The art is knowing where to look —

Interview with Jan Chipchase

Tomomi Sasaki
Feb 19, 2018 · 7 min read

I’m helping Laptop bring to Paris the Field Research Masterclass by Jan Chipchase. Join us!

The Masterclass is a one day workshop based on Jan’s book, “The Field Study Handbook”, which generously reveals his unique perspectives and methods on the art and science of immersive, cross-cultural research.

Paris is home to a great many companies seeking to deliver innovative services to a global audience. Laptop, my old stomping grounds, is a mission-driven co-working space and event organizer focused on design and all things creative. I’m excited to collaborate with Jan and my friends at Laptop, and hope you’ll join us on this rare learning opportunity.

Learn more about the May 16, Field Research Masterclass, Paris

In advance of the workshop, I had the chance to ask Jan a few questions about his path as a researcher, what he’s been up to recently, and how making sense of the world can help our organizations make more meaningful decisions.

Read on.

About Jan Chipchase

Jan is the founder of Studio D and has unparalleled experience of running international field work projects, to inform and inspire design, strategy, brand and other corporate operations. He regularly consults Fortune 500 corporations, startups, nonprofits and governments, from product teams in the trenches up to the C-suite.

Previously, Jan was Executive Creative Director at innovation consultancy frog, and Principal Scientist at the Nokia Research Center Tokyo.

He has taught at many of the world’s leading academic institutions, including Stanford, MIT, IIT and Tokyo University, and his work is regularly covered in publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, Die Zeit and The Economist. His third book is The Field Study Handbook, which has been described as “The canonical classic reference for cross-cultural research”.


Congratulations on publishing “The Field Study Handbook”! Tell us more about this intriguing tagline — “Travel anywhere, make sense of the world, and make a difference.”

The Handbook summarises fifteen years of running international field work projects for Fortune 500 companies, non-profits and start ups. It started out as a how-to book, but as it developed became a how-to, why-to book.

The Handbook recognises that while the skills to learn how to make an impact with international research can take years to master, they can be applied to anyone who travels, is curious about the world and wants to make a difference. It has resonated far beyond researchers.

It’s one thing to read a book, and another to experience its lessons in person. How does a 524-page book translate to a one-day masterclass? What can participants expect?

The Masterclass takes you through a field work project from start to finish, including how to pitch, plan and execute an international project. There are plenty of hands-on activities, all drawing on our systematic approach to deliver exemplary projects for clients.

The surprise for me has been the diversity in skills of attendees: including design, brand, strategy, marketing and communications. We’ve been joined by employees from Google, Apple, Spotify, Etsy, Twitch, Airbnb and many other companies with an international outlook.

What about people who are career researchers or have a background in areas like sociology?

Our Masterclasses do host career professionals. They particularly appreciate the attention to detail in planning, the important differences in how we build out teams, recruit, and run the projects compared to the prevailing norm, and how we infuse our ethical stance into every aspect of the project. These are built on the extensive international experience of the whole Studio D team. The sessions also include plenty of time for Q&A.

Photo from Sichuan retreat by Dan Rubin

You have many years of experience working on both corporate and consultancy sides, before founding your own studio in 2014. How has your work evolved over the years?

I’ve experienced research from three distinct perspectives.

The first is as part of a large (then high growth) company, Nokia, where I focussed on the emerging markets products. As Principal Scientist of the Tokyo Research Lab I was a small cog in a large machine, and saw how investments in research played out over time. My team’s ideas impacted products that sold in the hundreds of millions.

The second was at frog design, where as Executive Creative Director of Global Insights, I was hired into build an insights practice across eight studios. A larger cog in a more nimble machine, if you will, and was able to shape the materials that the machine was made of. That experience was good at honing the experience of delivering value at high pace across a wide variety of clients and industry domains.

Studio D team member Pascal + 1M Hauly

The third is as the founder of my own studio. I provide discreet research services to clients with a global outlook. I enjoy being the master of my own destiny, and in pulling teams together to work on challenging projects.

What else is the Studio up to?

Our primary business is the consultancy Studio D, running research, design and strategy projects. The Fixer List builds on our network of unusual talent around the globe that we’ve employed over the years. We also make our own field equipment under the SDR Traveller brand and sell some of it to the public. We set up our own imprint, Field Institute to publish the Handbook and a number of other publications — it really took off last year. And not least we run one-day Masterclasses, three-day Retreats and weeks long Expeditions to remote places. It makes for a robust ecosystem.

They are tied together by our love of field research.

You’re based in San Francisco and my hometown, Tokyo! How did that come to be?

Our company is registered in California and Tokyo and, when I’m not working on projects, I spend my time between the two cities. San Francisco is more evolved when it comes to client asks, whereas Tokyo is simply one of the best cities to live, if you’re interested in human behaviour. The topology of Tokyo enables serendipity.

Currently, there’s a universal push in business towards being more data-driven, and at the same time, a call to foster empathy and connect with humans. What is the role of qualitative research in this context?

Many of our clients have companies built on data analytics (and increasingly machine learning). While most data can tell you what people are doing and how, only well-run field research will reveal why. We’re brought in to help the client use that understanding of why to make better design, strategy and brand decisions.

The world is becoming increasingly culturally homogenized. The same brands and products are available in Paris, Singapore, Los Angeles… what can we learn from exploring far-flung places?

While a single product/app/service might be available in different countries, how it is used can be significantly different depending on context. To take a simple example, you will find transactions everywhere in the world that there are humans. However, the local, contextual, personal, technological conditions differ considerably from transaction to transaction. We help clients understand the commonalities and differences across cultures, geographies and markets.

The democratisation of certain technologies, such as smartphones and cloud service, mean that innovative and leading edge behaviours can come from anywhere. There are also certain geographies where the broader ecosystem is unique and are optimised for a certain kind of learning.

Continuing the thread of transactions, one of the leading markets for mobile money transfers (from a human-behavioural point of view) is the use of Zaad in Somaliland, a country with no functioning central bank, inter-inoperable phone networks and minimal banking infrastructure. The art is knowing where to look.

Any last words to our Paris audience?

The last time I was in Paris was to run a marathon! Looking forward to being back in your fine city.

Merci, Jan! We look forward to hosting you.

Photos courtesy of Studio D.

About the Field Research Masterclass, Paris

This full day workshop will show you how to run international studies to identify new growth opportunities, understand the motivations of international users and drive impact in your organisation.

  • Date: May 16th, 2018 (addtional dates possible : 14th and 15th)
  • Address: Laptop Beaubourg Métro Rambuteau, Hôtel de Ville, Arts et métiers, Les Halles (7 rue Geoffroy L’Angevin 75004 Paris)
  • Contact: +33 (0)177166524
  • Funding available for french employees and freelancers through Fafiec, Afdas etc…: please ask for a quote at

Designed for anyone creating products and services for an international audience, including: designers, researchers, insights teams, in agencies, in-house, local and central government. People who are curious about human interaction, and their place in the world.

See you there.

Tomomi Sasaki is a designer and partner at the Tokyo & Paris based design studio AQ, leading projects that deliver useful digital products and services for clients around the world. She was a resident at Le Laptop from 2014-2017 and remains part of its tight-knit community. Say hi on Twitter @tzs.

Le Laptop


Thanks to Chris Palmieri.

Tomomi Sasaki

Written by

Strategic design, user experience and conversations. Weeknotes:

Le Laptop

Le Laptop