2007.

Having multiple mobile phone numbers may be seen as an anti-trend when the mobile phone number portability is increasing becoming a part of the basic civil rights in several countries. But for the time being, the following circumstances drive people to use more than one mobile phone numbers:

1. Lowering the cost of communication
Many mobile network operators offer cheaper rates for inter-network calls, especially in markets where competition among network operators is high. Highly cost-conscious consumers naturally get multiple numbers for cheaper calls. While it may not take too much effort to acquire the new number itself, this comes at a cost of efforts and skill: Remembering, or identifying who in your social network has the number belonging to a specific network operator. People develop a tactic, such as indicating the network operator in the name stored on the phonebook. This is not an exclusive behavior only for the developing economies, however. When the 3G network was newly introduced in Japan several years ago, many Japanese consumers also owned two numbers, one from 3G for cheaper messaging & data connection, another from existing network for cheaper voice calls.

An ideal mobile phone idea hosting 4 SIM cards,
as ‘operators’ rates vary and everyone has more than one SIM card in his community’,
Camp Buduburam – Liberian refugee camp, Ghana, 2007

In the street surveys done in 2007 as part of our research project, the following percentage of users surveyed had two or more mobile phone numbers:
– Accra, Ghana (n=309): 30%
– Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (n=230): 28%
– Chongqing, China (n=150): 9%
– Mumbai, India (n=165): 16%

Considering the fast changing nature of the mobile market, this number probably have changed significantly especially with new players joining in the market.

2. Controlling points of contacts
Another motivation to have more than one number is for the user to control how one is contacted and contactable. Naturally users typically have a strategy on handing out the right number to the right person for future contactability. Our research participants most commonly report separating private and business contacts by having separate numbers. Being able to switch one number completely offline is a way of switching the mental mode, such as “I am turning my work phone off as I am not working anymore”. Small business owners and those who deal with a large number of people can identify the type of contacts easily by differentiating which phone number they use. One Chinese electronic shop owner gave out one of his mobile phone number for his best customers, ensuring that he is always reachable for them. The ease of having another mobile phone number also provides the exclusive communication channel for some, like those in early or secret relationships.

3. Ensuring reliable connectivity
Unreliable network availability or unavailability of the particular network in the area where you live or work may drive users to be ready with multiple numbers from different network operators. In Ghana, people had the perception that the quality of the connection can not be ensured with one network alone hence multiple numbers were essential to prevent disrupted communication. For many prepaid mobile subscribers, having multiple phone numbers means that user can minimize the risk of getting disconnected because of running out of prepaid credit in critical situation.

To be continued in part 2 of the post….

exploring an exploratory design research method: nokia open studio

for readers looking for light musings like this, or this, i would like to mention that this is no toilet talk. while i try not to make it a habit to write about my professional work here, i feel that i owe an explanation to those who listened to a few conference talks i gave this year. being non-native english speaker, crowd-shy and nerdy designer/researcher, i always struggle with telling stories in the typical 15-20 min talk time in conferences. so here comes a 24-page paper reflecting on nokia open studio as design research method.
my eloquent and diligent co-author, jan chipchase, who has a knack in publishing has uploaded a presentation version in slideshare, which is linked below.

Entry from Dharavi, Mumbai

nokia open studio was a community design competition with the theme of ‘design your ideal mobile phone’, hosted in 3 communities of Dharavi (Mumbai, India), Favela Jacarezinho (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), and Buduburam (Accra, Ghana). it’s a method that we have been developing through several projects over years. my pursuit is to find a way to meaningfully engage and understand people in the design research phase when the research topic does not provide coherent anchor points to real-world behaviors. that’s why we call this work exploratory design research: often starting with a guiding theme but not knowing the full extent of what we will learn and discover.

entry from favela jacarezinho

working for creating something that is about far into the future is similar to finding pearls in the sand, except the fact that you will be responsible to find the sand grain that may turn into a pearl in the future of different shape and quality. ethnographic research methods guide the design research phase for innovation as far as creating opportunities through which we can understand the present living and underlying motivations behind why people behave the way they do. but it often does not let us see beyond the barriers of the present living: people who are not using technology not because they do not need it but because they cannot afford it; people who do not have time or social network to introduce them to new tools. through open studios, we wanted to lift these barriers and understand how people see the relevance of technology in their lives, sometimes for the future, sometimes in relation to what is lacking today. it is not a marketing tool, and it is not a tool to hunt ideas to implement in products directly. but it is a tool that supports our thinking and projection about the future. open studio is also a way to bring the very raw voices of people in the corporate context, which may function as a stopping sign for technology driven industry’s eternal hunt for the new. and as designer/researcher on the ground, it has been an effective tool that taught me how little we know, how creative people can be, how to be aware of our own intellectual arrogance, and how not to be presumptuous.

entry from Buduburam, Ghana

i would recommend to read the paper only if you are interested in design research method, how diverse people’s perception towards mobile phones are, or believe that mobile technology is all about more mega-pixels, better screens, and thin/small/miracle sizes.

> download the report (PDF, 9.7mb)
> business week hosts a slideset of a selection of entries
> my first conference talk on open studio at LIFT 2008 in Geneva

> please note that text in the slideshare below will be readable only in full screen mode.

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: mobile phone)

 

embedded tool

i came across several people who grew one or two nails very long for a specific purpose – and mostly they were men. its a good contrast to those who grow long fingernails, or extend their fingernails in a way that they are banned for utilitarian purposes.

he was a tailor living in dharavi/mumbai/india and he uses his long finger nail to make the crease on clothes.

indian tailor

david who works at a mobile phone repair shop in accra/ghana had a long finger nail to handle small mobile phone parts and circuits.

ghanaian mobile phone repair man

a student studying computer science in accra, he likes to have long finger nails because he likes the way he looks. there should be more than one so that he can use them to keep his finger nails clean on both hands.

ghanaian student

i usually keep my nails long enough to protect my fingertips. i had two broken nails this week packing boxes, and its unbelievably bothersome. nails are a usefully embedded tool enhancing the performance of the most dexterous part of my body except: using touch screen devices. i had the strange feeling of rejection – almost temporary resentment – when i couldn’t type on iphone as it didnt acknowledge my touch as a touch.

NYT: Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?

i am in the middle of the mess for moving to london end of the month, but felt obliged to log this article here with a little bit of recollection of the past year’s work.

last year, we hosted a journalist, sara corbett in our fieldwork in accra, ghana. her experience with us introduced the backbone of her article featured in new york times magazine, told through our darling media embassador & my long-time colleague/ team mate/ tokyo office neighbor/ personal financial advisor, jan.

perhaps overly self-conscious at the fact that i work for a mobile phone manufacturer, i rarely use the word ‘cell phone’: especially when i have to refer to something that will be available in the future that will change using our natural ability in new yet relevant ways. be it a cell phone or not, it’s not really relevant – its about what kind of personal and social technology and services will be feasible and possible and easy to adopt.

are you fancying about becoming design researcher yourself? while i eagerly wait for a more formal opportunity to talk about our research in the future, here’s a quick & random recollection of my personal experience in our last year’s project, future urban, in four cities of chongqing (china), mumbai (india), rio (brazil) and accra (ghana).

chongqing was our pilot city for the project, so we spent more time in ad-hoc interviews, which means going out with a local translator to a part of the city and informally interacting with locals. chongqing is a very fast changing, industrial city. it is very common to see the site of demolition right next to the brand new buildings and commercial centers.

chongqing old/new

sometimes my local guide was reluctant to go to certain areas that i boldly, or blindly wanted to go as he was concerned about my safety. some houses we were eventually invited to were expected to be demolished in a few months – we could actually feel the vulnerable state of the house.

informal storage solutions

this is a kitchen in a temporary apartment for the demolition manager of a building. he and his wife lived in one apartment in a building that he was in charge of demolishing. being a nomad myself, i often think about minimizing my physical possessions by digitizing what could be in plastic or on paper. having their home in the country side, and moving from one building to another based on the job, they optimized their furniture by employing a much lighter alternative: plastic bags. it took curiosity and patience for us to encounter this couple, as the whole building site looked totally deserted and the demolition was half way through.

minimal living+dining

the same couple’s kitchen/dining table – the compact set of home electronics would probably fit into a suitcase. how minimal and mobile can our life be?

thanks to the project schedule, we arrived in mumbai in the middle of the monsoon season. it had taken all of us several visits to the medical clinic in tokyo for the due vaccination shots and emergency medicines.

walking on the (flooded sewage) water

can you imagine saying that dettol is your best friend? for those two weeks, i did feel very grateful at the invention of the antiseptic medicine. the regular flooding of the sewage water on the streets of dharavi however became one of the most memorable experiences in my entire trip. but it was heart-breaking to see the house getting flooded that belonged to one of potential research participants.

dharavi guesthouse

we stayed in a guesthouse right at the border of the dharavi community. while it was a small guesthouse, the prolific human service in india still made room service as an option. being able to enjoy the local breakfast is a blessing in the fieldwork. i don’t really have any staple food – not even coffee – so i thoroughly enjoy sampling all kinds of new food in the city or the community i visit.

dharavi guesthouse toilet

but of course liking the local food may have its high price. luckily i only spent one night of talking to the big whilte telephone during my stay, with company of earth worms and cockroaches casually making their ways around the bathroom floor.

early morning

one of my interviews was scheduled at 3:30am in the family’s home as that was when the interviewee started his day. finding the family’s house in the dark through the maze of small streets would not have been possible without our mobile phones. one of my two local translators fell asleep on the interviewee’s bed at the abnormal working hour while the interview was ongoing, and i panicked at the lack of her professionalism. but quickly realized that for the host family, she was a guest to be taken care of.

breakfast

i had my best indian food at our research participants’ homes. a pleasurable dilemma when you know that you won’t be able to go to toilet for at least half a day while you are on the job.

in favela jacarezinho in rio, we had a chance to discuss about our way of working most seriously & thoroughly.

favela jacarezinho football field

while the camera accessibility was an issue, we were lucky enough to have MC Serginho as our community guide, thanks to our local team. Mr. Serginho was truly proud of and in love with his community.

favela jacarezinho 'gato'

this is a picture of what’s called ‘gato’ in portugese. basically it is illegally drawn electricity cables. one of the challenges we often faced in our interviews was talking about illegal behaviors that are acknowledged and done widely or just by a few. it takes a great deal of trust for someone to be able to talk about it. sometimes i do wonder if how our questions would have worked in super-digital generations where the weight and the flow of information and hence the implications of the information disclosure is very different. i had my utmost interviewing skill tested in an interview with a professional sex worker lady in a public place in copacabana. a good reminder of the fact that the effect of who you are cannot be ignored in the fieldwork, as with many other things in our lives: i had the benefit of being a woman myself in the interview. likewise i didnt have a chance to interview any male participant myself in india.

after gone through electricity cuts, polluted air, flooding, security precautions, buduburam and accra in ghana were a comfortable breeze for the fieldwork. english being one of the spoken languages helped a lot as well, even though the common usage of multiple tribal languages complicated the research team planning.

buduburam toilet

i had a night of home-stay in buduburam camp. i stayed in an elegantly decorated lady’s room with the luxury of a toilet in the room. with water supply completely manual, i had gone through the experience of planning my water consumption so that i wouldn’t exhaust all the water supply just to flush the toilet.

buduburam - sachet buying, grains

many effective sales units defy the industrial packages in the community. grains are probably a natural one. more rare selling units included soaps and detergents, and empty bottles of different sizes for lamp oils.

buduburam - sachet buying, soaps

oil selling units

a good sign of beginning to learn about the new culture is to grasp, or to wonder about the relative value of goods and services. and naturally this often constitutes a good part of our interview questions.

back to packing & pondering upon simplifying life & mobility prior to moving to another continent now. more later, hopefully.

proof of freshness

at a casual restaurant in accra, customers order first which items they want on their plates. the prepared plates get these white caps till they are finally handed to the paid customers.

accra restaurant

at a korean restaurant in shanghai, all tables are set with plates and cutlery covered till customers are seated on the table.

a korean restaurant, shanghai

at a restaurant in tokyo (tokatsu tonki in meguro), toothpicks are covered with a clear glass.

bottle caps

at a street cafe in accra, bottled drinks are served with half-open bottle caps.

bottle  caps

some of these are for practical reasons, some more symbolic to show their service mentality. i do get my tiny moments of happiness when i can sense that someone has thought through how the customer would feel about their service and the food.

on a slight tangent, i cant help thinking about various possible seals on digital information, for instance – ‘freshness – from within 1 day’, ‘authenticity’, or ‘exclusivity’. in the late 90’s of the internet age, reputation and social recommendation systems were a big topic (or at least around T.J.Watson research center where I worked as a student). internet is a social place & inherently everything’s centered/centering around people behind, but i believe we are reaching an era in which some parts of the society will demand digital information identity as much as humans’ that does not get subjected to the democracy of people’s behaviors and subjective opinions.