Thinker Spotlight: Jan Chipchase

Frog Design user experience lead Jan Chpichase
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Who is Jan Chipchase?

I’m occasionally asked which thought leaders I personally follow and Jan Chipchase has been a favorite for almost ten years now. For the uninitiated, Jan is currently Creative Director of Global Insights for Frog, the renowned product strategy and design firm but I first became familiar with him back when he was traveling the world to observe global mobile user behavior for Nokia. His blog, Future Perfect, was one of my favorites when I was first exploring the social implications of mobile technology and remains a regular read today.

What does he talk about?

I first started reading Jan’s blog in 2005 which was the dark ages for mobile in the US. It was pre-iPhone, pre-apps (at least as we know them today) and while Europe was a bit more advanced, few people foresaw where things were going. In fact, I distinctly remember the managing director of my office at the time, an older European gentleman, who patted me on the head (yes, he actually did that) and said, “Find something else to focus on my dear—mobile is not the next big thing”.

I was never interested in the next big thing. I was interested in mobile because I believed it would lead to fundamental changes in human behavior—in how we socialize, shop, communicate, consume, and create content. As far as I was concerned, it was about evolution vs. revolution. That’s why I started following Jan back then and continue to follow him now. At the time, he was traveling through India, Africa, and Asia to study how consumers in these societies used nascent mobile technology to improve their lives. Invariably, he found that they were using their devices for purposes somewhat different from the manufacturer’s original intent and his observations were fed back into the lab at Nokia, leading to numerous improvements in device design and many new messaging, mapping, payments, and video features we accept as standard today.

Nowadays, he appears to be doing more or less the same thing for Frog, though the focus has switched from mobile technology to more expansive concepts like smart cities, digital currency, the future of work, and the ubiquitous internet of things. The original Future Perfect blog now shares space on with several other regularly featured post categories about design, research methodology and (my personal favorite) his office du jour as he continues his travels around the globe.

So why follow Jan?

Being the globetrotter that he is, Jan’s blog, Twitter, Slideshare, and Google+ accounts are a useful window into culture, digital and otherwise, outside the US. Few of us are lucky enough to travel like he does and his insights, many of them presented as simple photos, can open your eyes to all sorts of new possibilities about the future of technology, content, social  media, and, of course, mobile. If you’re interested in digging in to what he has to offer, I’d suggest you check out some his presentations on privacy, pattern recognition, and the use of technology to bring clean drinking water to impoverished communities in India. He also has numerous videos from TED and other conferences floating around on YouTube, almost all of which are worth watching but if you have to start with one that explains who he is and why his ideas are worth your attention, I’d start with this one, given a year ago at POP Tech, on Design Anthropology (of which he’s kind of the godfather…)

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