Designing Appropriate Computing Technologies for the Rural Developing World

Tapan Parikh, an Assistant Professor at the School of Information, UC Berkely talks about creating user interfaces for micofinancing in rural India and outlines a set of user interface guidelines based on his studies.
Though still not the exactly the kind of guidelines I’m looking for, atleast it’s a lead. And it talks about the importance of the device and input processes as well.

I had also found this paper a couple of days ago. Tapan Parikh is one of the co-authors too

In 2003…

…the goverment planned a $2.7 billion IT investment
‘However, the Simputer, a Linux-based handheld mobile computer, with a target price         tag of about $200, ailed to take off because of insufficient interest in its target market.’

Was it because the content wasn’t relevant or the design was bad or simply because they have no need for it?

How cell phones kill other brands (and commodities)

After reading up  on rural India for the last few months and wondering if entertainment or manoranjan is really what rural India wants or needs, whether they will find value in it and what the real penetration of mobile phones, forget internet is, this article gave me a better insight of why rural India is buying cellphones instead of torches and cycles. It’s about value, cost and the multipurpose-ness of a cell phone. Have to now connect it up to the research so far.

Design Proposal

The Design Brief
Develop concepts and ideas for entertainment, health and education in rural India that use 4G and WiMax internet technology. The concepts will emerge out of an understanding of the user type and the current situation in rural India. I will be working for Intel through S.Labs.

S.Labs organized a semester long project on the same topic with students from the third year. Following their research, they came up with 14 concepts based on the needs of the villages that they had met for different target groups.

My internship with S.Labs on the Intel project included analyzing and scrutinizing each idea comprehensively. We uncovered aspects that were not explored in any existing internet based app.
We merged different ideas and made others more cohesive. We then created basic scenarios that explained each idea in use.

My diploma project will involve user testing of these ideas and on the basis of the findings of the user testing report, work on creating detailed workflows, scenarios and the user interface of 2 ideas. These ideas are going to be the ones that prove to be the most exciting during user testing.

Research Questions
1. Given 4G technology, what user experience can be created for entertainment, health and education?
a. What would make them adopt a particular technology?
b. Does it require a perceptual rebranding of what technology is and what it stands for?

2. What are the biases, stereotypes and expectations that I am approaching this project with? Can I use them to create an effective design?

3. What is the best way to evaluate a design with users out in the ‘real world’?
a. How much constructive feedback can I get out of users in a user centric design process?
b. Is more always better?
c. How much can a design push users to think and act differently from their current models of behaviour?

4. Do people want their interactions in the virtual world to be similar to their interactions in the physical world?
a. What is the effect of technology on sociological factors like caste, gender, age and unspoken rules and traditions?
b. Question of a virtual identity in a space where everything is shared and open.

5. When and where is technology required and when is it not?
a. How do I decide that a system that is based on modern technology and is ‘more efficient’ is necessarily better than the current model?
b. If they do not have roads does that mean they will not see value in the internet? Is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs always true?

6. In terms of user experience, am I designing an open system that encourages discussion, dialogue, debate and innovation or a closed, top-down well managed system?
a. How do you encourage people to be active participants and content generators rather than passive recipients and content consumers?
b. Can technology and the meme of sharing foster a sense of pride in local traditions? Can it inculcate a sense of tolerance and diversity?

7. Do industry and activist always have to be separated?

8. How can I use my design skills to design a system or platform that is not intrusive, that “complements human intelligence rather than superseding it”?
(Don Norman, “The Design of Future Things”

9. What are the aspirations of rural India?
a. How do they inherently feel about technology?
b. Given access to different kinds of information, what would they choose?
c. How do they form opinions?
d. How do I generalize all of rural India to create a context for design?

10. How can I as a designer develop models of user experience and user interface that are not just specific to India but specific to the cultural context of rural India.
a. What kinds of visual elements can be designed that makes the correlation between the virtual and the physical more intuitive?
b. What are the kinds of visual cues to which they would respond?
c. How do I create a new visual language?

11. What are the current capabilities of Wi-max technology?
a. In India?
b. What are the trends and practices, and the services and systems offered in the rest of the world?
c. How do other developments in technology fit in with the model that I design?

12. How can technology make information dissemination more efficient?


I will be following a user centric design process.
1. Selecting the target audience and defining the core user needs.
2. Understanding the user task analysis.
3. Paper Prototyping for testing preliminary ideas.
4. Prototyping and validating design decisions.
5. Evaluation and validation through the entire process.

This is also a visual design based project involving an iterative design process in terms of elements of visual communication including but not limited to the use of colour, typography and symbols. Visual design will be an integral part of the design process rather than an afterthought or a superficial marketing strategy. The design will incorporate visual cues to make the interaction as intuitive as possible.

Books, articles on Interaction design, User Experience design and Interface design
Collaboration on Interface design with IIT Delhi-Tentative
Collaboration with IIIT Bangalore on concepts for health and education-Tentative
Travelling to rural Karnataka or North India for User research and testing

Learning Outcome
I hope to achieve a deeper understanding of rural India.
Understanding the process of Interaction design
Exploring the advantages and disadvantages of the User Centric design process
Exploring visual communication skills under the overarching theme of wireless technology and for platforms, services and apps.
Introduction to Systems Design and Systems thinking
Building a context based design solution

In a speech to students in Trivandrum, Mahatma Gandhi once said, “We, who learn in colleges forget that India lives in her villages and not in her towns. India has 700,000 villages and you, who receive a liberal education, are expected to take that education or the fruits of that education to the villages. How will you infect the people of the villages with your scientific knowledge? Are you then learning science in terms of the villages and will you be so handy and so practical that the knowledge that you derive in a college so magnificently built—and I believe equally magnificently equipped—you will be able to use for the benefits of the villagers?”
(“Speech in Reply to Students’ Address, Trivandrum,” March 13, 1925 in Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 26, pp 299-303)

Gandhi made this speech in 1925 and now India may have 638,596 villages instead of 700,000 (according to the 2001 Census) but 86 years on, the issue he talks about is still completely relevant. But rather than only science, I think design too has the potential to bridge the gap between the two Indias.