Sunday, October 01, 2006

Literacy, Communication, Design II

A new product to bridge the literacy gap ...

"The Motofone is being marketed as a device that amongst other things aspires to "help bridge literacy gaps" including voice prompts to "guide the user quickly and easily through menu navigation, messaging and other functions". It's good to see illiteracy raised to the point where it becomes a marketing feature but I'm also highly aware of the non-trivial challenges that need to be overcome if they are to genuinely meet their stated aims. I've only seen the marketing blurb so I'll make an educated guess to how the feature will be implemented.

If someone can't read or write they'll understand audio prompts right? Well, not quite. Using audio prompts to read out what appears on the screen is unlikely to be the solution because it assumes a general level of technical competency - that what is read out can be comprehended by the listener. To someone without prior experience of using a mobile phone or computer what is a 'folder'? Or 'inbox'? Or 'operator settings'?

Audio prompts also assume that the phone supports the user's native language. India, for example has over 14 different official languages, and over 100's of local dialects. (It's also home to 270 million of the world's 799 million illiterate peoples so its a good case study). How many languages are supported and how do these reflect the illiterate population?

As I argued at last week's UIAH presentation, probably the biggest factor counting against the widespread adoption of this feature is one of proximate literacy - quite simply that its often easier ask someone for assistance than learn oneself."    (Continued via Jan Chipchase)    [Usability Resources]


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