Contextual research
Tom Shelley reports in Eureka magazine on the latest thinking in how to ensure that products truly fulfill customer needs and aspirations – and succeed in the marketplace. The story is largely based on an interview with Apala Lahiri Chavan, managing director of Human Factors International India.

How can you ensure products really satisfy the needs and desires of the people for whom they have been made? One way may be to adopt the methods of ethnography, the science of studying human behaviour in the field. Now known as Contextual Innovation, this new approach has been pioneered in India and since taken to the US.

I doubt that the approach originates from India, but the story does contain a very nice example of context-specific methodology:

In a study of designs for ATM machines in India, the team came up with the idea of little books of tickets called an ’emotion ticket’. “Each ticket looked like a cinema ticket,” Chavan explains, “and was associated with a different emotion: anger, surprise, happiness, loathing, courage, disgust, despair, mirth and pity.” In other words, the ‘nine rasas’ in Indian performing arts, as depicted by illustrations derived from Bollywood films. However, for China, they use Jungian Archetype Folk Probes, where people associate how they feel about a product or service idea with characters from Chinese mythology.

Shelley also presents some nice examples of how Intel designed the Eduwise [controversial because of its similarities to the One Laptop Per Child concept] and other culturally specific products for use in classrooms and other developing countries.

Eureka is a magazine targeted at mechanical design engineers in the UK industry. It sees its role as one of discovering and disseminating new ideas and technologies which engineers can use in current and future designs.

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