Chatting with a Myanmar farmer over some traditional green tea
I arrived in Yangon at the very beginning of the monsoon season. It was dark, drab, and damp. I never thought I would get used to 100% humidity and constant torrential rainfall, but after spending four months in Yangon, Myanmar as a Designmatters Fellow at Proximity Designs, I cannot imagine my experience any other way. The transition of moving to Myanmar was overwhelming because I didn’t speak a word of Burmese, I didn’t know anyone, I had no wi-fi, and there were nonstop storms. In fact, I didn’t eat dinner for the first week because I didn’t know where to eat, and I also wasn’t sure how I would read the menu or communicate with the staff. The transition became smoother when I had my first day of work at Proximity Designs and was greeted with warm welcomes and smiles.
Proximity is a social enterprise that designs human-centered products and services that align with the entrepreneurial spirit of farmers in Myanmar. I learned that the monsoon season is very important for Burmese farmers, as they rely on the abundance of water to nourish their crops. I was excited to be there at this vital time to learn more about the farming experience. My role at Proximity was to come up with responsible, ethical, and immersive ways to portray the Proximity approach, fieldwork, experience of the staff, and practices of the farmers through a newly designed website. The website would be used as a way to tell the Proximity story to an international audience who might be unfamiliar with Myanmar or social enterprises. I began by conducting cross-cultural user experience research, and then interviewed both local and international users to gain a deep understanding of user flow, culturally-specific methods of technology usage, and perceptions of the current website.
In the midst of redesigning the website, I went on a field trip to rural Hinthada with two other people on my team. After a 6 hour bus ride to the countryside, we hopped on the back of motorcycles in the pouring rain. (Guess who didn’t have a waterproof backpack? It was me.) Drenched and cold, we visited Proximity customers to interview them about their lifestyle as well as their mobile phone usage and habits. We were always welcomed into the house to chat, talk about their families, discuss the Proximity products they use, and of course drink an obligatory cup of hot green tea. In this rural area, many farmers use smartphones to stay in contact with their customers, and to share personal pictures of their fields and crops. To build off of these existing interactions, we used mobile cameras and Google Cardboard as tools to facilitate discussions around the unique experiences of farming in Myanmar. We gained different perspectives from key stakeholders of Proximity to share with the target audience of the redesigned website. This approach of incorporating design into the research process and working directly alongside the farmers was necessary in order to represent their daily experiences on the land, as well as, interactions with Proximity products and staff in a responsible way.
Walking through a flooded farm to reach a customer’s house
Anjuli Sethi received her B.A. in Emerging Media & Communication from the University of Texas at Dallas. She is currently pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Media Design Practices/Field at the Art Center College of Design. Most of her work explores cross-cultural communication and how it relates to design.