Don’t ignore my grand mum—on designing apps for digital immigrants
In 2007, at the famous, World Wide Developer conference event, Steve Jobs, the late CEO and co-founder of Apple, introduced the iPhone to the world. By the next year, Google released the Android OS to the world and made it free to Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) worldwide. Devices and Operating Systems have both gone on to change how we consume content, interact with one another and influence the way information is disseminated.
Today, it’s hard to imagine life without a smartphone and the apps that we use and depend on; WhatsApp, Gmail, Evernote (I use this daily), Pocket, etc. Some of these apps have become ingrained in our daily lives, so much so that hardly a day goes by without us using them. Some serve as productivity boosters, while we use others for leisure and entertainment.
Often times, product designers and app developers unconsciously (I’d hope so), neglect a particular demographic. This demography, though small, may not necessarily be inconsequential. I’m referring to those who are semi-literate and those in the age bracket of 70 and above.
Early this week I started thinking about this particular demographic. I kept wondering, do designers and developers outrightly neglect these people or fail to consider them during their design and brainstorming sessions? Is this demographic so small that they don’t matter? Why aren’t there two versions of an application, one for the savvy, literate and digital natives while another that caters to those who are digital immigrants.
Last year, in the wake of the Ebola outbreak, while a few West African countries were hit really hard, some well-meaning people took it upon themselves to educate the public on how to take care of themselves, symptoms to watch out for and general preventive measures. This year, the Lassa fever epidemic is on the rise and seems to be spreading quickly. But how do we spread information about these issues in an efficient and effective way? One avenue we need to explore, that could have considerable impact and save thousands, if not millions of lives, are mobile applications.
Mobile apps have become ubiquitous. With the proliferation of sub $100 Android devices, it has become very easy to pass on information instantly. Many times, we hear hear people joke, “there’s an app for that.” Now how can we design these apps, so that my 80-year-old grand mum who has almost no formal education can take advantage of this and benefit from this new information revolution?
Typically, mobile apps make use of a combination of icons and text to pass information and convey a message. My grand mum can’t read, so she’s essentially not going to use this. How about we flip the coin on its head and design apps instead with traditional icons, one with cultural meaning and context, not the standard icons every stock app ships with today. Instead of text, why don’t we substitute it with videos, audio and pictures? Would this help my grand mum? I think it would.
Let’s imagine an app, one where the home screen shows a picture of a rodent, mosquito, mosquito net and a sick person. When she taps on the picture of the rodent, a video of a rodent eating food meant for humans plays. Then this video explains that if a human eats this same food, they may likely end up sick and possibly die. On tapping the picture of the mosquito, a video of how mosquitoes transmit malaria is shown. Other pictures, when tapped, can display slideshows and these slide shows could possibly show preventive measures and simple personal hygiene methods. I’d imagine this making more sense to her and other digital immigrants, who would not respond well to an app full of text and hard-to-pronounce medical terminologies.
Granted, it is hard to simplify or create every app this way. But it isn’t a mean feat by any means. I think the vast majority of the apps that can benefit from this sort of design would mostly be informational apps. Medical, health, fitness and recipe apps can possibly adopt this design principle and finally cater to this long tail. This unserved market. Please don’t ignore my grand mum.
This article was originally published here.
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