Category Archives: tokyo

(it will be) one of us

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How would you feel robots walking casually on the street? What would be your first implant / code / tag on your body for? What if a pat on the shoulder is much more than a mere physical gesture? Get your opinion ready now to recall it in the future when you will be such a natural part of it that you won’t even notice.

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Tokyo anime fair, 2008. I loved the astro boy who walked by.

phone booth

Have you used a public phone booth with a door for purposes other than using the public phone? It is used as a shelter from a sudden rain, using mobile phones inside, changing clothes, rearranging the bag, or even crying for a while if you must, though being inside a phone booth proper is becoming a faded memory for many. With mobile phones, choosing the physical environment in which we make a call is often up to us. In the early phase of adoption of public phones, phone booths were advertised as essential tool for privacy, making the caller feel more comfortable. Now, some places force mobile phone users to use the phone booth for the comfort of others around the caller.

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In any case, I reckon that designing a phone booth is a challenging task, satisfying the need for privacy as a comfort zone for a voice call (regardless of whose comfort that is) while minimizing the opportunity for exploitation and valdalism by making it too private and comfortable at the same time. With the vast diversity of the telecommunication culture, I always feel that the design of the surviving phone booths still communicates the attitude of the space that they reside in.

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This booth, in front of Meguro station in Tokyo, has semi-ransparent brown walls. It is complete with emergency numbers and a printed phonebook. On the door is a sticker that bears a warning to those attempting to place pinkupira*, issued by the police.
* pinkupira: the kind of advertisements you would find in London’s landmark phonebooths, like this – though it seems to have become significantly less as sexual advertisement became illegal in 2001 in UK.

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This is from London’s old street tube station. With space constraints and the heavy traffic of people, these public phones do not resonate with the concept of comfort or privacy, but serve the necessity of anyone who needs to reach out to someone quickly and efficiently (especially tourists, nowadays).

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This phone booth design in Paris seemed fairly new, very spacious inside and totally transparent.

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These pictures were taken in New Molden, Surrey – London’s suburbia. I never saw anyone using the email / text function in public phone. Booths for silent communication – through keyboards, gestures, screens, would probably require a whole new set of design brief.

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The classic London phone booths, in Smithfield market.

the value of collectors

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Pictured is the sea urchin ice cream that I happily tried in Namja town in Ikebukuro, Tokyo. The ice cream world features more than 300 kinds of ice cream from all over Japan. Although traveling has become cheaper and easier for new experience seekers, it still has the attraction to be able to sample authentic things that you didn’t know about, or common things brought from somewhere that is unfamiliar to you.

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The set up may look cheesy, but it is difficult to dismiss the effort of establishing a venue like this. It feels like being in the ultimate training program to become a wise consumer (or whichever type you want to be), dealing with more choices than you would ever imagine or need in everyday life.

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Namja town is run by Namco, but there are a lot of food experience events along with the detective games using cat dolls with RFID implants. When I visited, the cheese cake fair was on; it seems the chocolate expo is on till march 2009. Ramen and gyoja streets are run all time around.

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If you are interested in a little bit of the urban history, Sunshine city that hosts Namja town itself may be worth visiting with planetarium, acquarium, and observatory on its top floor, reminiscent of its 80’s glory of being one of the tallest buildings in Tokyo and the first generation of all-in-one entertainment facilities for all age groups. The ultimate function of Sunshine city in the context of the mega urban city is not too far from love hotels.

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displaced/fabricated nature

plants growing in tokyo metro station

plants growing in tokyo metro station

Living close to the nature is a privilege in many parts of the world. It is more so as cities become increasingly densely populated and expand. I grew up in a very human-constructed environment of South Korea’s former industrial hub, Busan, South Korea. Naturally, facing or getting too intimate with the real nature has always been a special, rare occasion to me. On the other hand I am very much familiar with the idea of miniaturized, sanitized, fake nature in the industrialized, completely made-up environment, simulating and sampling the idea of nature rather than providing the real experience of it [think a fake snow field in a department store window decoration rather than the deceivingly real artificial beach in Odaiba, Tokyo, Japan]. In doing so, we often mimic parts of the nature that takes minimal effort to maintain and is pleasing to our senses without unpleasant consequences.

a cafe in an underground passage in tokyo, japan

a cafe in an underground passage in tokyo, japan

In Seoul’s smaller city airport, Gimpo, there’s a airy lounge area that looks like a garden. Perhaps it is the obvious contradiction that makes it more charming, or acceptable, depending on where you are coming from. As a city child I didn’t even notice the ubiquity of mimicked nature until I came back to Korea after living in other countries. They are sometimes cute, but more often than not, can be repulsive, cheap, and horrifying. Like most animal cages in the zoo are simply sad to look at.

lounge area in gimpo airport, seoul, south korea

lounge area in gimpo airport, seoul, south korea

 

gimpo airport lounge, seoul, south korea

lounge area in gimpo airport, seoul, south korea

As depicted by numerous well-known science fictions, we will soon see the day when it is no longer interior decorator’s musings to create the artificial parts of the nature, as they may be required for the purpose of making people familiarized with the concept.

As a side story – in a Japanese manga series called ‘Five Star Stories’, the humanoid girls ‘Fatima’ who are specifically created for controlling the war robots are described. Their skin can only accommodate clothes made of real cotton, which in itself is an extreme luxury at the time. I was reminded of the story when I was shopping in India looking for a traditional cotton lungi in a local neighborhood: I tried almost 10 shops, and none of them had a single lungi made of pure cotton as it was too expensive.

credibility, at a glance?

how long do you give to form your perception and opinion upon encountering something you are not familiar with? how easy do you think you are influenced by the first impression when you make a decision to try a new service? what cues do you rely on to make your preliminary judgment on the assumed quality of the product or service?

asian buffet sign, stockholm

this gentleman was standing on the street of stockholm holding a sign for an asian restaurant. it reminds me of the joke among my finnish colleagues about having me standing behind the ‘oriental wok’ section of our office canteen in helsinki to make it look more credible.

waxing/tanning/nails sign in London

when does it become important for the service provider to enforce the positive association in promoting their offering? the waxing/tanning/nail salon sign is obviously held by a guy who look like he would never want such a service in oxford street, london. but the sign is held high up to make it visible in the distance even when the street is bustling with people, which may screen him from being seen.

poster of a local government election candidate in tokyo holding a baby

sometimes the association may not have any logical alignment with a specific feature of the service being promoted. above is a poster for the local government election campaign in tokyo earlier this year. this candidate’s slogan holding a baby is “policy driven by residents”.

tokyo anime fair 2008

as a side thought:
any relationship between keroro and the ladies in tokyo anime fair 2008? i always wondered about the effect of having beautiful people around the product. it certainly seemed to attract more human photographers for keroro in this occasion.

gradual dissemination: the usefulness of touch

going through some of my old photos, i noticed how SUICA system, initially rolled out as a public transportation card replacing paper tickets using nfc (near field communication) technology has been gradually introduced in japan.

the copy on the ad above is translated something in the line of “fun transformation of your mobile phone” (photo taken in april 2008).

around march 2006 when this picture was taken, i saw lots of advertisements and posters featuring this penguin character representing suica. all focused on the concept of how suica can be used to pay for the tickets, make small payments at shops instead of cash, and touch interface. for instance, this little penguin character would appear in the tv commercials accompanying a lady traveling alone passing through ticket gates with her, and drinking beer with her at a bar. it was going everywhere with the owner. the penguin also enjoyed the stardom through lots of character goods produced around it – flush toys, key chains, hats, whatever you can imagine.

suica is one of the brand names in japan that does more or less the same thing or using the same technology (like UK’s Oyster card)- which is essentially a cash top-up card. with japan rail behind it, suica had the power to educate the mass about the new interaction method as the benefits were quite clear: no need for queuing to get tickets, less hassle in passing through the crowded ticket gates, fewer reasons to carry coins. the clear benefit primarily as transportation tickets supported the mass adoption as well – though we are still talking about several years. the maturity of adoption brought a few variants as well: registration is now possible so that you can get your money back even though the card is lost; you can link it to your credit card so that it can be automatically charged once the balance goes below a certain point; commuter-pass registration is possible, as most japanese employers reimburse the commuting transportation cost based on the price of the monthly pass.

of course suica and its sister systems have become available on mobile phone for some time (under the name ‘mobile suica’). it seems about 60% of mobile phones in the market supports the function already. my tokyo colleague, Fumiko Ichikawa has a brief report on the current state of adoption in her blog. what is pleasing to observe is the gradual expansion of its use for other purposes than micro cash payments.

ana (all nippon airways) supports several methods for check-in. obviously mobile phone enabled with nfc like mobile suica is one of them.

suipo (suica poster) is launched last summer – it is an advertising platform using mobile suica as interface. people can touch the indicated spot on the advertisement to get the ad on the mobile. or you can use the normal suica card to get the 2-d bar code displayed, a technology that has been around longer in the market. if the boss canned coffee ad does not tempt you as a smart usage of nfc, you can also read about navita, the public maps using the same information distribution system as suipo. as with 2-d bar code, i am not sure how widely this is used at the moment.

from penguins to mobile micro payment to touch-based information distribution: it is a nice example of how a new technology is disseminated in incremental steps, which was a long journey.

i had a chance to probe how chinese people think about touch or near-touch interface a couple of weeks ago. while the metro ticket system in shanghai is same as oyster or suica, most people could not think of any other use of a similar system beyond that. on the other hand, their understanding of bluetooth wireless technology seemed to confuse many people about possibilities and benefits of near field interaction. a remote indication to think about the adoption curve and mass-market education of new technology – with or without a cute penguin’s involvement.

stimulus

what types of stimulus allow for maximum imagination of viewers’? and when does the maximum imagination become just too much to make any sense?

it is certainly an important question in designing products for which people’s opinions matter but the present lifestyle and environment does not provide sufficient experiential references to the subject. as for the experience of a researcher/designer, this phase is the most tricky part because it is all about a game of stimulus-interpretation-linkage process, for the researchers, the facilitator, and people participating in the research as opinion givers. personally this phase can be also less fun compared to the exploration phase because of the pressure of making decisions and conclusions. no pain, no gain.

spent last week in these rooms, first time to be back since 2004. it was most refreshing to see once again how vulnerable this method is to numerous factors – the stimulus material, facilitator’s cultural/domain knowledge and ability to improvise, tone of the voice, translation, recruitment, group dynamics, and whatnot.

leaving the packed lunch, caffeine overdose, lack of natural light, and midnight dinners behind, happily landed in singapore for a couple of days.

* top photo: ‘welcome – OL (office lady) or beach girl’, osaka, 2008
* second photo: signage for a strip club, tokyo, 2008

video calls: intrusion potential

i read a short korean newspaper article today about sexual harassment through video calls. illustration below & the original article from kyunghyang.com.

sexual harrassment through video call

according to the article, the reported callers disabled the caller identification so the receiver could not judge who the call was from before deciding to take the video call. one of the victims captured the video call with a camera and reported to the police. the victims said that the received video calls showed either masturbating scenes or exposed genitals. another sexual harassment case was also reported on a man who repeatedly made video calls of sexual nature to his (ex)girlfriend. the article urges a solution to prevent harassment attempts through video calls as their impact on the victims can be more substantial than text based messages or voice calls. particularly, in these cases, police failed to identify the callers through the mobile phone operators because of the caller id protection, which did not seem to have been designed for cases like this. if you can read korean, the original article is found here.

i pick on this as it is a good example of abusing a useful tool: can there be a smart design solution that could prevent or reduces the impact of the abuse without compromising the regular, normal usage (including the phone, calls, and the caller id function itself)? or a solution that would discourage people from attempting so to begin with, like advertising the existence of the surveillance cameras? the intrusion potential does become higher as the bandwidth of information transmitted through each communication session increases as with the potential benefits. furthermore as mobile communication channels diversify, it is important that people can be still in full control: how do i want to be connected and disconnected? this question has so many facets that relevant answers may (have to) come from – device user interface design, communication infrastructural design, legal enforcement, transformation of social norms, personal lifestyles and preferences, competence in using the device. people have incredible ability to adapt to or reject changes and the trade-offs between the cost and the effect will be always assessed before it is fully integrated as a behavioral change.

perhaps my past project called ‘defined delivery‘ may be a slightly related example of a design work on the topic of increasing mobile communication modality and therefore the social sensibility. the zest of the concept was that text messages can be delivered to the recipient in the desirable / desired context as the sender intends to, as this is our natural communication behavior. for voice calls, it is not rare that we ask upfront to the recipient whether it is good time for a call, implying that the caller does not want to interrupt the recipient and/or the call needs to take place in certain contexts – be it the recipient’s physical state or attention level, or the noises from the environment. translating the same principle into text messaging context, we designed and built a new messaging prototype application on Nokia 7650s that enabled the sender to define the context in which the message should be delivered (in fact notified) to the recipient. the prototypes were tested with a group of high school students and the result of this work was presented at CHI 2005, and the presentation can be available upon request to jung at younghee dot com. the official conference paper can be downloaded here (but beware of the boring language if you are not familiar with CHI paper format).

without going further on speculating the specific design solutions to relieve the mishaps of the intrusion potentials of the video calls, i would like to jump onto a simple example on how japanese people came up with solutions against sexual harassments in crowded commuter trains. have you have been to one of those super crowded trains which designated personnel to push people into, wearing white gloves? all illustrations are from other websites – click on the image to go to the webpage where it is originally posted from.
beware of chikan

it is difficult to identify the owner of the hands in an extremely crowded, confined space. and even if you do, it is not easy to deal with the situation when most passengers are under time pressure without being able to move freely. one solution is to designate women-only metro cars during peak hours.
women only metro car

another is to raise the public awareness of the fact that being ‘chikan’ is a criminal act through posters and signs. photo below is from jan’s weblog.
chikan is crime

there are a number of personal mobile accessories designed to prevent ‘chikan’, like a pen-sized stun gun or an alarm buzzer.
alarm pin

the legal system has also developed to promote victims to report cases. but it seems that the side effect is also substantial as once accused, it is difficult for men to get away with it. read these humorous tips for men below about avoiding false accusations of being chikan, with the original article in japanese found here.

[ excerpt from mari’s diary ]
No.1 Don’t stand behind women. especially you should skip beautiful woman.
No.2 If she misunderstands and glares at you, never look away. You should glare at her back. There was a precedent case that the testimony “he looked away, so I was convinced he was the molester” was accepted in the court.
No.3 Unfortunately when you are misunderstood as a molester, you should never go to staff room in the train station with her, even though she insists. The law of criminal procedure permits the immediate arrest by a private individual. If you follow her, it means you are arrested by her and she can turn you in the police. To take the best chance of clearing yourself, you should leave the place after giving your contact address to her.
My friends say they try to read a book using both hands, or one hand in the bag and the other holding on a strap.

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.