Thrill of the Chipchase: Human-Centered Cell Phone Design in Ghana

By mediabistro
Gossips Thrill of the Chipchase: Human-Centered Cell Phone Design in Ghana
APR 15, 2008 LISTEN

Design thinking. The designer as ethnographer. Design for the other 90%. Greener gadgets. Writer Sara Corbett managed to harness all of these zeitgeisty ideas into a single article in yesterday's New York Times magazine. From recounting her meeting in Ghana with Nokia human behavior researcher-cum-user anthropologist Jan Chipchase, Corbett covers the global cellphone market, the spending habits of perople in developing countries, microfinance, and an innovative Ugandan method of transferring funds via prepaid phone cards (take that, PayPal).

Corbett waits far too long to bring up the real problem of reliable sources of battery-charging power in developing countries but provides a fascinating look at the research methods of the globe-trotting Chipchase. Among them is "Future Urban," a project to explore what the cities of the future will look like. The project leads Chipchase and colleagues to set up an "open design studio" that invites members of a Ghanaian refugee settlement to come in and share ideas and drawings for their ideal mobile phone.

"It's an easy way to see what's important to them, what their challenges are," [Chipchase's Tokyo-based Nokia colleague Younghee Jung said. One Liberian refugee wanted to outfit a phone with a land-mine detector so that he could more safely return to his home village. In the Dharavi slum of Mumbai, people sketched phones that could forecast the weather since they had no access to TV or radio. Muslims wanted G.P.S. devices to orient their prayers toward Mecca. Someone else drew a phone shaped like a water bottle, explaining that it could store precious drinking water and also float on the monsoon waters. In Jacarezinho, a bustling favela in Rio, one designer drew a phone with an air-quality monitor. Several women sketched phones that would monitor cheating boyfriends and husbands. Another designed a "peace button" that would halt gunfire in the neighborhood with a single touch.

Posted by Stephanie

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