On Margins is a podcast about making books and book-shaped things, hosted by Craig Mod.
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Researcher and author Jan Chipchase has a new book — "The Field Study Handbook." We discuss how he came to produce this 500+ page magnum opus — a distillation of his life's work — and why he is self publishing.
Craig Mod: “What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny, dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
This is Carl Sagan talking about what makes books great. This is back in 1980 and what’s so weirdly compelling about this quote is that the magic of a book, despite it being relatively simple as a piece of technology, I mean incredibly simple as a piece of technology, has been in no way diminished by the onslaught of smartphones and ubiquitous internet.
And when we say ubiquitous internet we really mean ubiquitous internet. Go to the fields of Myanmar and you will find farmers atop buffalo playing Clash of Clans on newly minted 3G networks. Walk into any café, any restaurant and you will see a sea of people looking down at their phones. In fact, our state of always-on communication of jumping from source to source only strengthens the power that is a great book.
But what is a great book in its most simple definition? To me, a great book is a piece of thinking in which usually one other person — who’s hopefully an expert in their field or an expert of their own unique experience; and that’s an important and kind of strange caveat because sometimes people have had experiences but they haven’t put in the time to become experts of their own experience — and so you have this expert who has worked through a thought or a collection of thoughts over and over again. These thoughts can be textual or visual or some combination therein. A refinement of a kind of thinking about a specific topic. That thinking or experience is distilled and then given to others as a gift and I hope in a best case scenario as a starting point for a deeper kind of dialogue.
I’ve been working on and with books for over 15 years as a designer, a publisher, a producer and an author and what I’ve realized over time is that the margins of a great book run deep. The more I’ve worked on my own books, the more I’ve come to realize that the white space and untold stories behind how and why a book is made are not only compelling but essential and it’s within those margins that I want to spend some time.
The first guest on this podcast is author Jan Chipchase whose life is nothing if not oodles of white space, oodles of untold stories and unseen preparation in anticipation of sharing his insights with the world. And so today, we’re talking about his most recent book, “The Field Study Handbook.”
My name is Craig Mod. I’m here today with Jan Chipchase and it’s a very special day for Jan. He has in his hands something that he has been working on for a long, long time. Three …
Jan Chipchase: Yeah.
Craig Mod: Three things.
Jan Chipchase: Three years.
Craig Mod: Three years.
Jan Chipchase: Intensively.
Craig Mod: Super intensively. So Jan, what is this that you have in your hand and why are we talking this morning?
Jan Chipchase: I have been working on a book called “The Field Study Handbook”, which is a guide to running international field research. Basically it’s a guide to traveling around the world, decoding culture, building teams and helping clients figure out how the world out there affects how they think and what they should do next.
Craig Mod: You gave me a sneak peek at this and I’m really excited about it.
Jan Chipchase: You’re in it.
Craig Mod: What? Oh man. I’m going to need some royalties on this thing now. I’m really excited about this book because your life, your work-life balance for the last 15 years has been this endless source of fascination for so many of us in the world who are designers or travelers or ethnographers. And this book is a consolidation of all of that work and thinking of your life.
Jan Chipchase: About field work, yeah.
Craig Mod: And how long is it?
Jan Chipchase: 524 pages.
Craig Mod: Yeah, I mean you just held it up for me. It looks like a Bible. It is definitely … It’s a weapon. You could use that to attack people.
Jan Chipchase: It’s a handbook but it’s 1. … I just measured it for the first time, it’s 1.75 inches.
Craig Mod: Yeah. It’s a mitt book. It’s not really just for a hand, it’s like for a giant’s mitts.
Jan Chipchase: For large handed people. But having said that, it does have 80 diagrams in it. It’s not like all text. There’s 80 diagrams, there’s 50 illustrations in there, also tables, case studies. It’s well spaced out.
Craig Mod: Yeah, I mean what I love about it is you couch as this guide to doing field work, but really, I mean, looking at the table of contents and reading the bits that you let me read and just having known you for years and talk to you about your work, this book is, it’s a guide to living globally in a respectful way. I think the respect component is so big in this book. I love it. I mean, you sent me these little samples and so much of the sample was about respect.
Jan Chipchase: There’s a thing in our field which is human centered design, right? Putting people at the center of the process in some shape or form. A lot of people talk about that as if if you practice that, that the thing that you do will turn out good. As in good in the sense of be social and be good for society. But actually, the reality is you can use those tools for good and bad. You can make more money out of people without them realizing it. You can create solutions that shift balance of power in the favor of the few instead of the many. There’s many different ways it can be applied. Actually, the ethics of how we do this and the intent behind how we do this is one of the most important parts of this process. I’m sharing what I believe creates and draws in these rich and valid and sustainable ways of collecting data in the world out there, and using it to make a difference. Yeah, thank you for picking up on that.
Craig Mod: Yeah. I mean, it almost, and some parts of it read almost like a travel guide from the 1800s or something. I mean, it really is this … We have this sense of the world in a globalism ironing out everything and everywhere you go it’s a McDonald’s and a McDonald’s is a McDonald’s is a McDonald’s. But the reality is that they aren’t all the same like that.
I mean, there’s a paragraph I want to just read for a second where you’re talking about forms of incentive and you say, “For example, for home based sessions in China it’s common to arrive with a gift such as watermelon and leave after handing over an envelope of cash. In Japan small, fancy biscuits are an appropriate gift on arrival. In communities without refrigeration … " Which is, I love that because it’s like, yeah, you’re going to be in places without refrigerators sometimes. “It is better to turn up with a live animal that can be eaten in one sitting, such as a chicken. In countries where prepaid phones are common, air time is an appropriate gift that can also be converted into cash.” In one paragraph and you have about a billion of these paragraphs like that. It’s this quick jump deep into places and ways of thinking about places that I think most people don’t get to. Kudos. I like it.
Jan Chipchase: Thank you. I’ve been practicing this for 17 years, now, from my first job and it’s a privilege every day to be doing this kind of work.
Craig Mod: Walk us through the elevator pitch of Jan’s last 17 years.
Jan Chipchase: Okay, and the preamble to that is a degree in development economics in the UK. Joined a research institute at the University of Bristol. Then, moved to Japan where we didn’t meet, surprisingly because we were both out there. I was in Japan for 10 years and I worked initially as a very bad usability engineer and then morphed into concept designer. This was at Nokia’s research center in Tokyo. Then, eventually made my way up to being principal scientist in the research center. Then, in 2000 I left and I became a executive creative director of global insights, long job title. Overseeing the research practice at Frog Design, globally.
Craig Mod: You left Nokia 2000.
Jan Chipchase: 2010. I was at Nokia 2000 to 2009, actually.
Craig Mod: Then, 2009 you joined Frog.
Jan Chipchase: 2010 I joined Frog, I think.
Craig Mod: 2010. I mean, you were there in the Nokia heyday, like when Nokia was a real company, it wasn’t gutted.
Jan Chipchase: Yeah.
Craig Mod: You said, if you said a Nokia, I mean that was essentially what is synonymous, it was like Kleenex for tissues. Nokia is a phone.
Jan Chipchase: Pretty much, yeah. At that time I was there I joined just at the peak of their insane valuation. If you look at any market capsize valuation you’ll see a chart that looks Everest-esque, and I joined just at the peak of the Everest-esqueness of it.
Craig Mod: Hopefully you got paid only in options.
Jan Chipchase: I got paid in love and elk biscuits of something.
Craig Mod: Yummy.
Jan Chipchase: Then I worked on emerging markets. Products that essentially, at that time, were being sold for about $70 dollars and they went down to about $35 dollars. These days those products you can probably get new for about $15 dollars on the market. When the mobile phone went from being niche and very expensive, to becoming a mass consumer product. I was there during the heyday of that, and was fortunate enough to have done work that influenced the direction of that. Part of those stories are in the book as well.
Craig Mod: I mean, and a lot of this was in, it wasn’t in America, it was in deep China, it was in deep India.
Jan Chipchase: Absolutely. Yeah.
Craig Mod: Right?
Jan Chipchase: Yeah. I was based out of Tokyo, but I spent pretty much for the last 17 years I’ve spent half the year, up to half the year traveling the world and specializing in what was then called emerging markets. I think many of those markets have emerged and are starting to gobble up more developed markets. Places like India and China, Brazil, Afghanistan, Egypt, Bolivia. You name it, I’ve probably run a field study there.
Craig Mod: You’ve basically spent 17 years being a professional traveler because a lot of these projects aren’t very long. Maybe you have a week, maybe you have two weeks, maybe you have a month if you’re lucky. You have to go super deep into a culture that maybe you haven’t been to before.
Jan Chipchase: Yup.
Craig Mod: That could be vastly different from anything that you’ve experienced before, and you have to go deep in a way that’s respectful, and make sure everyone that’s involved in the project doesn’t feel like they’re being taken advantage of. But, you also get the information that you want to get from the folks who are participating. Then you made the transition of going completely independent a few years ago.
Jan Chipchase: Then three and a half years ago I started my own studio, Studio D Radiodurans. I’m continuing that work, but I do it for clients that I love.
Craig Mod: And who are these clients that you love?
Jan Chipchase: Commercial, nonprofit and governmental. There’s a couple on the website, but to be honest we, frankly, it’s actually much easier to conduct the work when people don’t know who the client is. I like to keep those relationships a little bit discrete. There’s a couple that the clients wanted to push out and they’re on the website, StudioDRadiodurans.com.
Craig Mod: Just for those listening, it’s funny I asked that because I just wanted to tease Jan because Jan doesn’t even tell me in private who he’s working for. It’s always some … I mean, he’s the ultimate client tease. He’ll be like, “We just finished this amazing thing that I can’t tell you anything about.” I’m like, “Come on? We’re at a whisky bar. Just tell me.” “No, can’t do it. You’ll know. You’ll know someday, Craig.” That’s the response I get.
Jan Chipchase: There’s two ways to know about the project. One way is to be the client and the second one is to be hired onto the project. Come work with us again and you’ll be working on some fantastic things. That’s part of the fun, right? Is to work with people you respect.
Craig Mod: Mmm (affirmative).
Jan Chipchase: I certainly would like to invite you back.
Craig Mod: Yeah, thank you. You’ve basically, you’ve spent 17 years going deep into all these places and what was the, you’ve had one other book come out. What was that book?
Jan Chipchase: That’s called Hidden in Plain Sight and that was published by Harper Business. That went through the formal book publishing process. I mean, that was be approached by an agent and then assigned with an agent and then a year spent on writing a proposal. Funny, a writer to work with as well because I didn’t have enough time and I’m not even convinced at that time I had the skills to work consistently. Then, another year writing the book and then it, you hand it over, right? And nine months later it appears on the shelves and it’s this slightly … It’s lovely to see it out there. It did okay in the US. Nothing special. Did pretty well in Japan, Taiwan and actually, strangely, became a best seller in South Korea.
Craig Mod: The trick is you only need to sell seven copies in South Korea to be a best seller.
Jan Chipchase: Three.
Craig Mod: Three, okay. That’s a little known cultural fact. No one in South Korea reads books. If you sell three, you’re on the top of the list.
Jan Chipchase: Yeah.
Craig Mod: What was that book about?
Jan Chipchase: That book was about decoding culture, but that was really about how to see the world differently by asking questions that are maybe a little unusual, that you’re not used to answering. The kind of questions that you gave up answering when you turned 10 because you’d figured stuff out. You don’t, no longer saw the eye, the world through fresh eyes. For example, why don’t people write in the shower? Why do people go to the bathroom when they do, and not before or not after? What compels us to have a particular kind of behavior? These are really obvious questions, but when you delve into them, and you unpack them and you look at all the things around them and then you put them into a cultural context, you end up with this … You end up revealing things that you never really knew when you started out.
A lot of our clients they have, I mean, literally they’re all washing data, right? They have tons of marketing data. Increasing they have data analytics, they’re live or near time data based on actually usage. That tells them a lot about what people are doing and it tells them a huge amount about how they’re doing it. But really they’re missing the, for me, the most important component, which is why people are behaving why they do. For that you need to understand context. What I do when I run these projects is I help organizations understand why. And fundamentally if you understand why, it can take you in a very, very different direction than if you only understood what or how. That’s the crux of it.
Craig Mod: If this first book is about figuring out how to get back to beginner’s mind, approaching things with a set of seemingly obvious questions, but that help you get to the why of why people are doing stuff. Is “The Field Study Handbook” the how to go ask those whys, to get to those whys?
Jan Chipchase: It’s two things, yeah. One part of it is the how to. Literally it will take you from the initial pitch of this is why I think we should invest in this kind of research to helping form what we’re doing in our organization or to a client. Through to running that project. Through to figuring out how to build an international team, that you have a trusted relationship with, that gives you a better opportunity of getting to the real crux of the matter or the, closer to the truth. All the way through to delivering it and sharing it. That process of sharing in such a way that you actually influence people around you. You want to inform them and you also want to inspire them. A lot of organizations have left reigns and right reigns and you have to appeal to both sides of it. Literally, that’s the how to. There’s a lot of people particularly they put out kits. Follow these five steps, you’ll figure that stuff out. But really I think it’s missing the biggest component, which is how do you align your own intent, how do you confront your own intent for why you want to do this? Because everyone wants to travel. Nobody says no to it, right? Especially to interesting places. How do you confront that, and how do you help understand what your organization’s intent is and how do you redirect that intent to something with a greater alignment to what people actually want and need? Rather than just what the organization wants, thinks it wants and needs based on a different kind of data. The why to, for me I don’t think anyone’s written a why to for this kind of stuff.
Craig Mod: A lot of these projects seem fraught with potential for ethically fuzzy stuff to happen. And, how do you think about that and how do you deal with that?
Jan Chipchase: I’ve been practicing for many years, and I’m not saying there aren’t logistical challenges to run it, but probably the most interesting thing on any project is the ethical issues that you confront. Because the world is very fuzzy and a lot of the places that I work have a very variable rule of law. Sometimes the police are the most corrupt people there, or the most obviously corrupt institution. We get hustled for bribes and shaken down. We need to figure out what’s going on, but we want to do and we want to come out of it with a smile on our face for the right reasons, right? For me the ethical component really starts, always starts with the local team. When people hire us, or when people think about what we do is they think we decode culture, which we do. But actually we decode culture and local cultures and for that we need a local team, but we translate it to an organization and to a project. If you don’t understand that organization and if you can’t speak the language of that organization, then you’ve failed. We’re really a bridge between the local culture and the organization and what they’re trying to do. The first part of that is building a local team that trusts you. It’s not necessarily absolute trust. Occasionally it is absolute trust, as in life and death trust. But for most projects it’s a degree of trust.
Craig Mod: Can you give an example of a life and death trust situation?
Jan Chipchase: Okay. I can do, but let’s start with a slightly more trivial one, which is when you land somewhere and someone is showing you around and they’re introducing you to their social network. Their body language cues that they will make that introduction. If they do not trust you, if there’s any suspicion, that will come through unconsciously in the way that they communicate with their peers and their peers will pick up on it, or the neighborhood will pick up on it, right?
Craig Mod: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jan Chipchase: You end up with a distorted view of things. People may want to tell the truth, also, but they don’t necessarily remember accurately, so there’s all these different ways of getting to this notion of truth. The question of higher risk places. I think one of the projects in Afghanistan we had a local crew. One of the local crew was offered a large sum of money to facilitate a kidnapping of one of my colleagues. That’s what I was told by the local crew. There are so many different ways that that could play out. It may not have been true, that person may have been wanting to raise their profile. I doubt it with the relationship that we had with them. It may be that someone did make that offer, but they weren’t going to follow through on it. They may have been using it to blackmail person. If they’d accepted they may blackmail them. It may be true and they might have killed that person. The point being is in those situations where that kind of thing arises, you want to make sure that there is a local person on the ground who puts you and your team ahead of these other opportunities that may arise. You do that by building trust. How do you build trust? Fundamental the world over, it’s about showing respect from day one. Also, earning respect in negotiating appropriately. If you pay over the odds in Burundi for a guide, you’ll be considered an idiot. If you pay under the odds in Burundi for a guide you’ll be considered an exploitative local. And, there’s a million and one interactions where it’s actually very subtle about whether you can pull it off or not. And all of those things go into a process of building trust.
Another thing that we do to build trust is we tend to hire a place, which we call a popup studio, a live-work space where we like to have our international team and our local team working side by side. I strongly believe that a team that sits around the same table and drinks water from the same jug and sits on the same toilet, or squats on the same toilet as well, has a very different level of trust than one that meets in a hotel lobby in the morning and then goes out.
Craig Mod: Sure.
Jan Chipchase: I mean, you’ve been in a popup studio, you’ve experienced some of that.
Craig Mod: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Jan Chipchase: Right. That’s one of the steps in building trust.
Craig Mod: Yeah, I think that’s completely true. Would you say, just to bring up an example, a really banal example of how trust gets you closer to truth more quickly. I learned when I was working with your team out in Myanmar a year and a half ago. For example, you go into someone’s home and you ask them, “How many times a day do you call your spouse?” They’ll inevitably say something. “Two or three times.” You say, “Can I just see your phone? Is that okay?” Having that trust where they’re willing to give you their phone, where you can look at their call records and then looking at the call records you realize it’s totally not what they thought the number was. It’s like getting to that truth of living, experience culture or whatever is completely contingent on having that trust. And building that trust in the case of going to someone’s home within minutes, right?
Jan Chipchase: It may seem like it’s within minutes, but really you’ve built trust with a layer around that home with other people who have that established relationship.
Craig Mod: Right.
Jan Chipchase: Really, the book shows you how to build a team anywhere in the world with a sufficient level of trust. It isn’t a thing that you can just go out, read the book and go out tomorrow and it’s all going to work. It takes a lot of practice to read social situations. This isn’t a become a researcher in the next hour, book. This is a what direction do you want your life to take? If you want to decode and understand the world out there, I will give you the tools and I think a ethical framework in which to approach that. And it’ll be very, you will, I believe your life will be more rewarding for it. Mine one certainly has been, and I think through the work that I’ve conducted I think we’ve impacted quite a few people.
Craig Mod: And even if you’re not doing work, even if you’re just traveling on your own there is something tremendously powerful about this text and all of the lessons that you have put into this. In the sense of if you’re traveling alone and you’re going to a country, there is a skillset totally, it’s totally a skillset to go deep in a way that is meaningful, that is not superficial, that is getting off the beaten paths in interesting, non … I don’t know how to say this. But, getting off the beaten paths in a way that isn’t obsessive about getting off the beaten paths. That is more of a natural flow into the culture, into a different country. One of the great gifts of this book is sharing that. Sharing those small, little insights about making yourself a better traveler, a better person, a better global citizen. What’s also cool about this book is that it’s a self published enterprise.
Jan Chipchase: It is. Not only that, the reason why it came into being is six years ago you published Art Space Tokyo and I was so impressed with a human being going through the process of creating this beautiful, tangible object. And you did such a great write up of the backstory to that, that I thought it was possible. That was six years ago and I was just starting writing Hidden in Plain Sight. Those two years of that process I was taking notes for “The Field Study Handbook” and then after those two years I’ve spent four years, pretty much every day four years working on this book with a goal of publishing it myself.
Craig Mod: Part of the impetus was reading the Kickstarter essay about self publishing and the accessibility of it and things like that. Then, was there anything about the last process that you didn’t like that you wanted to … Pushing it through the traditional machine, was there something that you didn’t find comfortable about that?
Jan Chipchase: First off I’ve got to say I’m very grateful for my editor and Simon the writer and the team involved. That said, and I learned a lot from the process. I learned about whether you can take credit for success, in a way. It might sound weird, because there’s so many people involved in the process.
Craig Mod: Sure.
Jan Chipchase: And whether you should take responsibility for failure as well if it doesn’t do well in a market. But really once the book was finished and it was handed over, it just felt like it belonged to someone else. When the sales started I didn’t really get a sense of impetus or feedback. Since that book came out I actually published a couple of ebooks, PDFs you can download from the site. I actually have a closer relationship to the people who purchased that because I get a little ding, “This human being has invested $4.99 in spending time on something that you’ve written.” That commitment to an idea and spending time is more meaningful to me than a royalty, an advance on a book or a royalty check. With the Hidden, sorry, with “The Field Study Handbook” I wanted to be much closer to that process.
Craig Mod: Right, and probably in having done one, I think it’s important for people to push a, pushing a book through a traditional system, I think, is you learn a lot. I also think that it’s easy to poo-poo that stuff. It’s easy today to say, “Everyone should self publish.” Or, “Everyone, forget the big five, or whatever, the big six, big four.” Whatever they’ve consolidated down to, now. It’s easy to say those things, but I think there’s, first of all there’s tremendous value in traditional publishing systems. For certain kinds of books it’s really unbeatable. And for getting to certain corners of certain markets it’s almost impossible to do on your own as an indie publisher.
Also, if you are lucky enough to not need an advance, if you have other work that you’re able to use to, that doesn’t take up 100% of your time and gives you a little bit of time. You’ve done an incredible job, I think, of creating space in your life to work on “The Field Study Handbook” despite having every excuse in the world not to be doing it. If you have that self discipline and you don’t need the advances and things like that, then I think it can be wonderful. Now that you have, you’re on the cusp of putting this thing out into the world. In fact, you’re so on the cusp that you just came back from somewhere a couple days ago where you were looking at something connected to the book. Do you want to talk about that?
Jan Chipchase: Sure. Yeah. I’ve just come back from Iceland. I mocked up the book and reached out to a number of printers in the US, Canada and Iceland. Iceland just felt like the right fit. It’s Oddi Printing in Reykjavik. I’ve just come back from a four day trip to Iceland. That was fun.
Craig Mod: Nice. Actually, Oddi was the printer of the first book that I ever designed myself.
Jan Chipchase: Oh, really?
Craig Mod: Yeah. Kuhaku was the first book that I worked on and they were printed at Oddi because Oddi was the printer that McSweeney’s used for the most part. And back in the early 2000s, late ’90s, if you were doing any kind of indie-ish publishing McSweeney’s was your patron saint. We stalked them and stalked their colophons and copyright pages and were like, “Where are they doing these things?” Yeah, ended up going to Oddi as well. It’s funny, it’s almost like a rite of passage to go have something printed in Iceland. They’re the only printer in Iceland, right? Aren’t they the …
Jan Chipchase: No, there’s a couple of other much smaller printers. They were very accommodating and created this beautiful mock-up of the book itself.
Craig Mod: Speaking of beautiful, I mean this is a gorgeous looking book. Can you explain the cover a little bit?
Jan Chipchase: The book is illustrated by Lee John Phillips who’s a technical illustrator in Narberth, Wales. He’s incredibly talented. You should Lee John Phillips on Instagram and you’ll see what I mean. We took one of his pictures, which was a garlic bulb and we blew it up. In blowing it up it feels like a contoural map of a mountain or something like that. I wanted to have something that survived the squint test. You look at it and you’re not quite sure. Like, “Is that a landscape? Is that a … " Then when you open the book itself you’ll see that there is the smaller, finer version of that exact detail in all its technical penmanship beauty.
Craig Mod: I mean, that’s the thing these illustrations, it has to be said. You just want to lick the pages. I mean, they have that, it’s that Wall Street Journal dot pattern style, but with more pizazz and a little more of the human hand involved. They just look gorgeous. I mean they’re the sort of thing that a filter couldn’t do justice to with a photograph. But this man in Wales he does magic with his black and white lines. It’s pretty incredible. And you have a hit of color on the cover as well.
Jan Chipchase: Yeah, there’s a little splash of color. Originally we were thinking of just selling through Amazon. We’ll drop ship from Oddi’s warehouse in Maine where they ship things to import them to the US, through to the Amazon warehouse and put it on sale there. Yeah, there’s a special color and I think part of the reason was that we wanted it … Or we, I’m sorry, I’m working with my creative director here in the studio Keiko Mori. We wanted it to survive the squint test on Amazon. We wanted it to work in a thumbnail. I think some of the, like if you think of Koya Bound, your own book, that’s quite a subtle book to put on a Amazon page and have distinctive in a lineup. That little splash of color is to make it a little bit more distinctive, especially across different kind of collateral.
Craig Mod: I think it looks great.
Jan Chipchase: Thank you.
Craig Mod: Yeah. I mean, and what font are you using on the cover there?
Jan Chipchase: That one we definitely, definitely ripped off Art Space Tokyo. It is Fedra, Fedra Sans Standard and Fedra Serif Standard. We also used condensed on the diagrams.
Craig Mod: Fedra, I mean, I love Fedra. I mean, when I was doing lots of book design 10 years ago I had these moments where I’d just spend weeks going through every font I could possibly find. And Fedra was the family that I committed to. I married Fedra, basically as a book designer. Koya Bound is also Fedra.
Jan Chipchase: Oh, is it?
Craig Mod: Yeah. I use Fedra for everything and I’m not ashamed of it. It’s so good. It’s so beautiful. It’s a beautiful, distinctive, highly readable, but has its own character but doesn’t overwhelm the page. It’s just feels great. It’s from Typotheque over in, I think the Netherlands.
Jan Chipchase: That’s correct, yeah.
Craig Mod: Yeah.
Jan Chipchase: Actually it does a great job in supporting different character sets as well. They’ve really internationalized it.
Craig Mod: Yeah. It’s wonderful. I think you should think about doing a Kickstarter for this thing. I mean, it just feels, because you also run, you run a luggage company. It just feels like there’s such an obvious confluence between the amazing gear that you’re producing and what this book entices people to go do in the world.
Jan Chipchase: Yeah, maybe a little context of that. When I was starting the book, around the same time I was commissioned a custom piece of luggage for the kind of travel I do. Basically I want to be able to carry stuff, sometimes a lot of expensive stuff, and actually sometimes a lot of cash because we have to pay payroll for a team of 20 people or however many people in cash sometimes.
Craig Mod: And you might be in a place, and you’ll be in a place that has no banks or ATMs.
Jan Chipchase: Yes, but a lot of people with sticky fingers and a lot of checkpoints and … I wanted a piece of luggage that basically people ignored and would be less likely to be pulled aside at checkpoints and check-ins. I could carry on, it sits under a seat on the plane. I designed a piece of luggage, it’s called the D3, it’s a duffle. It’s made from this ultra light, amazing ultralight material called Dyneema. It’s a particular, a blend of that. It’s about twice the strength of Kevlar, or if you want to put it another way, half the weight of Kevlar for the same tensile strength. It floats in water, it’s that light as well.
I made a piece of luggage for that, and then a year later I made another prototype and then people like yourself saw it and said, “Hey, can I have one?” I made 10 and there were 10 beta testers of which you were one. I remember you feeding back in the report into the D3 owner’s manual, which we had online, this big Google Doc. This was before it was a company, or even decided, before I decided to even sell it. Then, three and a bit years ago I launched it as a luggage brand and we make duffels and travel accessories for field work.
One of the things that we’re going to do for the launch of the book is introduce a couple of new items, specifically for field work. If you buy the book and you like to get out there and take notes and figure out what’s going on in the world out there, and document it, have I got something for you.
Craig Mod: Nice. I mean, I think the D3, that piece of luggage is a great example of from the outside you look at it and you go … You have the D3 and then you have this other thing, you have this other thing called the Hauly. It’s like it holds a million dollars in used $20 dollar bills. Just enough sized. From the outside you look at it, you go, “This is for drug cartels in South America. What’s this?” But, no, you have literally been in the field in places where there aren’t lots of ATMs where you have to pay a bunch of people a bunch of cash out in the field and you have to be carrying the equivalent of a million dollars. This comes out of that need. I love that.
Jan Chipchase: There are people who have jobs where they need to carry a lot of cash. It’s actually not used 20s, it’s used or new $100 dollar bills.
Craig Mod: Okay, 20s would be insane.
Jan Chipchase: It would be insane. It would be five times the weight.
Craig Mod: Yes. Yeah, but that piece of luggage as being born directly from a real need in the field. Then, this book as being an enticement into the field and that piece of luggage as existing feels like a cool, I don’t know. I can just see the Kickstarter campaign that’s like, “Get the book and the luggage. They go together.”
Jan Chipchase: And maybe similar to yourself is if you do interesting work, and you interact with people who are living interesting lives, it tends to generate its own momentum for new interesting things. Things to keep you engaged and pushing you at the boundary of the craft. I think with the luggage in creating these things, we ended up with attracting conversations from people who are pushing the boundaries. They are in places where they are carrying a million bucks and they want to have that additional protection.
Craig Mod: Who do you think the audience is for this Field Study Handbook? Do you think it’s like, is it a designer in a startup in Silicon Valley? It is someone who’s working for a think tank in Washington D.C.? Is it someone who’s an independent consultant? Who’s the people that you’re trying to touch with this book?
Jan Chipchase: “The Field Study Handbook” is for anyone that wants to understand what is going on in the world. Most of the people who currently practice that are designers, strategists, they’re in brand, communications, public policy partnerships. Because the emphasis on the handbook is about international research, it really will support anyone who is creating anything that is used beyond their boarders. They have to think beyond what they know and I give them the tools and the techniques to be able to go beyond their boarders and bring that into their organization, into their work life. That’s on one level. I think there’s another thing. I think it’s for anyone who is a traveler, who wishes to travel and who wishes to understand more about the places that they travel to. They want to have a richer, more rewarding travel experience. In that sense it’s for everyone, I think.
Craig Mod: But this feels like a book for living in the future. It feels like the inevitable direction we’re moving in. Is one of a more globalized universe, globalized earth where more cultures are interacting with other cultures than ever before in the history of humanity. Despite recent nationalist tendencies, the future pattern is inexorably globalized living. This book feels like a blueprint for living in that future. And that if you work in any industry that touches the world, you are going to get value from it.
Jan Chipchase: Yes. It’s a book for coexisting.
Craig Mod: It’s a book from the future about an ideal, the utopian version of where the world could possibly [crosstalk 00:40:27].
Jan Chipchase: You say utopian, but it’s not dystopian, but it isn’t that shiny utopian thing.
Craig Mod: Sure.
Jan Chipchase: That vision, it’s a very messy and beautiful and gloopy, dusty, touchy feely, snotty, version of the world. It’s the real world.
Craig Mod: When I say utopian I mean in the sense of this is the utopian traveler. This is the idea traveler is someone who thinks about the world in this way, approaches other cultures with this respect and openness and open mind and open heart and is curious and hungry. It’s a book without malice. The world can be messy and the world will be messy, but it feels like it’s a handbook that comes from a kind place. When I say utopian I think my goal, I think it’d be ideal if everyone approached the world from this kind of place. I don’t know. It seems like a good stake in the ground.
Jan Chipchase: Yeah. And we’ve costed, actually, to be as … It’s pretty hefty and print costs are pretty high, but we’ve costed it to be as accessible as possible.
Craig Mod: Will it ever be released just digitally? For now it’s only in print, right?
Jan Chipchase: It’s only in hardback and I just devoted all my energy and my family’s energy and the studio’s energy into getting it to this place. I’m just going to put it out there and see the reaction to it and then figure out what I want to do next.
Craig Mod: I think this is the right sequence because artifacts, printed things, stuff that you can hold in your hand, things that you can hold in your hand have a certain power about setting intentions and also about being present in someone’s life. A book sitting on a table is going to call someone to try something far more frequently than a PDF lost in a folder or a Kindle book lost on a Kindle that’s sitting in a drawer or something like that. I think it’s a great place to start from the artifact. Then I’m definitely doing to push you to open this up in many different ways eventually either though websites, super accessible websites or digital downloads or digital education stuff. I’m going to push very hard for that in the future, but I think this is a great starting point.
Jan Chipchase: My studio does offer training for organizations. I mean, we do run field research around the world, as well. You can hire us in if you want to run a larger scale project. I mean, some of the, one of the things that I enjoyed about Art Space Tokyo was when you put it out in the world, there was the backstory to it. That was such a rich component, particularly at that time where that wasn’t so widely available and wasn’t so necessarily beautifully articulated.
With “The Field Study Handbook” there’s a number of components to it. There’s the luggage component and the field study accessories component, which comes from our own luggage brand. There’s training and workshops. I mean, that’s there too. There’s things like wallpaper downloads for Lee’s beautiful illustrations. Then there’s a second smaller book called Sustainable Data. I believe that’s the only book that could be filed under the Library of Congress under Data, Ethics, Gardening and Cookery.
Craig Mod: A book is a start of this constellation of work and connections and interactions and discussions. It sounds like there’s a bunch of cool stuff coming out connected with this.
Jan Chipchase: Yeah, I mean ultimately it all comes back to conversations that it starts, right?
Craig Mod: Yeah.
Jan Chipchase: And what those conversations lead to in terms of a life lived and journeys undertaking. People that we love and feel close to, right?
Craig Mod: A life well lived.
Jan Chipchase: Yeah. Who can ask for anything more?
Craig Mod: Great. Thank you, Jan, for making the time today to chat.
Jan Chipchase: Thank you, Craig, for having me on your podcast.
Craig Mod: Yeah.
Jan Chipchase: What is the podcast called, by the way?
Craig Mod: It’s called Let’s Talk About Books.
Jan Chipchase: Okay. Did we talk about books? Yeah, I guess we did a bit.
Craig Mod: We’ll have links to all this stuff down below and wherever below or above wherever it lives in whatever thing you’re listening to this in. How do you end these things?
Jan Chipchase: I think you need a jingle.
Craig Mod: [hums jingle] We’re done.
On Margins is a podcast about making books, hosted by Craig Mod.
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