Friday, April 8, 2011

Opportunistic Research for Designing Technology in China: Teddy Bears and KFC

In my previous post, I shared what I learned from a discussion with a policemen while I was detained in China.  Though the events of that day gave me much to worry about at the time, it proved to be a fascinating opportunity to gain further insights about China.

I'd like to use that unusual example of opportunistic research to jump into sharing more about how I do research in China using wide range of methods to guide the design of technology that is useful, usable, and desirable.

For today, I'll describe another instance of opportunistic research that occurred while I was headed to a restaurant in a central shopping district in Kunming, Yunnan.  On the way I saw this Chinese girl:

girl hold stuffed bear appearing to look at a KFC

Was she gazing longingly at KFC -- a very popular restaurant in China?  No.  In fact, she was looking at something else:

girl looking a video display above a KFC

Above the KFC was a large video screen.  The above photo captures a moment when a Papa John's advertisement was being displayed.

The intersection of "East meets West" and advertising piqued my interest (as did the teddy bear she was carrying).  Food could wait and I approached the girl to hopefully speak with her:

close up of the girl with her stuffed bear

Fortunately, the girl was open to speaking about a variety of issues.  Some of the details I learned were that she was:
  • waiting for her sister to go to dinner
  • not interested in KFC because she felt it was "unhealthy"
  • holding a big bear because her friend had given it to her that day for her recent birthday
  • using a piece of technology she really liked that had been given to her by her mother:

Girl's iPod shuffle

Most importantly, in a relatively short amount of time I gained insights into the girl's:
  • perception of brands and fake products
  • technology usage
  • aspirations
  • social relationships
  • and more
Relevant knowledge in all of these areas can be key to the successful design and marketing of a variety of technologies.

Also, while what I learned could be a valuable research contribution for a new technological product or service, I didn't approach the girl because I saw her using technology nor were many of the questions specifically about technology.  Sometimes, ignoring technology can provide the biggest insights for designing and marketing technology.  I'll expand on this thought in later posts.

I will also later share other research experiences, the particular challenges I have faced conducting research in China, what some of the findings suggest for design, and more.

And no, I wasn't headed to KFC for lunch.

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