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Why You Do, What You Do


What draws you to get out of bed to go and do whatever it is that you do?

Money? Fear? Apathy? Passion?

Somewhere along the line you made choices to get to where you are. My choice has been to make Tokyo my home for the last 5 years. My original calling was user interface design, having attended the inspirational UI Master’s course run by Robert Scane at City Polytechnic (London Guildhall University as it’s now known). My logic for moving here was – where better to learn the UI trade than the home of electronics companies and a marketplace that is really an experimental product design playground that produces stuff that you simply won’t see anywhere else in the world?* In Tokyo every time I step outside the door to my apartment I expect to learn something new, and am rarely disappointed.

The stuff that interests me – new experiences, learning about people and the cultures they inhabit, inventing stuff, sometimes re-arranging old stuff in new ways, and (second)guessing the future has morphed into my current job. These are my reasons for getting out of bed in the morning, and occasionally, if the big idea comes at 3 in the morning, they become my reason for getting up in the middle of the night.

But whatever you’re calling at some point you simply need to get your head down and work, and work though what-ever it is you do. In user research there’s a point in any in-depth user study when you’re unable to absorb new data, so overwhelmed with new experiences that you struggle to maintain perspective. The constant, admittedly self-imposed pressure is to take every opportunity to gather more, delve deeper, go that bit further. On international studies you know when you arrive and you know when you leave, and that’s your (usually ambitious) time frame. And if the study includes conducting contextual ad-hoc street interviews there is no next time and there is no tomorrow, only missed chances, so breakfast’s, bus rides, flight delays and that night off that you promised yourself quickly become reasons conduct one more interview or go into observation mode. (I sometimes think that if I worked for a toothpaste company there would be easy boundaries to my work, but try researching something as ubiquitous as the mobile phone). Even with the best planning, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. For example we have the processes for a research team in the field to affectively deal with incoming photo data as quickly as it can generated, but consider that a research team can end up with 3,000 relevant still photos from a single city 10 day user study. If you like to pick up a camera this job is almost like aversion therapy. To do something so intensely that it’s bound to sometimes create an adverse reaction.

The last few days have been good – back home with everything that entails: family, a semblance of a familiar rhythm. Today I managed to pick up the camera through choice and cycled the city to see what grabs. Capturing the world around me just because there’s so much still to learn, and for now at least Tokyo is my backyard.

In case you’re wondering, I came across the gentleman above tonight on my cycle ride home from a pleasant night out in Ebisu. Non-Japanese often make a big deal of the uniformity of Japanese socieity – group
behaviour/harmony and so on. The reality is IMHO somewhat different. Creativity here is hard to explain, but in many, often subtle ways eclipses cities such as London and NYC.

* There’s good reason why you don’t see many of these product’s for sale outside Japan – but thats another story