Wednesday, April 14, 2010

CHI '08: From meiwaku to tokushita!: lessons for digital money design from japan

Scott Mainwaring Intel Research, Portland, OR, USA
Wendy March Intel Research, Portland, OR, USA
Bill Maurer UC Irvine, Irvine, CA, USA

Paper Link:∂=series&WantType=Proceedings&title=CHI&CFID=://

Mainwaring et. al. discuss the finding of an ethnographic study on the effects of e-money in Japan, particularly Tokyo and Okinawa (the Hawaii of Japan).
The main focus of the ethnographic study of e-money was on Near-Field Communication (NFC) enabled into cards, passes, and mobile devices. The reason the team chose Japan as the place for the ethnography is that it already has a high adoption rate of various forms of e-money. Mainwaring et. al. studied 3 different brands of emoney:

The main results of the study found that the reason for the high rate of adoption of e-money was the deeply engrained Japanese wish to reduce "meiwaku" 迷惑 which means "nuisance" or "bother." This plays heavily into Japanese society where the needs of the community often trump individual concerns and not wishing to stand out or bother others. This sense of meiwaku also highlights why only 1/10th of transactions in Japan are done via credit card whereas in the U.S. it's 1/4th of all transactions.

With suica, people could simply move past a turnstile and have their card automatically charged without holding up the flow of traffic.

While Edy also offers auto-charging with NFC technology, it could also increase meiwaku by holding up lines when the e-money ran out. Furthermore, putting more money into the account required finding charging stations of the same brand and on top of that, the card can only be used in stores supporting the brand. Finally, by law, money converted into e-money cannot be converted back into regular cash.

The other main theme found in the use of E-money is "Tokushita" 得した or well done/advantage gained. This refers to the rewards gained by using the e-money through rewards programs and gaining "something for nothing" out of using the card. Suica for example, allowed customers to earn travel miles for a certain amount spent. The study found that people would go out of their way to use their cards out of a sense of tokushita and to gain rewards.

The design considerations that the ethnography suggests that e-cash systems should:
1) result in a net decrease in commotion, before, during, and after point of sale.
2) Be designed for public use and take into account the environment of the transaction.
3) support management of their money without either introducing new burdens nor decreasing friction to a point of invisible spending
4) Subtly engage multiple senses, both for practical and aesthetic issues.
5) Leave room for dreams, irrationality, and for tokushita! Money is not just about exactness and frugality; it's also about fun. If e-money brightens your day then it might also fit into your life.

My spill:

I was interested in this study primarily because I'm studying Japanese currently and thought I'd like to hear some of the cultural implications in spending. I can't say that I learned just a whole lot but it was interesting. think we can all appreciate not wanting to burden or be a nuisance on people and keeping that in mind for designing any technology is important.

I would like to see future work address their design considerations listed in the end. Particularly in how NFC can be employed such that people aren't charged accidentally and being able to reverse a transaction should that happen. Also, I'd like to know whether it's possible to convert e-cash into say a credit card in the U.S. or if that's just a Japanese law.

Incorporating a rewards system for these kinds of transaction is a smart business move, I think. It keeps people motivated for using your card.

The authors also mentioned that the Japanese really focus on delivering aesthetic satisfaction in using their products. I think we should do that more in the states.

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