Wednesday, August 25, 2010

How to Design a $100 Tablet – A Quick Overview

Intel's Classmate PC (Eduwise) low-cost PC revealed (May 04, 2006)

The head of the world's largest chipmaker unveiled a mobile personal computer Wednesday designed to provide affordable collaborative learning environments for teachers and students around the world.
Intel Corp. Chief Executive Paul Otellini said the $400 machines, code-named "Eduwise," will feature built-in wireless and will be able to run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows or the Linux operating system.
"What we want to do is accelerate to uncompromised technology for everyone in the world," Otellini said during a demonstration at the World Congress on Information Technology in Austin. "No one wants to cross the digital divide with yesterday's technology."

How to Design a $100 Tablet – A Quick Overview

The Context

Education is one of our most fundamental needs that help us to live with respect and dignity in society. It is the gateway to vast knowledge that ultimately leads to wisdom and virtues. Despite of education’s profound importance in our lives, not every is fortunate enough to receive it. Access to education is a grave issue in developing nations. The other important issue to ponder about is the quality of education.
Some Quick Facts on Education in India (Based on 7th All India School Education Survey)
·         Less than half of India’s children between the age 6 and 14 go to school.
·         A little over one-third of all children who enroll in grade one reach grade eight.
·         At least 35 million children aged 6 – 14 years do not attend school.
·         53% of girls in the age group of 5 to 9 years are illiterate.
·         In India, only 53% of habitation has a primary school.
·         In India, only 20% of habitation has a secondary school.
·         On an average an upper primary school is 3 km away in 22% of areas under habitations.
·         In nearly 60% of schools, there are less than two teachers to teach Classes I to V.
·         On an average, there are less than three teachers per primary school. They have to manage classes from I to V every day.
·         High cost of private education and need to work to support their families and little interest in studies are the reasons given by 3 in every four drop-outs as the reason they leave.
·         Dropout rates increase alarmingly in class III to V, its 50% for boys, 58% for girls.
·         1 in 40, primary school in India is conducted in open spaces or tents.
·         More than 50 per cent of girls fail to enroll in school; those that do are likely to drop out by the age of 12.
·         50% of Indian children aged 6-18 do not go to school
(Data extracted by

The Intervention

A marketing team in a large computer chip manufacturing company assessed the education situation in India and other developing countries. The team proposed using technology to increase the effectiveness, quality, and reach of education. Further research, by the team, on economic scene and expenditure capacity of people in these countries suggested an opportunity to introduce an inexpensive futuristic device to support educational needs of students.

The Design Brief

The chip maker approached a human-centered-design firm to design a breakthrough product – A $100 device that would use the client’s chipset. The product was positioned somewhere between a Smartphone and a Laptop.
A team of researchers (including me) was created to conduct user research and design. The main focal points were:
·         How students learn at school, home, and tuitions
·         What are student’s motivations, goals, aspirations and needs
·         How do students interact with their parents and teachers
·         How teachers interact with students and within themselves (Teaching Methods and Sharing of Information about students)
·         How teachers could best introduce technology into the classroom
·         What are parents expectations from their children’s school
·         How the new product fits in the education eco-system (Home – School – Tuition; Parents – Students – Teachers)

The Process – Contextual Design

According to Wikipedia: Contextual Design is a user-centered design process developed by Hugh Beyer and Karen Holtzblatt. It incorporates ethnographic methods for gathering data relevant to the product, field studies, rationalizing workflows, system and designing human-computer interfaces.
University of Twente, New Zealand, goes further and breaks apart Contextual Design into seven parts:
1.        Contextual Inquiry: uncovers who customers really are and how they work on a day-to-day basis to understand the customers: their needs, their desires and their approach to the work.
2.        Work Modeling: capture the work of individuals and organizations in diagrams to provide different perspectives on how work is done.
3.        Consolidation: brings data from individual customer interviews together so the team can see common pattern and structure without losing individual variation.
4.        Work redesign: uses the consolidated data to drive conversations about how to improve work by using technology to support the new work practice.
5.        The User Environment Design: captures the floor plan of the new system. It shows each part of the system, how it supports the user's work, exactly what function is available in that part, and how the user gets to and from other parts of the system.
6.        Test with customers: Paper prototyping develops rough mockups of the system using Post-its to represent windows, dialog boxes, buttons, and menus.
7.        Putting it into practice: Prioritization helps the transition to implementation by planning your system implementation over time. Object-oriented design helps you move from systems design to design of the implementation.

Our Process

It is one thing to read the process in books and it is another thing to implement the process - in practice. Every project comes with its own uniqueness and requires custom solutions. Given the constraints of time, context, and nature of project the design team had to tailor the design process to suit project requirements.
The design team, obviously, had Contextual Design experience from other projects and clients but this project required a different approach. It was a large scale and face paced project for a large client. Also, the introduction of the product would bring about a major social change to the lives of many students, teachers, and parents. The design team’s responsibility exceeded far beyond traditional professionalism norms and blended into moral and social responsibility. The team was in the process of designing the future of students and their lives in developing countries.
The tailored Contextual Design process consisted of following steps:
1.        Identify the Design Team
2.        Recruit Participants
3.        Conduct Contextual Inquiry
o    Document pictorial artifacts of physical spaces that students interact with (Home, School), materials, objects, technology
o    Document various observations during contextual inquiry
o    Interviews with Students, Parents, and Teachers
4.        Analyze and Interpret Contextual Inquiry Data and Create Affinity Notes
5.        Create Affinity Diagrams using Affinity Notes
6.        Create Personas based on Research
7.        Envision Future
o    Analysis – of all dependencies and relationships in the system
o    Ecosystem – with all the entities and establishing relationships between them
o    Future Scenarios – initiating the process of change
8.        User Interface Requirements and Design
9.        The Product Conceptualized – User Testing and Refinements
The design process worked successfully for the team. The process helped the team accomplishing the design goals: in time, with great quality control, and without personal biases.

Identify the Deign Team

Five design teams were created to conduct user research. Each team had three researchers. The research informed the design and development of the product.
Team Structure:
·         Moderator (Interviewer)
·         Observer (To capture behavioral, emotional, and contextual aspects)
·         Recorder (To transcribe the interview)

Recruit Participants

Forty five participants were recruited for the project. The human centered design firm hired an external vendor to take care of the recruitment process. Of course, the design team provided the vendor with details of user group profiles.
Forty five user interviews of two hours each were planned across all the stakeholders: Students, Teachers and Parents. Three distinct categories were created to cover users and schools across various economic strata in the society.

Conduct Contextual Inquiry

The design team observed participants in the context of their work environment while participants were busy doing their day-to-day education related tasks. The team documented the observations (including pictures and drawings of workspaces) related to participant’s core educational tasks. The team captured explicit and implicit aspects by probing and discovering.
All user interviews were non-technical in nature. Interviews were primarily designed to capture user needs, motivations, goals and desires.
The team briefed the participants – about the nature of interviews and project focus – at a very high level without revealing any information about the product itself. The team never mentioned “computer” or “technology” in their design briefs to participants in order to avoid biases in the data.

Analyze and Interpret Contextual Inquiry Data and Create Affinity Notes

The team collected large amounts of data from forty five interviews. It was essential to share the data across the core design team. Every evening the team would meet for couple of hours in the meeting room to analyze the data collected during that day.
Affinity notes were created on post-its to capture: important observations, issues, breakdowns in work, insights, and design ideas. The average number of affinity notes for forty five interviews were sixty per interview. Given the number of interviews and humongous data sets, the team decided to capture only important aspects of the interviews as affinity notes.

Create Affinity Diagrams Using Affinity Notes

Affinity diagrams were used to make sense out of this large data set. Affinity diagrams helped the team to find patterns, hidden connections, and driving themes from large information set. It provided great insights into unseen linkages of information and helped the team identifying issues and gaps.

Create Personas

Personas are a great tool to communicate understanding of users to clients and other teams involved in the process. Also, it keeps the design team focused on user goals. A persona for every user profile was created. Overall, fifteen personas were created to represent all user categories. All personas were backed by exhaustive user research.

Envision Future

The team visualized how the new technology could fit in the existing eco-system. The eco-system consisted of: students, parents, and teachers. The ecosystem depicted flow of relationships, hierarchies, and dependencies, and information between each of its user profiles. It helped the team understanding the dynamics of the ecosystem. The team wanted to design the new device in such a way that it would meet everybody’s needs and goals without creating negative interference in the ecosystem. The new device should solve all the issues and gaps uncovered in the affinity diagrams.
The team created future scenarios with the help of personas. In the scenarios, the stakeholders of the ecosystem used the product to accomplish their common goals. The “product in use” scenarios helped the team in creating “winning” features and functionalities for the product.
After five grilling weeks, the team produced three concepts depicting both the user interface and product design.
The client finally picked one of the concepts for final product development.
Yes, a-hundred-dollar-tablet for education was born!

A chart depicting the design process:


Monday, August 23, 2010

How to Kill the Death Grip - A humble design suggestion

Design is the intrinsic element of lifestyle - the essence of living. The more we talk, the more we explore it. This is the one-liner on my blog header. I firmly believe in design discourses as an exploration and discovery tool.
Lately, we heard a lot about Apple iPhone 4.0 antenna design flaw. Apple never accepted the flaw and orchestrated a big cover up, until lately, when it succumbed to deafening media coverage and continuous customer complaints.
 It surprised me how Apple could create a product with such a basic design flaw. The wrong placement for the joint of antenna is definitely not an engineering flaw but a design flaw.
Someone in the design team did mess up user research. He forgot to perform contextual inquiry with the users while they used the product. Or he did not write enough future scenarios depicting the usage of this product. Something certainly went terribly wrong somewhere in the design process. Otherwise, Apple wouldn’t have to teach us how to hold mobile phones or give away free jumpers. A good design fits itself seamlessly in the user space in all usage scenarios.
All these years, Apple thrived on its outstanding user experience and high quality products. One design flaw has significantly tarnished its clean image. People are afraid of upgrading their phones to iPhone 4.0 from iPhone 3.0. Instead, they want to wait for a new hardware release with the problem fixed.
As a product designer, I also thought about the flaw and looked into different ways in which my friends and I use our mobile phones. I came up with a quick sketch based on my observations. The best place for the band seems to be top center.
I would love to get your feedback, suggestions, and criticisms on the design.