Did you find your Boda-Boda?

In Cultures of Repair, Innovation, Jan Chipchase takes the reader to Delhi, Ho Chi Minh and other emerging markets cities and brings insights from recent field studies of local repair cultures. boda_boda22.jpgRelaying on their ingenuity, Informal social networks and the abundances of phones, repairers can sell or fix phones at low prices. As Jan Chipchase points out, these informal repair services are driven by necessity, as customers simply cannot afford to go to official repair service but consider them as an essential tool for their business. The Boda-boda (border-to-border) driver that Jan Chipchase brings as an example for such a customer is another interesting case for innovation driven by necessity.  The Boda-boda is bicycle driven taxi in South Africa. In the 1960s, the Boda-boda originated from the need to transport people across the “no-man™s-land” between the border posts without the paperwork involved with using motor vehicles crossing the international border(link). It is estimated that more than 200,000 men in Uganda were working as Boda-boda drivers, in 2004. boda_boda1.jpgIn many senses, computer applications may presents obstacles just like any no-man™s land. When people will attempt to complete tasks in an enjoyably way, they may encounter obstacles, distractions, misleading signs and dead ends. Some times, they may even find that some of their needs are not met at all. To overcome such barriers, people relay on their resourcefulness, their experience and on others to guide them through. Affordance, coined by James J. Gibson in 1966, refers to the property of an object that indicates how to interface with that object. By focusing on the Perceived Affordance, Donald Norman pointed out the people™s perspective in the interaction equation, making it a subjective model. It is important to look at people™s needs, desires, capabilities and constraints, as well as the properties that the object introduces. learning how people “ object relationship works and what are the flews in it, elevates the design scope and produces designs that is considers the context it is intended for. Exploring such relationships brings people closer to the design process, not only as research target but also as an active part in the design process. Using their experience, individuals understand at first hand the barriers they are facing and devise novel ways to overcome them. Emoticons are an example for such innovation driven by individual™s necessity. Emoticons are characters used on non-verbal communication to expend individuals™ expression capabilities, to define their social affiliation and express their uniqueness. Due to the lack of pitch, volume, and intonation of speech in non-verbal communication, emoticons are used to bridge that gap and extend the way people express themselves. As non-verbal communication became more popular in bulletin boards, e-mail, instant messaging, online chat, and Internet forums, the need for a solution such as the emoticons became apparent. smilyThe first emoticon appeared in 1979, when Kevin Mackenzie suggested the joke-marker -) on a message board. In 1982, Scott Fahlman suggested that “:-)” and “:-(” should express emotions.  Later on, many more symbols were added later on to this Paralanguage. :-] would express polite smile, XD expressed childish laugh and so on. Their popularity became evident to software companies that designed internet messaging software and internet forums.  Msn, AOL, Yahoo and other Instant messaging applications translated text based emoticons to graphical languages for some of the common symbols ( :-), 🙁 …). Motivated by their will to please their users, these companies started offering additional expression means such as shared background control, expressing emotions through sound and additional features. Looking how individuals come up with innovative solutions is a common practice in participatory design (PD) methodologies. Originated in Scandinavia in 1960s, PD aimed to involve the end users in the design process. PD aim was to ensure that the product meets the user™s needs, desires and expectations. In PD workshops, individuals took part in an early stage of the design process, suggest ideas and identify problems. Tom Erickson of Apple Computer suggested in1994 four dimensions of participatory design:

  1. Directness of interaction with the designers
  2. Length of involvement in the design process
  3. Scope of participation in the overall system being designed
  4. Degree of control over the design decisions

These dimensions also indicate the PD limitations. Individuals that are external to the design process have limited influence on the design process and eventually the design result. Observing how individuals improve products at their own surroundings can generate insights based on users needs in their context. This is the work of design anthropologists such as Anne Kirah from Microsoft or Jan Chipchase from Nokia. Using their capabilities to observe how individuals use the products, improve them and encounter barriers should produce authentic feedback crucial to design. When the first Boda-boda driver designed his bicycles, he did not think about the design process. On his mind was the need for survival in the harsh environment. He overcame the barrier using a simple device and altering it enough so he could offer a new service. When people used textual symbols in a non-verbal communication they did it due to the absence of a solution in the application they where using. Learning from them allowed the enhancement of the existing communication applications.  Learning from users after the product launch there is as important design tool as learning about their needs in the initial stages of the design.

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