the answer. We’ve found it beneficial to work primarily in groups,
where both demonstrations and
questions need less clarification and explanation. In addition,
participants who have questions
can help each other understand,
and individuals reluctant to ask
when alone may be more confident. Simple, one-response questions help to avoid them getting
lost in translation, and planning
in advance for as many answer
eventualities as possible helps to
avoid misunderstandings during a study. For example, we’ve
tended to design multiple versions
of the same question beforehand,
and specifically address possible ambiguous responses.
Evaluation. Participatory design is
a well-known and trusted method
for designing successful systems.
However, in our experience this
approach can be problematic when
people find it difficult to criticize
things. This problem can be magnified hugely when people not only
don’t know what they want, but
also don’t know the capabilities of
the technology being used [ 11]. It is
important to know people’s needs,
but not necessarily focus on their
design input at all times. With this
in mind, we have tended to conduct
qualitative interviews via local
researchers to explore people’s core
needs, and ensure that our systems
are tested throughout each of their
design phases. Instead of working
with end users directly, we have
been working with people who grew
up, know, work, and live in this
context but are also well educated
in computer science and its limitations (that is, local researchers,
rather than local experts).
To cope with reluctance to criti-
cize and the tendency to give whol-
ly positive feedback regardless of
merit, we have tweaked and refined
our approach to qualitative feed-
back. Rather than asking people to
rate a system or to give feedback on
one design (which usually results
in high scores all around, regard-
less of actual suitability), we have
switched to making several similar
but comparable systems and ask-
ing people which one is preferred.
Mainly, it is hard to plan, and
despite best efforts, things will
inevitably change along the way. Go
with the flow, and let the designs
2. Chetty, M. and Grinter, B. HCI4D: HCI challenges
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S. Degrees of sharing: Proximate media sharing
and messaging by young people in Khayelitsha.
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S., and Nanavati, A. W W T W: The World Wide
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Like many people making a first
foray into research in developing
regions, we have learned why the
common patterns of designing,
building, and user testing are rarely
appropriate. Indeed, it would be
naive to think that designing from
our own models would succeed in
regions where the challenges facing
end users are completely different [ 12]. But reading and gathering
advice from other people gets us
only so far. So, is it worth it for
people who are not from a “
developing” country, such as India, to
go there to conduct research? Yes,
absolutely. From a personal point of
view, in the process we’ve extended
our experience and hugely expanded our worldview. From a design
angle, we’ve been able to improve
our work with insights from other
often-unexpected perspectives, and
as a result we’re now coming up
with better designs.
To conclude: Assume nothing!
Our ideas of simplicity and usability can be impossibly complex for
people with different experiences
to understand. Patience is imperative: It’s crucial to demonstrate
use, explain concepts, and train
users for each small prototype
iteration. Designs will be quickly
discarded or repurposed if they are
not usable [ 7]. Working with people,
particularly local experts and local
researchers, to understand problems and limitations is the best
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jennifer Pearson is a researcher
in the FI T Lab (fitlab.eu) at
Swansea University. Her research
interests include active reading,
improving digital books, and
mobile interaction development
for developing regions.
Simon Robinson is a researcher in the FI T Lab (fitlab.eu) at Swansea University. His research interests include eyes-off interfaces, sen- sor-based mobile devices, and providing high-end interactions on low-end devices.
March + April 2013
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