People ask me a lot what I do. Well sometimes it’s working with software and sometimes its process and documentation and sometimes it’s looking at the future and saying, “Wow what do we do next.”. Here’s a short exercise I put together to demonstrate how to think about what’s next…
On another blog … I made some pretty big statements about using something like Japanese Anime as a forecaster for “What’s Next” in technology. Admittedly that’s a big stretch going from a Cartoon – to the next iPad or Kinect device. I mean c’mon it’s a popular show over in Japan but the connection just isn’t there, and even if it does become the cross cultural meme I’m saying it will… there’s no connecting a cultural meme to technology innovation.
Agreed – it’s a stretch, but as with all stretches it starts on solid footing. On the surface there’s no real connection if all you’re looking for is a direct connection. So just to show you I’m not entirely off base, let’s look at what a cross cultural meme is.
Cross cultural memes are thoughts – ideas – which are not bounded by a specific culture or ideology. They transcend that – hence their popularity in cultures beyond their own and outside their genre tropes. They represent a collective vision of reality – and most importantly the collective wants, dreams and to some extent, the needs – of that collective society. Yeah, yeah, yeah… pretty heady stuff.
Bottom line is – there are certain factors that drive the popularity of a cross culture meme. These same factors also – make for winning product scenarios of not what is, but what people at some level want a world to be.
I know this is like saying Mickey Mouse’s global popularity can be used to define and design technology. Which, is, exactly what I’m saying. Want to create something that appeals to the needs of everyone? You look for the same reasons Mickey Mouse appeals to children all over the world. Mickey’s world – how he lives – is a reflection of how people envision life within that world.
So if you want to make something that succeeds – make something that succeeds in Mickey’s world, using the same cross cultural rules that make Mickey a hit cartoon.
Or in this case… you make it the way that Sunrise is making Tiger and Bunny.
I should point out – by the way – that I am cheating in picking Tiger and Bunny. Sunrise, has already created two extremely successful cross cultural anime phenomenon in the past, and so it’s not a real stretch to think that with the popularity of this show in Japan it won’t also become another.
I should also point out – you can do this with ANY cultural meme. But for ease of picking a winning technology product you choose something with a forward thinking or futuristic theme. I just happened to choose Tiger and Bunny because they’re an emerging trend so our “hits” for picking out popular product ideas will be more in tune with “now”.
So let’s get to it. What’s special about the world of Tiger and Bunny? What are the things that make it jump out at us, catch our attention. Well for one thing… it’s already not made for a single geography. It’s pre-localized to some extent. Here are some close up screen shots to demonstrate what I’m saying?
What’s out of place here? You see it? If you’re from North America – probably not. The news papers, magazines, signs, everything is in English. Which is a little odd for one of the top Japanese tv shows isn’t it? Now reshooting everything with Americanized news papers, magazine covers, business signs and so on… is expensive. So it’s a safe bet that this is planned.
And look at the characters themselves – skin tones, facial features – they’re not Asian. On the surface these faces could be American, or Canadian, or British.
But look more closely, at the eyes, and facial expressions. They could also be lighter toned features from almost any culture… including Asian. Truth is, they could be any culture. In the world of Tiger and Bunny, people are Asian, Caucasian, Black, Hispanic – there is no one culture in this world.
Names, similarly are used to hide culture. Some are obviously French, others are obviously mid-eastern, and others Americanized. Even the name of the fictional city where all of this happens isn’t geo-political. Its not New York or Tokyo or Paris or London or Cairo … it’s “Stern Bild” – a name which can’t be locked to any geographic location.
So one reason this works so well cross culturally is they’ve created a world which is cross cultural already. It can be argued like the world of Star Trek – this is a vision of a future that we’ll accept where all races and cultures get along, working and living together. So put that in your notes now. “Cross Cultural Compatibility” – which I would argue is the opposite of “Localizing” a product. Localizing is the acceptance by making it work with a locality. Cross Cultural – is the making of acceptance by making it work across all localities through a proxy environment. (Computers for example … do not speak a language, they’re localized to a culture. But due to it’s cross political use – the interface for Windows and how it operates has become a cross-cultural language in that it works across cultures even if you remove all language from it.)
So … let’s see what else Tiger and Bunny can teach us about future ideas. Look at the Phone that Bunny uses to talk to his daughter. Three things jump out. One… it’s a video phone obviously. Two… it has a hand set. Three it has a holographic representation of the dial. What’s that mean? If we’re astute it tells us several things about our cultures – that the people making the show probably never considered but are valuable lessons.
As a video phone we know that Tiger could – probably use some elaborate wall or TV video chat – we see it all the time. But the writers chose to portray his personal call on a small phone – because – hey it’s personal. He wants to be able to see his daughter, but it’s a casual call – so it’s personal and not something he’s going to share. He could use his cell phone, or wrist communicator – he’s got one. But this is a personal moment so he uses his house phone, with the video link so he can see her. His house phone is a kind of retro because it’s familiar, and comfortable despite its technology.
It reflects him, and his needs in this personal moment, which is why he has a phone like that and uses it. In fact, I would say any time you have a scene that is a personal moment of someone using technology in a cross cultural meme… you can learn a lot about what people want in a product and need in a product. Why??? Simple. Personal moments don’t just exist in memes… they exist in our world directly.
PERSONAL MOMENTS EXIST!! Write that down – and remember it because a lot of designers tend to forget this. 50% of our time or more occurs in Personal Moments… be it sleep, or talking on a private conversation or taking a shower or… any personal moment. When we fail to consider the circumstances of use… we lose real opportunities to predict what’s next. It’s like cutting out half the possible use case scenarios of an idea.
Always consider that in a cross culture vision, all of the paragraph I wrote is true. If you’re designing a communication device of any kind if you want a success… there is your blue print. (Not the holographic phone… the concepts of the design of that holographic phone… although that one is pretty cool.)
Let’s look at some other aspects of this world and the cross culture bleed into technology. Whats their world like? We know they still drive cars – even if some are pretty wild they’re basically the same cars and cabs we drive… with some exceptions. They’re clean. So is their power… take a look at something you’d probably miss if you weren’t looking for it. That’s right. Tiger and Bunny’s world is green. It’s on billboards, it’s on cars, its not ‘in your face’ it’s just an accepted reality. So GREEN=GOOD for this vision of the future.
What else? Well computers don’t have monitors perse. Information appears as holographs floating. Which, you might toss out as being “too far ahead” until you consider whats already being done in this area today. We’re basically there in the next 3-5 years so this isn’t a stretch but it is a common expectation. From phones to computers to cars – projected information is the preferred presentation media. (And once again… in the language of the viewer.)
Keep in mind, when you’re looking at what’s next from the view of a cross cultural meme – you’re not seeing what currently is – but what people want to see in the future they envision. Being practical isn’t necessarily part of the equation – and shouldn’t be just yet. Because even the bizarre – no matter how bizarre or improbable, like transforming motorcycles that morph while they zoom down the road – may just be your next big idea.