Nokia Open Studio: Engaging Communities
Younghee Jung 1 and Jan Chipchase 2
1 Nokia Design, 10 Great Pulteney Street, London W1 9NB, United Kingdom
2 Nokia Japan Ltd, Arco Tower 17F, 1-8-1, Shimomeguro, Meguro-Ku, 153-064, Tokyo, Japan
Abstract. This paper outlines a design research method called ‘Nokia Open Studio’ that was run in three ‘shanty
town’ communities as part of a design research project. The method sought to engage in a cross-section of the
community in the design research process.
The following essay outlines a design research method, the so-called ‘Nokia Open Studio’ (henceforth
NOS) that was run in three ‘shanty town’ communities between July and November 2007. Part of a
broader study that explored the impact of mobile connectivity within the context of global urbanisation, the
NOS aimed to engage a broad cross-section of these communities through hosting a design competition.
The Nokia Open Studios were run as a parallel activity to other design research methods in an attempt to
reveal aspects of these communities that other research methods would not reach.
Figure 1 Entrants in Favela Jacarezinho: Sketching ideas in the studio space, a rented NGO office (left);
posing with the entry form showing his final sketch and his daughters who inspired his idea (right)
The corporate design researcher is able to pick and choose from a suite of established research methods –
many evolved from established ethnographic practices. There are numerous ways to gain a comprehensive
understanding of local cultures, and in key markets it can worthwhile to permanently embed a research
team in relevant locations, creating a fixed touch point to the local environment. This however, requires a
substantial corporate commitment which in turn implies that the location is already or is expected to
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 1
function as a business hub. A more common practice is to hire-in local or global research agencies with
branch offices established in the key market locations. However for exploratory design research activities
for which the research themes are largely influenced by micro and macroscopic trends it is difficult to
predetermine location by business potential alone. For example, in a study of mobile video use to inspire
the design of future rich media services it helps to be located in the hot-bed of mobile video use, South
Korea. A study on mobile banking might focus on advanced practices in the Philippines, and so on. The
authors work in an in-house corporate design research team specialising in explorative design research
with the broad aim of informing and inspiring future designs, data gathering processes, and challenging
given assumptions. The decision of what to research is decided on an approximately 6-12 month’s basis
with some themes drawn from corporate strategy, guided by a consumer insights team that highlights
trends of interest, and based on team member’s instinct of what will have the most impact within the
corporation. The style of research could even be described as migratory in the sense that the team is drawn
to where the resources - research topics of interest, and the means to carry out that research are richest. A
major challenge of any kind of corporate field research is finding the right balance between field work and
maintaining relevance within the corporate structure, which can involve anything from the face to face
sharing of the results to hands on application of what was learned into the design process. The challenge
boils down to: how to efficiently and meaningfully gather credible and interesting data, within a relatively
short period of time in the field (which for us equates to about two weeks) from a research location
anywhere on the planet? In keeping with these constraints and factoring in the cost of running multi-
cultural research, the authors have developed a toolkit of established and adopted design research methods
designed to be both complimentary and run in parallel.
NOS is a design research method carried out in 2007 as a part of a broader project that explored
urbanisation and in particular shanty town life. The method aimed to tackle the following issues:
• The need to gather data in a variety of languages and dialects beyond the immediate language
skills of the in-house researchers (translators are part of the extended team, but each additional
language increases the workload and increases the likelihood possibility of miss-interpreting the
• Some, but not comprehensive in-house experience of working in shanty towns
• Working in communities with varying levels of literacy and uneven exposure to technology
including mobile phones
• Communities where trust in ‘authority figures’ varied, generally erring on the side of caution
The purpose of the NOS was not to generate ideas that could be bought into the design process. Rather, the
research method aimed to generate inspirational and cross-referential material about the role of future
technologies in participant’s lives by giving residents the opportunity to articulate their needs and
aspirations, and present these in the context of their everyday life.
3. FUTURE URBAN PROJECT
The design research method described in this essay, the Nokia Open Studio was run as part of a year long
multi-cultural study to explore so-called ‘shanty towns’ places often distinguished from their more
developed counterparts by: a lack of official recognition or land rights; limited access to infrastructure such
as electricity, water, sanitation; services such as financial credit or maternity health care; and to the
untrained eye – rapid and seemingly unplanned and autonomous growth. Nokia’s interest in these
communities is a reflection of their increasing global relevance - for a significant proportion of the world’s
population slum living is and will continue to be the urban reality with UN Habitat estimating that of the
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 2
3.3 billion people who live in urban centers today almost 1 billion live in slums. Moreover in the next 30
years this figure is estimated to rise to 2 billion living in slums. On another level we look to these
communities to learn from what we are unlikely to find elsewhere either because of their unique context, or
because within that context trends are that much easier to spot. To give but one example: how do people
with limited access to infrastructure with low to non-existent disposable income optimise use of scarce
resources? And what role might personal communication tools play in facilitating ‘better’use? For a
corporate team tasked with challenging the status quo and seeking out new opportunities this is fertile
ground. 3 cities were chosen for the project: Mumbai, Rio de Janeiro, and Accra after a pilot run in
Chongqing where our research methods were tested.
3.1 NOS Locations
NOS was run in three communities in three different cities, coinciding with the locations of the Future
Urban project and being broadly representative of different types of shanty town. Within the community it
was important that the NOS was located in a neutral space easily accessible to anyone in the community.
Furthermore the studio space had to be conducive and functional as a working environment for our team
and for participants to carry out design tasks.
Figure 2 Three communities in which Nokia Open Studio was hosted: Dharavi, Mumbai, India (left),
Favela Jacarezinho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (middle), Camp Buduburam, Accra, Ghana (right)
1) Dharavi, Mumbai, India
Estimated population of 1 million, Dharavi is situated in the middle of metropolitan Mumbai. The NOS
was situated in a rented neighbourhood photo studio. [Dharavi: Wikipédia, Google Maps].
2) Favela Jacarezihno, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Estimated population of 60,000, Favela Jacarezinho is the second largest favela in Rio de Janeiro. NOS
was set in the office of NGO “Célula Urbana”, located in the community, above a LAN house (internet
cafe). [Jacarezihno: Wikipédia, Google Maps].
3) Camp Buduburam, Accra, Ghana
17-year old Librarian refugee settlements hosting an estimated number of 35000 people, 27 miles west of
Accra. NOS was set in the office of NGO “MOPGEL” which normally hosts computer-related classes for
the community. [Buduburam: Wikipédia, Google Maps].
While Dharavi and Favela Jacarezinho shared similar histories and diversity of residents, Camp
Buduburam differed in that it was the youngest community; provided relatively homogeneous patterns of
how and why residents came to settle there. Furthermore it was ‘off-site’ to other research activities.
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 3
The process of running a single NOS in one community took approximately one month from start to finish:
2 weeks to locate and set-up a suitable space, hire and train staff; a week to create and run a campaign to
advertise the competition; the studios remained open for between 7 – 14 days depending in part on
availability of the rented space; with an award ceremony scheduled shortly after the last day. The aim was
to finish setting up a studio space prior to the research team’s arrival so that the promotion of the event
could get started early enough and the training of the staff could take place immediately within the actual
studio. Open hours of the NOSs were aligned with the rhythm of the local community. In Dharavi, it was
important to open during the evenings to accommodate day workers. In Jacarezinho, it was open during the
normal business hours of approximately 9 to 5. In Buduburam, limited access to electricity dictated that it
was practical only to open during daylight hours.
4.2 Local team
A team of up to 20 local assistants was recruited in each location from a variety of backgrounds, though
mostly with some relevant experience in design, sociology or journalism. Since the NOS was one of the
tasks in the Future Urban Project, assistants took turns working in the studio. A minimum of 2 staff, one
male and one female were required to be present in the Studio at any given time for registering, assisting,
interviewing and photographing entrants with their entries. In Dharavi, the average time staff had to spend
with entrants was considerably higher, due to the high level of illiteracy and the need to systematically
walk participants through the textual parts of the entry form step by step. In Buduburam, additional staff
was drafted in to manage and support the waiting queue of entrants outside the studio space.
Figure 3 A photo studio rented for NOS, Dharavi (left); the local team going out to promote NOS to the
community with a handout, Favela Jacarezinho (middle); NGO office for rented for NOS, Camp
Studio assistants were given the task of creating a locally appealing promotional campaign to raise
awareness of the studio. In Dharavi, the team mostly generated printed material including flyers, posters
and larger banners. In Jacarezinho, a funk song was composed by a local musician/producer M-Shellz,
broadcast through the community radio station. In Buduburam, the community radio was also used to play
announcements and the team distributed the entry forms in advance so that people can come to the studio
space when entrants consolidated their ideas, due to the high popularity of the event.
[M-Shellz’s tune created for promoting the NOS in Favela Jacarezinho: M-Shellz’s MySpace Profile].
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 4
Figure 4 Promotion of Nokia Studio in Dharavi with a slogan “Create a phone, take a phone”; in Favela
Jacarezinho with a slogan “It’s about time to design your mobile phone”; in Camp Buduburam, “your
dream phone, share it with the world”.
4.4 Entry form and competition conditions
In order to minimize the logistical burden, one A3 form was designed as an entry form. Entrants were
required to sign the consent which was a part of the form in order to be eligible for entry, in part to avoid
misunderstandings caused by entrants expecting to see their ideas being made into products and potential
disputes over intellectual property. The right of Nokia to use drawings and photographs of entrants in
publicizing the research was signed over in the consent form. For underage entrants a parent’s signature
was required, which partly resulted in young entrants accompanying their parents to the studio and work
on the ideas together. All entrants were asked to sign only after they had completed the form to give them
the opportunity to fully appreciate what they were signing.
Figure 5 the entry form used for NOS. In a single A3 sheet, the left side asks entrant’sr demographics and
contact information, and a short description of the idea. The right side asks for the entry number, title of
the submission, and that visual sketch.
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 5
4.5 Submitting an entry
The NOS space provided a broad range of drawing and writing tools to craft their entry. Many participants
thoroughly prepared their ideas prior to coming to the studio space – with one female in Mumbai creating
eight entries – which she reported as being drawn under street lighting as her home did not have electricity.
Whilst it took participants a minimum of 20 minutes to complete their entry a fair number took around two
days, with some entrants adopting a strategy of probing studio assistants to understand what other entrants
were doing; taking the entry form home, and completing several drafts of the design before committing to
fill in the official entry form in the studio.
With all submissions, the entrants were interviewed to probe motivations for the features in their design,
and to explain the context in which the design would apply to their everyday life. As a last step, entrants
were photographed together with their sketch and a printed photo was given as a memento of the
participation. Entries were physically archived and later digitally scanned by the team.
Figure 6 Mumbai team member assisting an entrant filling in the form through an interview (left); mother
and daughter discussing about the idea in the studio space (middle); an entrant in camp Buduburam
drawing on the entry form referring to the sketches he had made prior coming to the studio (right)
4.6 Winner selection
On the final day of the competition, studio assistants and research team members convened to discuss and
select winners. Each entry was reviewed with studio assistants actively debating merits and the relevance
of entries they advocated. A research team member took the role of facilitator in the debate to draw out
why the assistants considered particular ideas relevant to this community, which was one of the key factors
in determining winners. Then the research team member followed the argument up to ensure that we
accurately understood the nuances in their advocacy.
Figure 7 Entry forms selected for final consideration put on the wall by Dharavi team (left); a local team
member in Favela Jacarezinho advocating the idea she strongly supports (middle); Nokia team member
facilitating the winner selection discussion in camp Buduburam
In Mumbai, the opinions of assistants were split along gender lines, and generated such a heated debate as
to who woud be the first place winner that the research team were required to intervene to offer ‘first
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 6
place’ prizes to two entrants, with local assistants stressing the importance of giving winning prizes to
entrants of both genders. In Buduburam where opportunities for materialistic gain were limited, locally
hired assistants from the settlement were under mild pressure from their social peers to influence the
winner selection process – an issue counter-balanced by having non-local assistants present in the
4.7 Award ceremony
Winners were contacted and invited to an award ceremony. In Rio, most winners came with family
members and in all locations considerable effort was made on personal appearance. In Buduburam, the
high number of entrants without mobile phones meant that assistants were required to inform many of the
winners in person.
Figure 8 The crowd gathered outside the rental photo studio used as NOS venue in Dharavi during the
award ceremony (left); A group shot of winners and team members in Favela Jacarezinho (middle);
Audience gathered to listen to the winners’ explanation of ideas during the award ceremony in Camp
4.8 Entries as inspiration for local artisans
In Dharavi and Jacarezinho, a number of entries were shared with local artisans as source material to
inspire them in creating artifacts using the common local material and visual styles. Our intent was to use
these artifacts to help sharing the outcome of the research. In Mumbai this included a sign painter, foam
sculptor, and embroiderer. In Jacarezinho, three comic artists were hired to create a coherent story out of
the selected entries demonstrated as a small comic booklet.
Figure 9 Posters explaining the context in which the idea is inspired from or useful, created by a local
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 7
Figure 10 Embroider, mobile phone repair engineer, and theater sign maker were asked to represent
selected NOS entries through the art or material that they were most comfortable with.
Figure 11 A comic book, storyboarded and created by local artists based on storyline from selected entries
from NOS. [See also: Using comics to communicate research findings, commentary].
The NOSs attracted a total of 222 entries from 3 communities, with a breakdown of numbers shown in
table 1. The grey figure in parenthesis indicates the actual number of entrants.
Table 1 The number of participants, gender ratio, and mobile phone ownership
Dharavi Jacarezinho Buduburam
Total participants 57 27 138
Male / Female 79% (45) 21% (12) 59% (16) 41% (11) 88% (122) 12% (16)
Mobile phone owners 74% (42) 74% (20) 18% (25)
Table 2 Age group breakdown of the entrants
Below 20 21-30 31-40 41-50 51-60 Above 60
Dharavi (n=57) 40% (23) 42% (24) 12% (7) 3% (2) 0 0
Jacarezinho (n=27) 30% (8) 26% (7) 30% (8) 15% (4) 0 0
Buduburam (n=138) 26% (36) 49% (67) 20% (27) 5% (7) 0 1% (1)
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 8
Entrants’ ages ranged from 18 to 64, with the majority below the age of 30. Due to data consent
requirements, participation was limited to adults, resulting in a number of disqualified entries particularly
in Jacarezinho. Some overcame this restriction by bringing their parents to sign the entry form – a practice
that was encouraged. The variance in numbers of entrants per studio location (27, 57, 138) is primarily a
reflection of the availability of the studio venue and the context in which the studio was run: In Dharavi,
the studio was open during the peak of monsoon season which created challenges in the community
including flooded roads, houses, and overflowing sewers. In Jacarezinho, the weather took its toll albeit in
a much smaller scale compared to Mumbai as the studio period overlapped with the coldest winter days by
the local weather norms of Rio de Janeiro. A bigger disruptive factor in Jacarezihno were days when, due
to the heavy crossfire between the police and the local ‘gang’ in the favela the majority of local residents
retreated into their homes due to the increased risk of being caught up in the violence. As a result the
studio remained shut on these days. In Buduburam, while the studio enjoyed great popularity over the full
period of its opening, there were shortcomings that reducing the number of potential entrants: the
electricity supply to the NGO Mopgel’s space depended solely on a separate emergency generator, as the
common electricity supply had shut down for weeks in the camp. This meant that the studio could only run
during natural daylight hours. This created a situation of long queues of people waiting in the blazing heat,
which in turn lead to the situation where a waiting area was set up outside the NGO building with shade,
seating and submission forms were handed out in advance enabling entrants to think through the
submission prior to stepping in the studio and hence minimising processing time later on.
Mobile phone ownership amongst participants was relatively high compared the general populace in the
community (74% in Dharavi, 74% in Jacarezinho) with the exception of Buduburam (18%). Despite the
low number of mobile phone ownership in Buduburam, most entrants provided a phone number by which
they could be reached.
As expected, the gender balance of entrants was (heavily) skewed towards males – with 12% females in
Buduburam, 21% in Dharavi, compared to 41% in Jacarezinho. In Dharavi, this was a reflection of the
limited amount of time that women spent outside their immediate home environment and the social
acceptance of entering a non-family mixed gender space. In Buduburam, the bias reflected the traditional
perception of women’s role in society, succinctly articulated by one female entrant stating her reason for
participation as “to prove that women can also do what men can do”. Local teams specifically encouraged
female participation: For example, in Mumbai through door to door canvassing though this stopped short
of offering a fully ‘mobile NOS’ in part because of the logistical hassles created by the monsoon. In
Buduburam, the promotional posters for NOS included the sentence, “women are highly encouraged to
participate.” The issue of gender was widely discussed during the planning phase – with the final NOS
setup balancing the resource needs of the broader project.
An age group bias was also observed with the ratio of participants under the age of 30 being highest in
Dharavi (82%) then Buduburam (75%) with Jacarezinho the lowest at 56%.
While we didn’t systematically document the preparatory process outside the studio space, entrants often
brought sketches and written notes about their intended designs to the studio which often bore substantially
more information than what was ended up on the entry form. One female Dharavi participant – an illiterate
laundry washer, brought with her 8 ideas which she articulated were ‘sketched under the street lights
because my home does not have electricity’, with her designs reflecting her preference for the geometric
shapes of object’s she liked, such as a mango or heart. In Jacarezinho, several entrants brought their family
members to the studio and discussed their ideas in the spacious studio space that could accommodate
several people working comfortably in parallel. Numerous entrants from Buduburam stated that they first
visited the studio space to learn what the studio was about, went home to discuss their ideas with friends
and family before going back to the studio to create their entry. In informal post-interview sessions with
participants, it was common to observe several pages of idea sketches, especially from participants who
had more elaborate concepts and technical knowledge.
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 9
Figure 12 Detailed idea sketches entrants had done prior to coming to NOS. Often entrants brought their
idea sketches with them to create a concise and quality final sketch on the entry form in the Studio space.
There was also evidence that the competition generated discussions and collaboration in the community, in
particular Buduburam where a seemingly original idea was submitted by several entrants who stated their
inspiration came from their peer group. Local teams also reported that the waiting queue outside the studio
space supported the idea discussion with some copying of ideas between participants. This highlights the
challenge in judging the relevance of a single idea based on say, the number of entries received because of
the social processes that occur outside the studio space, but it also implies some degree of collaborative
filtering with ideas that are perceived as most likely to win the prize being most highly valued.
Figure 13 Entries from Camp Buduburam featuring a similar concept of side folders of multiple screens
5.2 Ideas represented through the entries
The entries included ideas that ranged from simple statements, to complex conceptual representations, to
highly symbolic expressions reflecting their understanding of the needs of individuals (themselves) or the
community. The research team initially evaluated the entries through a number filters including: status
expression vs. utility; personal vs. communal; stand-alone vs. complementary; original vs. evolutionary.
Ideas represented through the entries can be broadly divided into the following themes: Device symbolism,
functional enhancement for special needs, mobile convergence, and magical function. Each entry often
incorporates more than one element of these themes.
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 10
5.2.1 Device symbolism
Several entries presented the device’s shape to symbolically incorporate entrants’ preference, heritage,
profession, and what they desire in the future through the shape of the device. Ideas falling into this
category tend to highlight the desire to express the important constituent of their identity, wish, and dream,
acknowledging the fact that the mobile device will be an important personal possession accompanying
them all the time.
Mango & Heart (Dharavi): The entrant chose to show two designs that represented shapes that she
liked the most. The heart shape is chosen because it symbolizes her husband’s love towards her.
Nokia Heart (Dharavi): The entrant chose the heart shape of the phone because the mobile phone is
always kept close to the heart. In India, majority of men carry their mobile phones in the front shirt
Bat mobile (Dharavi): The entrant is a keen cricket player, which is a popular sport in his community.
He chose this shape because holding the cricket bat shaped mobile phone will be a support for his team.
I-87 (Jacarezinho): Dodger ball is the entrant’s passion and he chose the shape of the dodger ball as it
will show his way of life.
Flower pot model (Buduburam): The entrant is a gardener, a profession descended from his
grandfather. As he grows flowers to sell, he chose the flower pot shape to show his work.
Fish (Dharavi): The entrant is mendhi artist and wanted to represent her work in the shape.
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 11
Americas through mobile (Jacarezinho): The entrant who works as hotel receptionist wanted to
represent colors from every country in Americas. Entrant thinks that the Afro colors are Brazil’s real
characteristics, symbolizing favelas in which he lives in.
H.O.Mobile (Dharavi): The entrant wanted to make the phone shaped like a pen, symbolizing literacy.
He wants to encourage people to read and write more in his community.
Premium (Buduburam): The shape of the foot was chosen because it symbolizes progress. He also
wants to have keypad with voice feedback for his grandmother who has bad eyesight.
Nokia 360 (Buduburam): The entrant is pastor, teaching people to get to know god. He chose the heart
shape because the mobile phone is the heart of people’s world.
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 12
5.2.2 Functional enhancement for special needs
Entries in this category focus on specific functions as solutions to problems or issues they are personally or
communcally facing, caused by the conditions particular to the community. Some ideas were developed
for specific target groups with common problems. Often the most important problem that the idea intended
to solve needed to be articulated during the interview. Entries in this category were most revealing in terms
of raising issues pertinent to the community.
Combi (Dharavi): The entrant is active member of organizing religious and communal festivals in the
community. The loud speaker added to the mobile phone will be useful in making announcements in
Crazy phone (Dharavi): The entrant wants the phone to give emergency alarms as the news gets
around on other media like TV. There were several bomb blasts incidents in Mumbai.
Eco-cell (Jacarezinho): The entrant is concerned about the environment. He wanted to make the phone
show the environmental condition, especially the effect of pollution, in the hope that it will raise
people’s awareness and therefore encourage people to act responsibly for the community.
Celkan (Jacarezinho): The entrant is mother of three children and goes to high school during the day
and attends a night school to become a hair dresser. She was brought in by her 11 year-old daughter
who wanted a mobile phone that would allow her to track her mother to see where she is, what she is
doing, and who she is with, to feel close to her mother when she is not at home.
Pen drive phone (Buduburam): The entrant does not own a PC but frequents to a LAN house to use
Internet. He wants the phone to function as storage for his personal data from the LAN house’s PC.
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 13
Classic 192 (Buduburam): The entrant relies on his relatives abroad to send him fund for his living. He
is concerned that he may miss important calls from overseas regarding the fund transfer. Therefore he
came up with a design that has a split screen which separates international calls from local calls.
Moon (Buduburam): The entrant came to the camp when she was one year old. She does not remember
her parents who are supposedly living in a rural village in Liberia without postal service. She wants a
mobile phone to show the image of the caller so that she can see her parents’ faces when they one day
get to call each other.
Civilian Police (Buduburam): The entrant came to the camp four years ago with his brother. They both
like to document their life in the camp so that they can share their experience once they go back to their
home country, Liberia. Since they know they would not be able to afford two mobile phones, he wants
a mobile phone that has two camera units that are separable from the main body. This way, both his
bother and he can record their life on their own.
Friend of hand (Dharavi): The entrant wanted to design a phone that cannot be easily dropped from
hand in crowded places like his neighborhood or in market places. He wants the phone to have the
rubber body to prevent it against the shock as well.
Future Nokia (Buduburam): The entrant originally came from a small rural village in Liberia where
there is no electricity and people have never heard of Internet. He wants to propose a solar-charging
mobile phone with Internet connectivity. Furthermore he wants the language translation function so that
people who speak different tribal languages can communicate with each other easily.
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5.2.3 Mobile Convergence
Majority of entries were around ideas on creating attractive combinations of known functions on one
mobile device, incorporating functions they do not have easy access to or would like to access in private
contexts. Strictly speaking, this category is not so different from the functional enhancement (5.2.2). While
entries in this category proposed functional enhancements through combining currently known tools,
several entrants still got their ideas inspired by issues relevant to the community.
Revolution (Dharavi): The entrant has an old bicycle which breaks down often. He has to carry his
bike repair tool with him all the time, so he wants a mobile phone that incorporates the bike repair tool.
Watch Mobile (Dharavi): As most mobile phones come with a clock function, he wants to make it
wrist watch shaped so that he can wear it as a watch. It can also prevent losing the phone and reduce the
risk of theft.
Urban Leora 2208 (Jacarezinho): The entrant wants an all-in-one entertainment system, including
game, TV, and music functionality. This will keep the young people focused and entertained.
Furthermore he wants to have a “virtual blond psychiatrist wearing bikini’ always available in the
device so that those with problems can consult with her at any time.
Fashion 12 (Jacarezinho): The entrant is keen on keeping herself beautiful all the time. Make-up kit
combined with the phone will eliminate the need for carrying a handbag when she goes out dancing.
Not having to queue at women’s toilet, which usually have a long queue is another benefit.
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Gepo (Buduburam): The entrant is carpenter and he spends a lot of time educating young people in the
community. He wants to use mobile phone as video camera with large storage capacity so that in case
he dies, young people can still learn skills from watching the video clips he leaves behind the mobile
Nokia N100 (Buduburam): The idea is the ultimate mobile phone for high-profile business men who
travel to a remote area with no electricity. With this design, the businessman can keep in touch with
what is happening around the world wherever he is. The global awareness and connectivity without
having to go to an internet cafe is the key feature.
5.2.4 Magical function
Ideas addressing the most important issue in their lives in mobile context, without any technical references
or relevance to communication
Insaaneeyat (Translates as ‘humanity’, Dharavi): The entrant wants a bottle-shaped phone which can
float on the water and water-resistant. Every year his community suffers from flooding during the
monsoon season. If he has a mobile phone that cannot be damaged by flooding and floats on the water,
he will be able to help others in disaster. To him, mobile phone should be used for helping others. He
can also use the bottle to carry drinking water, as Mumbai is very hot.
Peace cell (Jacarezinho): The entrant wants a mobile phone with a peace button which will emit peace
sound wave to finish any state of violence in the world. Living in her community, she has been always
afraid of getting caught in crossfire. But she sees the issues with violence are not only limited to her
community: her peace phone can be also used in war in Iraq for instance.
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5.3 Underlying motivations represented through the entries
Based on follow-up interviews with entrants, we surmise that the intent of the designs was driven by the
5.3.1 Cost saving
Saving money was often the central theme behind the submission, not surprising given the relatively low
incomes in these communities. Some stated the reason for an all-in-one-internet-enabled device was to
save money compared to using nearby LAN houses (internet cafes), with the mistaken assumption being
that internet usage via the phone would be free. The four-star design highlights the already common
practice of using multiple SIM card slots in a phone, intra-network calls being cheaper in Ghana.
Convergent device ideas, absorbing the functions of other devices, were thought of a way to save money
by not having to buy separate products, with the assumption that a convergent device would be cheaper
than separates. As both Dharavi and Buduburam suffered from lack of infrastructure to supply electricity,
solar charging battery was highly sought after as part of cost saving: People running small businesses
thought not having to leave their shop or stall to go to the mobile phone charging station (which offers
electricity on pay-per-use basis) would be financially beneficial.
Four-star (Buduburam): It is typical that people in his community carry multiple SIM cards to save
cost for voice calls as each operator offers cheaper calls within the same network. By hosting multiple
SIM cards in one phone, the entrant thinks he can make people’s life easier.
Images of multiple SIM card use (Accra, Ghana): Carrying multiple phones, multiple SIM cards, or
combining two SIM cards into one were observed as solutions to lower the cost of voice calls.
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 17
5.3.2 Convenience booster
Most ideas around mobile convergence were motivated by increasing the convenience of carrying fewer
objects by combining them instead to the mobile phone. This may be related to the relative bulk – with
local designs driven more by cost than by minaturization. In the same line of thinking, several entries
featured wearable carrying solution of the mobile phone as a way to prevent losing the phone or preventing
Invisible man (Buduburam): This wrist watch design features removable straps so that the phone can
be kept in pockets as well as worn on the wrist. Entrant thinks that it may lower the risk of theft
because people may not realize that he is wearing a mobile phone.
5.3.3 Expression of status & identity
As shown in examples in Device Symbolism (5.2.1), many entries were motivated by infusing the
meaningful connection between the physical shape and what is important to their identity. Cultural or
racial heritage, profession, and wealth were common motifs.
5.3.4 Token of goodwill or better future
The perspective in which entrants saw mobile technology often reflected optimism towards the future. In
several entries, ideal mobile technology was portrayed as a vehicle to help them to attain a better, more
positive future, expressed either through shape or functionality that they desired.
5.3.5 Problem solver
Ideas representing solutions to problems of a larger scale – often seemingly irrelevant to the functions of
mobile phones, such as natural disaster and human conflicts were not uncommon. Technology’s role as a
neutral judge in the moment of potential conflict was also a popular idea, especially with the ability to
provide evidence such as audio recordings of phone conversation, photographs and video recordings of
scenes of accident or contractual agreement.
5.4 Relevance, not newness
Aside from the value of NOS’s being a vehicle to gain insights into participant’s living conditions,
lifestyles, needs and aspirations, their submissions highlighted that innovation in the context of these
communities is not about newness of technology but relevance to the individual’s needs, usage contexts,
and adaptability, especially for those who are exposed to the spread of technology or technology-driven
products in a non-linear fashion compared to more developed markets. This is best explained though the
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 18
intense debate that occurred amongst the local team in Dharavi during the winner selection process, in the
discussion of the ‘Cloudy-buddy’ idea submitted by a 21-year-old student. The central idea in the
submission was that the weather sensor on the mobile phone would allow the user to point the phone at the
sky and have weather information displayed on the screen. On one hand, it was argued that the idea of
weather forecast has nothing new to offer because weather information can be obtained in so many ways.
On the other hand, it was argued that accurate weather information is not accessible for many people living
in Dharavi due to the lack of subscribed publications such as daily newspapers and limited personal access
to electronic appliances such as radio or TV. Furthermore, it was pointed out that for illiterate people or
those who lack skills to operate complex mobile phone features the idea indeed made the weather forecast
that much more accessible. The high number of weather dependent professions in the community was also
mentioned, ranging from housewives who handle most of the house chores outside home, to plastic
recycling factory relying on drying washed plastics in the sun. From the authors’ point of view, this is an
important lesson coming out of the NOS’s: as researchers and designers responsible for highlighting
potential opportunities based on field research data and observations, the expectation of our peers, the
industry and the ongoing focus of the media is for newness over relevance. Systematically documenting
the personal motivations behind the NOS submissions generated data that counterbalanced the ‘eternal
hunt for the new’.
Cloud-Buddy / Roller-Cover Mobile (Dharavi): The unique feature is the weather forecasting
function which is enabled by the weather sensor on the head of the mobile. User simply needs to point
the mobile phone to the open sky to get the weather forecast delivered on the screen. There is also a
roller cover which will be open by pressing a button, which reflects the common concern in the
community to protect the mobile phone from scratches and everyday wear and tear.
6.1 Motivation for participation
Whilst the opportunity to win prizes and general curiosity stimulated initial contact the motivations for
entrants varied: from an opportunity to have their opinion heard - a non-trivial issue in communities that
are often stigmatised by outsiders; a chance to elevate their standing within the community through contact
with representatives of a respected corporation - Nokia being both known and a preferred brand in all three
locations; a chance to show off creative skills; a mental and physical space to reflect on their own life, their
relationship with their peer group and community and, mostly in Jacarezihno a fun family activity. For
some Buduburam entrants it was also an opportunity to kill boredom with time being one resource that
they did have in abundance. From the first-hand comments heard by the research team, there was a sense
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 19
of pride associated in participation as it was a rare opportunity to express their ideas on an intellectual level
6.2 Positioning of the NOS
One unexpected challenge was aligning the local team with the intent of the project goals. When
commissioned with the task of creating the promotional plan of the NOS, the Buduburam team came up
with the slogan of “Refugees are human, Nokia values your opinions”, a slogan that was turned down by
the research team as it was both outside the intent of the competition and did not convey that the event was
encouraging the design of ideal mobile phone. It was common for the local team to initially understand the
purpose of the NOS to be collecting new, innovative ideas, and they therefore questioned our motivations
for conducting a follow-up interview with each entrant. This sometimes resulted in mis-directed interviews
with entrants, as the local team focused more on the idea itself than finding out how the idea fits into the
entrant’s needs and aspirations. A few iterations between the local team and the research team were
therefore mandatory to make sure that the goal of the NOS was understood across the whole team. In
Mumbai, the local team submitted entries in order to put themselves into the shoes of the participants prior
to the operation of the NOS.
6.3 Unstructured versus structured facilitation
The intent of defining the theme of the NOS as ‘Design your ideal future phone - for yourself or for your
community’ was to give entrants a sufficient direction by focusing on a ‘modern technology object’ with
which entrants would be familiar, either through ownership, their peer group or popular culture. Except the
theme, the guidance given to the entrants was kept minimal as to the written instruction and questions on
the entry form.
The brief was kept deliberately open to encourage re-interpretation of the question. The entry form was
given to anyone who wanted to participate in advance and many entrants returned home with the form and
came back to the studio once they had consolidated their ideas, often with sketches of ideas they had made
on their own.
The role of the local team ranged from assisting entrants in completing the written parts of the entry form
to interviewing the entrant about the motivation behind the idea - especially when the entry form lacked a
detailed account that explained the background to, and how the idea would fit into the entrant’s life context.
The process of the first NOS run in Dharavi did not include a structured interview. However, based on the
results we recognised the need to more formally capture the motivations and context of how the entry was
created. It should be noted that the skills to document research data i.e., conduct closing interviews to
gather meaningful data, is unlikely to occur without training that requires additional time and effort. This
may conflict with a desire to hire assistant from the local community despite the obvious benefit of local
assistants’ language skills and knowledge to be able to contextualize the interview data. From the second
NOS location, Favela Jacarezinho, the interview and documentation responsibility was given specifically
to local assistants who had journalism background, along with a separate structured interview form given
Based on anecdotal evidence and a review of submissions it is clear that there was some level of collusion
or collaboration amongst some entrants though whether this is positive or negative depends in part on how
the data is to be used. If the intent is to gather data that is broadly representative of community, then a
process that formally or informally supports group work can be seen as desirable. This can be supported
through shared design tasks and explicit or implicit rewards for group submissions and collaboration. If the
intent is to generate more rigourously measureable data, for example comparison across studios, then more
emphasis needs to be put on shielding entrants from the design question and other submissions, and that all
submissions are completed on-site. Our assumption is that these informal, unstructured discussions such as
in the waiting area in Buduburam act as a filter to elevate and refine good ideas, or sometimes pushing
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 20
entrants to come up with a unique idea that other entrants were not thinking about, though the reader
should be aware of the desire to second guess the intent of the judges.
The benefits of unstructured facilitation mainly came from providing ample incubation time that allowed
entrants to internalize the theme and their ideas. In that sense, the results of NOSs are comparable to in-
depth research methods. The team experimented with collecting data of the same theme, ‘my ideal phone
design’ through a format of street survey in the pilot city, Chongqing, China. A similar entry form as used
in the NOS with a drawing area and a set of simple questions that probed the motivations behind design
choices was provided and administered to participants in informal sessions on the street, which typically
lasted 10-30 minutes. Our conclusion was that the results were too dependent on the survey participants’
educational, intellectual, or even drawing skill level. In the short space of time allowed by a street survey,
ideas struggled to go beyond simply listing commonly known features and small improvement ideas based
on their current mobile phone usage, and revealed little about the relevance of their ideas to their life
contexts. Another instance was a structured 1-day workshop to create ideal mobile phones. Invited
participants spent half a day discussing about the mobile technology and given the stimulus material and
various tools and material to sketch their ideal mobile phone. The results showed signs that their ideas are
directly influenced by the discussion or the stimulus material made available to participants.
Figure 14 Ideal phone sketches received as part of a street survey done in Chongqing, China, 2007. Ideas
often refer to the commonly known features of the available high-tech mobile phones of the time.
Figure 15 Ideal phone sketches received as part of ad-hoc interviews in the owner-run accessory and
clothing shops in Bangkok, Thailand, 2007. As participants were used to designing personal objects, they
quickly got on with developing their ideal mobile phone design and were able to explain how their ideas
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 21
were relevant to their personal life contexts. Due to the difference in aptitude for drawing, choosing a
specific profession or educational level of participants has been observed to influence the outcome of this
6.4 Local artisans’ work as a vehicle to share the research findings
The artifacts created by local artisans in Mumbai including posters and physical sketches provide good
talking points in sharing the research findings through the stories. Artisans typically added imagery that
shows the local context on which the idea is based or more depth to the idea by physical sketches with
colors and material in consideration. With entries from Favela Jacarezinho, a group of comic artists
scripted a coherent storyboard incorporating the selected ideas. With the entrants themselves as actors
representing their own ideas, a short comic book was created. While the effectiveness of the two methods
tried has not been extensively put to test in practice, the importance of designing the effective vehicle to
share the research findings from NOSs is quite clear: especially considering the audience with little
knowledge on the research method in general easily could take the entrants’ sketches at their face value. A
vehicle that can deliver the stories behind entrants’ ideas, and that can be created by further engaging the
local talent would be ideal.
6.5 Ownership of Ideas
The issue of ownership of the entries was widely discussed within the project team during the planning
phase. We set out to meaningfully engage the local community in a way that paid sufficient moral and
legal respect to them, their ideas and the community in which they lived. We also needed to balance the
right for our employer to use the data from the entries, and to legally protect the company should at some
point in the future, an entrant turn around and argue that so-and-so feature from a product, was derived
from their competition entry. On one side of the argument running a competition can be considered
exploitation or subcontracting on the cheap but on the other hand as anyone who has managed a research
project of any complexity will recognise, data (and ideas) do not inherently have value, the value comes
from their interpretation and application. It should be recognised that all entrants have the opportunity to
exploit their own ideas both in terms of legal rights, the enforceability of those rights, and intent of the
research team - though how practical it is to commercially exploit these ideas is another issue entirely.
Whilst the authors have experience of a range of participatory design practices, some of which will be
written up at a later date, the reader is reminded that the purpose of the NOS was not to create designs that
could be brought directly into the design process, or to stimulate innovation in its broadest sense. Rather,
the primary purpose of the NOS can be summarized as unveiling how people relate to technology.
6.6 Strengths and Weaknesses of the Method
As a research method, the primary value of the NOS is in generating data that compliments and challenges
alternative research methods being run in parallel in the same geographical location with a similar target
group. The minimal guidance provided by the research team supports discovering topics that can easily be
overlooked by other inherently more guided methods.
The method allows entrants to work at their own pace, a process that encourages reflection and adds depth
to the entries. This may conflict with research intentions focusing on spontaneous reactions.
As discussed earlier, whether to encourage or discourage discussion, social collaboration and competition
among participants is a question of research objectives. Considering there is no complete control over the
inherent social processes that occur outside the studio space, and particularly in tight-knit communities
such as these, it is wise to assume and perhaps plan to amplify collaborative idea generation. The simplest
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 22
form of explicit encouragement would be specific prizes for group entries, with the exit interview being
more like a focus group.
The quality of results of any NOS is largely dependent on a local team that understands the intent of the
research and is capable of interviewing and properly documenting ideas and motivations behind. Local
assistants with a design background were capable at assisting entrants in articulating ideas having had
experienced the mental process that idea generation requires. However our assistants lacked experience in
documenting additional data such as the conversations with entrants.
With a successful promotion campaign, NOS receives a lot of attention in the community, and reputation
management becomes a factor in the success in its execution. In Dharavi, one entrant stole a mobile phone
from a studio assistant and was later caught by police, and incident that had the potential to create ill-will
towards the NOS in the community - though there is no way to accurately trace the influence.
The NOS generates an obvious output in the form of paper entry forms plus photos of entrants and their
designs. Whilst there is a risk that the immediacy of this material over-shadows other more analysed and
nuanced data, it can become a vehicle by which to engage and stimulate discussion amongst both
stakeholders and external media.
6.7 Future activities
NOS as design research method was born in a series of efforts to better involve people in several stages of
exploratory design projects. NOS has found to be effective in revealing the emotional links between
technology and people, highlighting intrinsic issues for the individual or the community that may be easily
missed through other research methods. The authors have plans to refine the NOSs method in other
exploratory design projects.
Nokia team: Fumiko Ichikawa, Cui Yanqing, Ti el Attar, William Yau, Indri Tulusan, Raphael Grignani,
Duncan Burns and Anne Coates.
Dharavi: Zeenath Hasan, Hasina Hasan, Sridevi Padmanabhan, Sajai Jose, Akanksha Bhakuni, Akshita
Gandhi, Anuj Agrawal, Francis Xavier, J Hemanth, Jalaj Chhatwal, Khushboo Gera, Mohit Arora, Prerna
Dhawan, NIFT National Institute of Fashion Technology Delhi and Mumbai
Jacarezinho: Bruno Vianna, Flavia Candida, Augusto Amaral, Michel Messer, Rodrigo de Deus, Ana
Beatriz de Souza, Douglas Queiroz, Gabrielle Pereira, Tiago Ortega, Vatusi Silva, Anderson Ferreira,
Leandro da Silva, Tiago Cunha, Wilton Araujo, Heloisa Lamounier, Lakshmi Rajagopal, DJ-MShellz,
Renato Lima, Johanson Rezende, Erik “Rocker” Judson and Cabeludo, NGO Cellula Urbana and the NGO
Amigos de Meio Ambiente.
Nima-Maamobi / Buduburam: Zeenath Hasan, Kobby Asara, Johnson Appaiah, Wisdom Tsidi, Antwi
Bosiakoh, Thersa Nkumah, Bruce Wiah, Alfred Tarley, Momo Johnson, Webster Nyion, Kenneth
Kpdekpo, Vincent Kuuire, Jerry Detroy, Jaco Abudu, Yvette Otoo, Hisenburg Togba and NGO MOPGEL.
Not least, thanks to all the entrants from Jacarezihno, Buduburam and Dharavi who took part in the Nokia
Open Studio, and Hannu O. Nieminen who sponsored the project in Nokia Design.
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 23
8. RELATED LINKS
Visual presentation of Nokia Open Studio as Design Research Method, available at authors’
weblogs (Younghee Jung, Jan Chipchase)
Nokia’s Dream Phones, Kerry Capell, Business Week, 30th April, 2008, related slides show of
The Way We Work, presentation slideshow on design research methods and Future Urban,
Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, prepared for Nokia Design press event in London, UK, 29th
What We Learn by Inviting People to be Designers, online video of presentation given at LIFT
by Younghee Jung, Geneva, Switzerland, 7th February, 2008
Nokia Open Studios by Younghee Jung and Jan Chipchase, October 2008 24