04 January 2012

Designing for developing communities

Fastco debates the ethics of user research in developing communities, to help global companies target their products. The discussion is sparked by Jan Chipchase, once a researcher at Nokia, now at Frog, who has made a career of reaching otherwise unresearched locations and whom I suspect may have been in Don Norman's mind when he wrote critically of the relevance of user research 'you get to go to exotic locations, to watch people do intimate acts, and then to come back and tell the world what you have seen.'

I understand Norman's tetchniness; I understand Chipchase's critics who question the use of his research to create artificial need for global products; the communication of some global research projects has made me wonder 'for whose benefit' in the past. But the alternative of imposing unresearched products and services on developing communities seems even less acceptable. As Chipchase points out 'the poor can least afford poor products'. Fastco describes the development of the Firefly infant phototherapy unit, developed by Design That Matters for use in Vietnam, and I'm reminded of the incubator developed by Stanford's d.school, neither of which would have been developed in their current form without research in the context in which they are to be used.

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