Category Archives: research trip

What entertains you?

If you go to a small town or relatively large village in India, you are likely to find a fair ground – provided that you are not out of luck. I stayed for a week in Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh for a research work and the local fair at night was indeed like a cold, fresh air. I simply cannot tell whether I will enjoy visiting this place as much if I visited again. But it was the magical time. Reviewing the photos, I got to ponder on what really entertains people, or what makes people perceived that they are entertained. The rudimentary human nature does not vary much, while the representation may vary greatly.


Aspiration-inducing show
People want to see something amazing, to dream of, to be inspired from. In this case, featuring new technology, not easily attainable and decorated with female bodies that are perceived to be beautiful above norm (or following the known convention).


Food not available at home or should be eaten everyday
Rare fruits taste better. Entertainment venue foods can also be quite messy to make at home, or simply do not taste the same if made too healthy.


Things to buy, to make you feel good or achieving something


Strength measuring machine to let people entertain themselves


Fortune telling machine, which is not your usual human astrologer


Letting the memory last longer – Photobooth
Read more about the photobooth operator in this post on digital imaging entrepreneurs.


Getting exposed to useful information, however practically helpful it is
Pictured are advertisements for: Network & software engineering department of ‘Nice’ college with the slogan of ‘the preferred runway, to fly high’ / Call center training program.


Simple physical moves on the machines or a large man-made structure
Physical movements are particularly good and create a different dimension of shared activities as people are freed from the burden of verbally communicate or do something proactively. This fair appointed the mickey mouse – or its relative as the visually consistent host for these machines.


Reflection on the way home….
On the way back to the reality or everyday environment may be mixed with relief and longing for next time. If you had a very good time, you may not consider this as entertaining at all. In Bareilly, we came back to our hotel on a bicycle rickshaw. I was ridden with the guilt that I felt so heavy for the tiny, thin guy driving the bicycle.

Being prepared : Service mindset

Preparing small notes and changes often becomes the responsibility of consumers in India – based on what I have experienced so far, which is different mentality compared to Japan or Korea especially. If you only have 100 or 500 rupee notes, be prepared for delays in getting your changes back, or even the risk of not being able to buy what you want. I cannot yet find a pattern with which this happens. It just happens. I experienced it so far at: office canteen, food court at the flower show, street vendors, high-end grocery, or entrance fee to an exhibition. If this happens at general stores, I might be offered to buy more products that would fit the corresponding amount of the lacking change.

It so happened when we were driving to Tamil Nadu. One of the highway tollbooths gave a piece of chocolate instead of one rupee coin. It is a witty solution, but I consider it a misdirected effort: getting candies ready instead of one rupee coints. Other more fair and sustainable solutions are abound, however perhaps they might be just slightly out of reach to those who work at the tollbooths.

Blue is (the leading color to) white

While the perception of color is culturally dependent, blue and white are known to be one of the most popular for logos and national flags. In India, the color white is particularly important for clothing. It is typical for male politicians or authoritative figures to wear all whites. Dhotis, always white in color, are essential for formal ceremonies and events too.

India is probably one of the most difficult countries to keep clothes white: colorful food, red pan (chewing tabaco/mouth refreshner), general dust along with the red soil mixed with sweat and body fat and what not. Perhaps this is why putting on spotless white clothes has extra significance.

The fabric whitener bottles are blue. Furthermore I heard that the whitener actually makes the white fabric slightly blue to create the visual effect of looking whiter. Blue seems to be the common color choice for soaps as well. Hand washing stations in restaurants and around toilets I encountered outside of Bangalore often had blue soaps.

HIV prevention awareness signage in UP

HIV prevention awareness

HIV prevention awareness signage in UP

A signage for warning the danger of HIV and promoting the use of condoms, found across in Uttar Pradesh.

Rural health center in west Karnataka

Getting condoms however may not be an openly accepted behavior. In rural health centers, they try to distribute condoms for free, but people may not visit the center while others can see. One solution to the problem is to place the condom dispenser outside so that people can take them whenever they feel comfortable.

Condom dispenser outside the health center in west Karnataka

condom dispenser in a health center in west Karnataka

a rural health center waiting room in west Karnataka

I wish smart bollywood stars could do more on sexual education in India, given their influence and what they are selling, even though the reality in India is still quite harsh.

an instructional poster at a rural health center in west Karnataka

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.

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?”

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.

Expanding the boundary of your space

In Chengdu, you see various objects are hanging or arranged to be used in what some of you and I might call public space. Without the familiar layer of protection that is common in other places, like an extra glass wall or plastic wrap. I could not help thinking of the word ‘exposed’ for these objects: Exposed to the open air, exposed to potential germs and dirts, exposed to public eyes, exposed to theft. But obviously my perception is contrived – as I spent the whole of my life living in densely populated cities where houses did not include much of outdoor or semi-public space. Where do you draw the boundary of where your ‘private’ space ends?

hanging_clothes

hanging_rooftop

hanging_tops

hanging_mirror

hanging_wokpan

hanging_sausagecourtyard

hanging_sausagelaundry

hanging_meatmarket

hanging_meatmarket2