Physical Data India 2014

Physical Data India

Physical Data India

It’s great to be back at the world’s most important place for design – The National Institute of Design India . I’ve been here before exploring Physical Apps India and this time I want to disrupt things in another way. I want to start to think about data and the digital economy in India. Consider this:

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India is a crowd economy. It’s a crowd society. It’s a crowd culture. But with no Kickstarter I wonder how right now it is becoming a digital economy. I have no doubt that it will very very soon. Evidence of this is India’s growing digital democracy. An incredible story is unfolding in the build up to this year’s general election. The opposition party’s leader Narendra Modi is leveraging his background as a chai wallah to connect to people across India. Every town has thousands of chai whallahs, in every train station, outside every major business, on every crossroad, outside every university campus, in fact everywhere. And so when Modi takes questions over a live webcast to audiences to thousands at chai stalls across the country you know that India is ahead of the rest of the world. When you connect this crowd thinking into India’s inherent Maker culture you are faced with the potential to radically change how the world thinks about digital and how the world thinks about connecting to data. Reading this in the UK, EU or US? Tell me, when was the last time you saw something being made, repaired or adapted? Beyond our cars and our houses, pretty much everything is a consumer driven culture. I’d love to have an iphone repair shop like this one in Ahmedabad.


So I ask you. How can we physically connect to our data that builds on the crowd based culture and deep routed sense of making across India?

The product design students I’ve been working with are exploring a semester-long project of designing for visually impaired. By working with the Blind People’s Association Ahmedabad they are exploring an ‘inclusive’ (skip to my thought at the end of this post about what I think about ‘inclusive design’ – discuss!) design approach to visual impairment. What I think is exciting is that given that we’re all visually impaired when it comes to data, is there not an opportunity to learn from people who spend their lives where ‘seeing’ is a multi-sense activity. I live by the sea (I know I talk about this a lot, but just in case you didn’t know that) and when a boat passes my kids (actually it’s me) want to know what boat is that, what’s it doing. I can try binoculars but if I’m lucky I can find the name of the boat… see that it’s an ‘army boat’ or a ‘oil ship’… but that’s it. I need to go online and find out more. The Marine AIS tracker gives me the eyes I need to see the data. The web and the data it enables access to opens up a new window on the world. Which gives a challenge – how can we explore data that comes off the screen an into our world in a meaningful way? I think we might be able to learn a thing or two about talking to people who know how to navigate the world beyond just sight.


Footnote on Inclusive Design. OK, so I have a problem with the term ‘inclusive’. It sounds massively hierarchical and top down. It says, I’m here to help you. Which is often said with the very best of intentions. But there’s an assumption. The assumption is that you have a problem and I’m the expert here to solve it. We never treat people we really want to talk to this way. You wouldn’t write a invitation t a party saying “I’d like to include you in my party”. You’d never say “I’d like to include you at Christmas this year”… If we’re co-designing with people we should look to find common problems that we can co-design responses to together. Which is why I LOVED the brief that students had been given on working with the Blind People’s Association. We’re ALL blind to data and maybe we as designers could learn from people who had spend their lives in a world where ‘seeing’ is a multi-sense activity…

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