I grew up in dual cultures in a monolithic society. The experience of having to always explain my name, my background, my heritage, made me realize at a young age that people thought differently, had different expectations, ideals, values. Our humanness is fascinating.
It was when I was working at Nokia in the 1990s that this idea of human awareness started taking shape. As a product lead, I sat in meetings, hearing market research results that clashed with the reality of what people got excited about, pondering on the better way.
One situation in particular stands out. A research agency was presenting its results from a global study and had found ‘that US women wouldn’t want a mobile phone that wasn’t black’. These were the 90s and while many women didn’t want to be seen differently to their male counterparts, changeable covers for phones were just around the corner. We knew through validation, that the research was wrong.
Researching what people want in three years, at a time when the experience of owning a mobile phone as a status symbol was becoming obsolete, was proving to be pointless. The answers we were getting didn’t account for the upcoming shift in perceptions, and resulting behaviours.
The everyday human
Nokia set up Future Watch, an internal organization canvassing change and its impact on Nokia, and I was given the Human area to focus on as I was already working on it. My team and I travelled to 30+ countries around the world to understand how cultures, societal norms, economic situations, impacted the way in which people used mobile phones.
For example, in Chinese cities, the majority of our customers rode bikes, so how could we make mobile phones work there? In Colombia, a country where you didn’t stop at a red light or wear jewelry on the street, we landed upon a stealth concept – a way to communicate without the actual device being visible.
In the modern era of human-centered design, this may seem fundamental, but at the time we were only just starting to scratch the surface of how the unique aspects of humans can help develop a product.
When we talk about the human element in a work context, we more often than not are referring to an employee or a consumer. Yes, there are more modern methods of taking a human-centred approach, (IDEO’s fantastic design toolkit is making strides in this area), but on the whole, businesses still look at humans as buyers. The problem with this is that it leaves out the human in everyday life. What their life is like, outside of purchasing the product, what shifts are taking place for them, what brings them to your market.
While I was traveling, the way I saw the world began to shift and the idea for Hunome as a platform was born.
A world, apart
After Nokia, I co-founded an innovation community marketplace, in the early 2000, in the nascent age of social media. I observed (and participated) in this growing trend with great interest. But as the years passed, it became obvious that social media, and the internet as a whole, was becoming more and more polarized. The world began viewing things in black or in white, and not the many, many shades of grey in between. We are now realizing how problematic this is considering the complexity and nuance of understanding humans and human problems.
The other thing I began to notice was that information was harder to come by. It is all there on the internet but it’s scattered and siloed. Bringing that data together is time consuming (manual searching), or expensive (market research), or clumsy (AI aggregation), and the result is often simplistic, and doesn’t show the whole picture. It’s almost like we haven’t moved on from that market research presentation I sat in 25 years ago.
We’ve created a world where the need to understand our humanness is more relevant now than ever before. How can we develop as a society without measuring the impact we have on the people within it? Or canvas opinions, when we don’t accept the diversity of thought? How can we come up with an answer, when we don’t understand the question? Or aren’t even asking the right ones?
Hunome has been a long time in the making. But creating a place where multiple ideas and experiences can be brought together to build understanding, was never going to be a straightforward path. In order to give the world a better understanding of our humanness, we need to allow the collective building of knowledge and the evolution of perspectives.
We need our humanness at the heart.