Ziba Design on China
The “Inside Innovation” supplement of the current issue of Business Week features a lengthy article on Ziba Design‘s the ethnographic user research for Lenovo, China’s biggest computer company. The story goes into quite some depth on the methods and tools used.

The research won a 2006 gold Industrial Design Excellence Award (IDEA) from the Industrial Designers Society of America.

“Lenovo asked us to help them define product opportunities for their consumer divisions in desktop, notebook, and cellular so they could better compete on meaning and value. We needed to create an approach that captured the soul of the Chinese consumer and inspired Lenovo’s design teams. We needed to create new research tools to find out which design elements have meaning and value for specific groups of Chinese consumers. We provided Lenovo with a 36-month strategic product plan for each of its three consumer technology platforms. Because we were building a strategy, our design research had to create targets for idea generation and concept refinement.”

“To create product experiences that connect with China’s consumers, the team needed to understand three cultures: China, users, and products. To build these connections, the team developed an approach called “Search for the Soul,” which integrates immersive experience (live-the-life), rapid ethnography, and method acting to uncover latent needs and wants.” [...]

Based on the research, the team identified “the aspirations, behaviors, and needs of distinct clusters [of users]. These clusters became known as ‘technology tribes’. The five technology tribes identified were: Social Butterflies, Relationship Builders, Upward Maximizers, Deep Immersers, and Conspicuous Collectors. Each of these groups has vastly different needs, ranging from the need to connect to a broad social network (Social Butterflies) to the desire to seek escape through fantasy and immersion (Deep Immersers).”

These profiles drove concept generation, allowed for “a clear understanding of who Lenovo’s target consumers ought to be (four primary tech tribes: Social Butterflies, Relationship Builders, Upward Maximizers, and Deep Immersers) and laid the groundwork to create product-line strategies for Lenovo’s desktop, notebook, and cellular platforms.

In conclusion:

“The definition of rich, psychographic tribes gave Lenovo’s senior management and marketing teams a common language and a common vision of the future. Our research gave them a defined segment map (based on behavior, attitudes, and values) to guide the development of appropriate products for target consumers. Future product lines are now organized around the needs of specific “tech tribes.” Our research gave Lenovo an understanding of Western approaches to creativity and markets. Within months of the completion of this project in 2005, Lenovo cemented its commitment to high-value design by acquiring IBM’s PC (ThinkPad) business unit.”

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