What A Mundane Object Can Teach Us About China’s Digital Culture

What A Mundane Object Can Teach Us About China’s Digital Culture

Field researcher Jan Chipchase develops an experiment that test China's online services that centers around the country's ubiquitous red welcome mats.

Plus Aziz
  • 1 may 2012

Jan Chipchase is a field researcher that has led numerous innovation-consulting projects for multi-national brands. He’s been involved with work in China since 2004. His recent project, Red Mat: A Design Experiment is an exploratory research project that seeks to convey the nuances of how Chinese identity and digital services will continue to evolve in the global economy.

The experiment is made of several creative tasks that abide by the following rules:

1. It must engage people from across China.

2. Every Chinese person can recognise the final thing that is made.

3. None of the people taking part should understand what is being made.

4. Only Chinese services can be used.

5. That the experiment goal and process is reviewed after each step.

6. The process must be transparent.

Many tasks leveraged homegrown digital services like chatting service QQ, crowdsourcing site Zhubajie and Sandaha, video site Yukou, e-commerce site Taobao and others.

Chipchase and his team used widespread Chinese iconography (specifically the welcome mat found at the entrance of restaurants) as a central symbol for the tasks they assigned their research participants. They investigated the materials used to make the red mats, where they are made, and situated them at the center of tasks that make up his design experiment.

Check out additional photos from the project below:

One interesting task was to source 100 mats from 100 locations across China. Using Weibo, they identified their suppliers by relying on Chinese users who were paid for finding retailers. This task was designed to probe whether social dynamics and geography influenced the design of the red wlcome mats in any way.

What fascinates us most about this experiment is how Chipchase pinpointed a mundane, everyday object and mobilized hundreds of participants by recognizing the symbolism that underlies it. These tasks not only enabled the experimenters to penetrate into the diverse geographies and psychographics that make up Chinese culture today, but it also provided a way for Chipchase’s team to better understand the country’s rather self-contained Internet culture.

Download a PDF of the design experiment’s booklet here.

Jan Chipchase


Flower Pencils Create Cherry Blossom Petals When Sharpened

Arts & Culture
Technology Today

Fragrance Will Release The Smell Of Data If Your Private Information Is Being Leaked

The device is designed to create a physical cue for the potential dangers lurking online

Retail Today

LYNK & CO Is A New Auto Brand That Promises Mobile Connectivity On Wheels

Online access and mobility sharing are driving the company to disrupt the auto industry


Get PSFK's Related Report: Future of Automotive

See All
Gaming & Play Today

Nintendo’s New Console Pushes For Portable Gaming

The Switch allows gamers to seamlessly play on the go by themselves or with friends

Entertainment Today

Speaker Displays Song Lyrics As Music Is Played

The device is able to generate the graphics on a translucent screen and retrieve the words from a connected database

AI Today

Travel Assistant Scans Your Emails To Make Planning Easier

This AI add-on will sync with your inbox and sends reminders to make sure you don't miss anything important

Millennials Today

FOMO Survival Kit Helps Millennials Cope With Social Anxieties

The satirical product is meant to be a playful diversion for people who feel like they are missing out


Future Of Automotive
Scenarios Driving The Digital Transformation Of An Industry

PSFK Op-Ed Yesterday

Wearable Tech Expert: Designing Technology To Empower Connection To Ourselves

Billie Whitehouse, Founder of Wearable Experiments, shares her new vision for the quantified self

PSFK Labs Today

PSFK Picks: Top 5 Performance-Enhancing Wearables

Our new report looks at innovations pioneering the future of performance through intelligent activewear and predictive analytics

Food Today

New York Restaurant Uses Tomato Sushi As Its Newest Meat Alternative

fresh&co is using sous vide Roma tomatoes to create a vegan option that has the texture and taste of tuna

Advertising Today

Red Bull Converts Sao Paulo Payphones Into Data-Driven Bus Schedules

The booths allow city residents to check local transit times through a simple toll-free phone call

Work Today

Health Expert: Nutritional Meal Replacements Are A Solution To Corporate Wellness

Ample Foods Founder Connor Young explains why supplements are the next food trend coming to the workplace

Retail Today

Why Experiential Events Could Replace Trade Shows

Marketers are seeking creative and impactful new ways to connect with influencers

Children Today

Modular Kit Teaches Kids How To Make Their Own Robots

MODI features magnetic modules and a platform for programming to encourage experimentation

Infants Today

Work Table Doubles As A Baby Seat

Designer Kunsik Choi created the furniture to facilitate emotional communication between between parents and their children

Technology Today

Album Turns Into Something New Each Time It’s Streamed

Bill Baird's new album explores the relationship between time and music through a website crafted by design team, One Pixel Wide

Technology Today

Wearable Device And Lamp Recreate Beautiful Sunsets In Your Home

Sun Memories can record up to six hours of natural light and reproduce it via a connected light at a later date

No search results found.