Category Archives: India

delhi train station

Standby affordance

A change in the plan of the fieldwork trip – we decided to take the train from Delhi to Bareilly. My suitcase was obviously a wrong form of luggage in the jam-packed Delhi train station on Sunday. We could not even dare to find the platform through the wall of people. A ‘coolie’ was found and I knew it from the moment I saw him that he was our savier for the journey: He not only carried our bags in 40+ degree temperature, but also made space for us to move forward, and guided us to find the platform and the right compartment. I could barely keep up the pace with him to follow. Without him, I am sure our 30-min spare time till the departure would have been a futile struggle.

Delhi train station

delhi train station

delhi train station

delhi train station

When we got near the train, it was even more difficult to move. There was a long queue of people waiting indefinitely to get into the 2nd class compartments. It was first-come, first-serve basis, so they had no idea whether they could possibly get in or not. When the train finally started to move my mind was racing through the indecisive emotion wave of relief, discomfort and pity – looking at the solid human line of those who were waiting patiently in standstill without the success of getting in.

delhi train station

delhi train station

indian train

delhi train station

indian train

What I found out later was that even for 1st class where passengers are given pre-assigned seats, if you are on waiting list, you have to wait at the station. Because there is no way for anyone or any online system to know which seats would actually be available in the train until the physical train arrives. The reserved seat passenger names are listed on a printout outside each compartment. The fact that you could make reservation online didn’t mean much unless you get the confirmed seats at the time of reservation. As there is no obligation to buy the ticket before the train leaves, people have the mentality of just booking the train first anyway. Cancellation fee is too small to make people cancel the reservation they no longer need. So everyone has to wait at the station if you want to travel. If the train gets late, the station officers would tell you ‘its coming in 5 minutes’. After hearing the ‘5 minutes’ answer for about 10 times and the actual waiting time of 2 hours, your romantic image associated with the train journey starts to diminish dramatically. ‘In 5 min’ in India is highly metaphorical. It is a lip service of the person who is in the position to answer you despite the uncertainty of the situation, or the lack of information source available to that person. Alternatively ‘In 5 min’ is an answer simply used by the person who has no sense of time or empathy to understand the urgency you are faced with. I often feel that I am silently mocked by those who watch me get frustrated with delays: “What’s the hurry? You can just watch the world goes by, like me.” I am learning to live with IST (Indian Standard Time) for my mental health.

indian train

What I also found out furthermore was that there is an exception to this reservation system. Our ‘luxury’ 1st class compartment had four full passengers to begin with. After a few stations, a family of 6 turned up, guided by a gunned guard in the train. According to the translation, the man heading the group told us in Hindi: “Make space for us”. He or any of his companions obviously did not say ‘sorry’ or ‘thank you’ for accommodating his family and himself, making the 4-person compartment a 10-person discomfort zone. All Indian passengers fell silent after they got on board. The compartment was only filled with two men’s loud voices of phone calls and conversations. When the baby of the family started to cry, the same guard came over, took the baby in his available arm that was not holding the gun and left.

Implications of dysfunctional infrastructure are multifold. The important question is whether the society and those who are in power both have shared motivations to improve it. Habits and everyday behaviors that people have become used to and take for granted are most difficult to change.

Saibaba on the window

you are not alone

Drivers in India – at least for commercial vehicles – are rarely alone in the car. There is always a companion or more in some form near the driving seat.

Saibaba on the window

An airport bus driving seat at Delhi airport with Saibaba’s face on the window.

pleasure principle

This rural neighborhood, Horsu, in Tamil Nadu near Bangalore has seen a growing number of green houses for flowers. As the city provides relatively constant consumption of flowers, they make a relatively low-risk yet high-margin business.

The wise farmer we talked to said: “It will be the mobile entertainment service that farmers will adopt first. Why do you think flower farming makes a good business?”

new home in bangalore, india

I took on a new job to lead a research team since the beginning of this year. Along with it I moved to a new homebase, a city often referred to as ‘silicon valley of India’, or formerly as ‘garden city of India’. Compared to any other places I had taken on as my home city, moving to Bangalore seems to trigger varied reactions from people – with stronger emotional undertone. To me, to live in a place is to understand, experiencing the culture rather than being an observer.

For those of you who want to share my experience in Bangalore, I have several open positions in my team: exploratory user researcher, HCI researcher, and a couple of technical positions for developing prototypes, visualization and computational models.

The exploratory user researcher position requires you to speak the local language, as we do a lot of hands-on fieldwork within India. I am also looking for talented designers for internship or short-term contract positions. If you think you are a good match for this young & growing research team and are up for the opportunity to live in Bangalore, drop me a note with your CV, along with your motivation.

If you are interested in technical positions, job ads are found here and you can apply directly through the site. Use the following job number to search for them: SWA0000000F (super prototype developer) / ARC0000001Y (data modeling & visualization) / DES00000020 (HCI researcher). Kindly be pre-warned that using this site may require a lot of patience from you, unfortunately.

design for behavioral changes

Posters and drawings on the walls of primary health centers in India. If you want to get an idea of the seriousness of the matter to educate and treat the local population, you can have a look at the comparison of top 10 causes of death between the developed and developing countries.

Can you design a poster so convincing that the beholder would change the attitude, or get motivated for proper treament or prevention? I am no graphic designer, but this presents a good challenge for those of you who are.

on a different note: my new team, Nokia Research Center India worked on a mobile service pilot called Health Radar, a reporting system for malaria outbreaks in 2009. this is no graphic design work, but it dealt with how we can change the existing practices of information dissemination and assimilation. changing the existing and forming new habits are the most challenging part of making the new practice work, which is to happen to various people involved throughout the whole process. in the next decade or so we hope to see the top 10 causes of death list in the developing countries will see a dramatic change.

maternity booklet cover

born blessed

maternity booklet cover

maternity booklet, main info keeping page

A good maternity care is the foundation of a healthy society. While traditional wisdom still prevails in communities with little influence of modern technology and services, it does not always offer the best possible solutions available.

One of the challenges that primary health centers (PHC) in rural India are facing is to make people be aware and trust the medical services that they provide. Offering a substantial amount of cash & a maternity package (pictured below, containing all the basic goods needed for a new born baby) to give birth in the PHC is an exemplary effort to attract such population to the advanced medical service.

maternity kit given to BPL (below poverty line) family giving birth at PHC

I have experienced maternity indirectly through people around me. But not much when it comes to the real realm of parental responsibilities. In January, I had a chance to visit government-run health centers in Udupi district in South West India. As an unexpected byproduct of the visit, I learned a great deal about maternity healthcare.
The printed material for the maternity care fascinated me (to be honest, I don’t know what material is available in other countries). This government issued maternity education and record keeping material design is very visual so that literacy level does not matter much in using it. In any case, all the materials come available in the local language of the region.

portable record card for maternity care

portable record card for maternity care

The record for vaccination needs to be kept by the family for at least 5 years, depite it being just a mere piece of paper. It acts both as a record keeping tool as well as reminder for the future visits or activities.

Field workers, called asha (accredited social health activist) are vital for rural healthcare in India. While the majority of population lacks an official identity, these field workers walk the ground on foot, visiting house to house for families that they are responsible for and get all the needed information manually to update the records back in the office. They are also the mobile networks to disseminate information, mediate communications, and educate residents on health. Tey are the mobile healthcare enablers, where both families’ and doctors’ mobility is compromised due to the lack of vehicles, roads, or time. Above all, they are the human and humane keys to open the suspecting hearts to the potentials of modernized, unfamiliar services.

If you look at the whole of healthcare as a service, you will see a lot of parts that can be improved dramatically by implementing technology solutions replacing the existing roles of people’s manual work. More often than not, service designers should really try to foresee whether the partial replacements would become a sustainable part of the whole organic process.

A bigger part of the total cost of implementation in getting technology solutions into existing processes is often about changing the human practices after all, ranging from re-training staffs and users, to political and social policies. How will roles of asha’s change in the coming years? What would be the crux of their role that would remain stronger than before? Where should the first investment of changes be?

record keeping card designs

population registry book, indicating BPL (below poverty line) beneficiary

I deeply thank doctors at the primary health centers, who opened the doors for us and took their valuable time. And the Manipal University staffs who kindly guided us.

(branded) warning

what do you see in this product?
it is a tobacco package you can see all around India, usually sold in street stalls specializing in all things around smoking and chewing (and subsequently spitting) pleasures of men. i thought all cigarettes were branded with a scorpion logo and hence monopoly might be in place for cigarettes in India.

as you can see on other products – the scorpion logo is not a branding of any particular company, but it is a symbol used for health warning. having been born and living in scorpion-free countries, the logo does not communicate any danger – except the faint memory from reading fairy tales and myths.

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)

 

delegation & decoration

at an indian wedding, one of many activities that kept the bride busy was answering mobile phone calls from those who could not attend the wedding. several mobile phones were passed onto her ears from others as well as her own since some remote callers were considerate enough to call other relatives attending the ceremony that they knew, sparing the bride from dealing with constantly ringing phones and carrying the phone without any pockets on the traditional wedding costume.

indian wedding, bride

from mumbai, india, 2007.

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.