UX: Jan Chipchase Thoughts

It’s difficult to not participate in certain activities or read articles like Jan Chipchase’s “Calibrating Your Cultural Compass” without having on the foreigner lens. My primary goal in moving to Singapore this fall was to be open to new and more experiences – to immerse myself in places with background and cultures different than I had experienced before. This is research. It may not have been explicitly stated in a research thesis but as Chipchase states, ” great [design] research is finding the right balance between formal and informal data collection.” Recognizing that we are constantly collecting data about people and places through observations, conversations and activities is the easy part. The more difficult part would be purposefully dedicating time to do so in an environment that is new to you where there will inherently be more learnings.

Many of Chipchase’s methods or examples of observation in Chapter 5 helped me realize just how much I was learning in the past two and a half weeks in Singapore. It’s quite interesting how small behavioral tendencies or subliminal signage or language use can share so much information. Being able to compare and contrast people’s attitudes, mannerisms, beliefs, values, reasonings etc. is at the heart of what Chipchase calls to “go native” and attempt “rapid cultural calibration”. In just a single MRT ride or an afternoon canteen lunch or a morning run on campus I can pick up on some of these learnings. What’s most interesting to me though, is how everyone is trying to learn about people because we can find patterns in people of certain places and document concrete data. But ultimately, individuals are all entirely different from each other. There almost seems to be levels of connections where people have the same or similar behavioral tendencies and mindsets at a surface level only. The idea of a platzgeist in which people strive to understand how an environment comes together through it’s people, place, background and activities gave me a much greater understanding of the applicability of gestalt theory in real life and of the purpose of user research in the workplace.


  1. Where is the line drawn between creative strategists/ designers who focus on front end user research and anthropologists? Why not have a team that combines the two or where people share roles throughout the process?
  2. How specific can you go in learning about the platzgeist of an environment or the people of a place? Chipchase says it’s possible to collect too much information so how can you sensor your data collection to only include that which is necessary?