Seeing the Forest and the Trees
In my last post, I talked about the difference in visual style between many Japanese and many Western websites and how this aesthetic carries through into other aspects of Japanese design, such as magazine layouts. There’s another medium in which this difference in style surfaces, one that’s particularly relevant to us as researchers: (Powerpoint) presentations..
In the UK I learnt that findings should be presented as concisely as possible, with a focus on the big picture. Slides should clearly illustrate one big point, with the presenter filling in the gaps verbally where necessary. The amount of information on one slide should be kept to a minimum.
In Japan I’ve had the chance to visit several events with both Western and Japanese speakers, on research, social media and advertising. The presentations by American or European speakers were generally as I had come to expect, with lots of single images and short snippets of text or relatively simple tables. The presentations by Japanese speakers on the other hand were often quite different, with relatively dense slides packed with information and a focus on illuminating the finer details of their subject.
So why this contrast? As with websites, it’s possible to see it as a result of differences in information processing when using kanji. However, based on my experience of the way that research, and indeed business as a whole, is both conducted and viewed in Japan, it seems that there are deeper cultural currents at play. Whether thinking about is an expectatiopresenting or recruiting, strategy or execution, there’s a tendency to attend the nut and bolts, to the actual mechanics of an idea here in Japan. Focus is more on the details of an idea or the process of carrying it out than the broad concept itself.
As a researcher from a Western background, I’ve found this educating and frustrating in equal measures. One thing I’ve got better at is the ability to think through the small details of a project and predict potential future flash points in logistics, something that Qualitative researchers in particular sometimes have an issue with in my experience! There is an expectation from clients that expectation that every fine detail is attended too comes as standard – and here at Sugata we reflect that in the care we put into recruitment and ensuring that projects run smoothly.
At the same time, I’ve sometimes felt that the focus on details expected by clients risks coming at the expense of ‘big idea’ thinking and risks stifling creative thinking or innovation. It’s harder to reframe the way that you look at something when you are caught up in the details and, in extreme, this way of thinking can suck the life out of research, turning it into a compendium of observations of the minutiae with little in the way of strategic thought tying it all together.
Perhaps though, as with website design, things are beginning to shift in this area too. We’ve found that many of our local clients increasingly expect a focus on broad strategic thinking and concise actionable output. The details will always be important when it comes to the process but when it comes to the final result, we’re seeing an increasing premium placed on findings being distilled into concrete direction. Thankfully, this is where we feel we excel – and where we believe we’re able add most value to our client’s businesses.
In all, it’s a demanding climate, but one in which we feel that, when things are done well, we’re able to offer the best of both worlds by, in the words of the English expression, taking a step back to see the forest whilst also still tending carefully to each of the individual trees within it.