Wednesday, October 24, 2012

College Dormitories in China: The Research

In the previous post I mentioned that I will share examples of living conditions in a variety of student dormitories in China. And as I wrote before, I would like to provide some background on why and how I became familiar with this topic.

While working as a user experience (UX) researcher at Microsoft China, I helped to inspire and guide the design of useful, usable, and desirable technologies for global and China-specific markets. What I learned on a daily basis through a variety of projects ranging from the usability testing of new applications for mobile phones to participatory design sessions with amazingly creative Shanghai high school students never ceased to amaze me -- both in terms of what seemed so familiar, and what seemed so different. And often, what I discovered not only surprised me, but my teammates as well.

One set of projects I led focused on the life of youth, 18 to 25 years old, in China. Based on what I was permitted to earlier share for an international conference in Germany, I can say that one of the projects covered five provincial capital cities in China: Changsha, Hunan province; Guiyang, Guizhou province; Xi'an, Shaanxi province; Ji'nan, Shangdong province; Changchun, Jilin province. They are cities in very different regions of China -- important since we well recognized China's diversity. Our specific recruitment requirements ensured that the Chinese participants whose lives we delved into came from a range of income levels, backgrounds, and environments. Since half of the participants were students and interviews began in participants' place of residence, I visited a number of college dormitories. I am not able to share the specific goals of this research study, even the participants didn't know the details (and sometimes they expressed confusion about what they could be). I am also not able to share the findings nor their impact other than to say I presented them to a wide range of teams at Microsoft both in China and the U.S.

But I mention this project because combined with others I conducted in China for Microsoft and similar technology companies, it serves as a background which implicitly guides some of my recent independent research. And as part of that recent research, I have visited many more universities in China.

Since beginning this blog, I have shared a variety of individual examples or stories that capture key themes in China: a migrant worker's first payday in Shanghai, a Guizhou woman's thoughts about Google's challenges in China, a Sichuanese waitress's surprise about the lack of censorship in Taiwan, or the "Sansumg" computer I found in a Nanning college classroom. Like the examples in those posts, I do not necessarily claim that on their own the upcoming examples serve as definitive proof for any particular "big" claim. But based on previous experiences, I am confident they are representative and significant examples. Most importantly, I hope they can provide a new perspective and stimulate further thought about the many topics they touch on--many do not only relate to China, but elsewhere as well.

College student in Changsha, Hunan province, displaying her map of the world

UPDATE: See here for the following post.

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