Smartphone usage by illiterate adults is a fairly new, therefore only little research is available. We challenged ourselves to deal firstly with the most difficult target group. If we can enable them to learn on our platform, we can do it for anyone else. At Alo, we have a lean approach: here is our method:
Getting the basics right
We spent the first months getting a basic understanding of the way illiterate people decipher interfaces. What do they pay attention to on a device? What do they omit? What activities do they do on their phones?
We were astonished to see them look up numbers and call, listen to music, take photos and videos, chat over Whatsapp and Viber, and deal with SMS.
Root memory patterns help them deal with routine tasks – e.g. opening the agenda and looking up a contact. For more difficult tasks (e.g. reading an SMS), they will ask a friend or family member for help
Finding a communication path
How do you communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language and cannot read your alphabet?
Once we understood what people were paying attention to, we needed to find a way to explain tasks to them, without using voice instructions in the user’s native (the users were from countries spanning from Iraq to Eritrea). We learned that we always should show how a task is performed before the user executes it. A mixture of sounds, animations and icons guide the user through the exercise.
This is common practice when designing the user experience of any app. In this case, our cues had to be much more intrusive. We used visual constraints to limit the actions of the user – e.g. one button per screen, which cannot be missed.