Assessing the suitability of user centric design methods when applied in a developing world context

Maunder, Andrew James (2010)

Includes abstract.


The application of information and communication technologies to development (ICT4Dev) is widely believed to have the potential to improve livelihoods in developing regions. Within the field of HCI, it is recognised that user-centred design (UCD) methodologies need to be applied if ICT4Dev activities are to yield locally appropriate technologies. However, there is no overarching methodology or framework for the application of UCD within 4Dev design initiatives. This thesis sets out to explore which UCD methods best enable designers to work successfully outside their own contexts, what challenges arise and how UCD methodologies can be developed to support ICT4Dev designers. Two field studies were conducted, applying two UCD methodologies: An empathic and a technology probing approach. In each case the author designed an artefact, evaluated it in situ and reflected on the suitability of the design methods, tools and techniques employed. The design environments were the rural Eastern Cape Province and the township of Khayelitsha near Cape Town, both in South Africa. An empathic approach was found to have two major shortcomings: It was unable to overcome significant communication challenges and, partly as a result, it failed to identify major design problems until very late in the process. The major benefit of technology probing was its open-ended nature, which fostered user engagement and participation and yielded valuable design inspiration for future modifications of the probe. However, the emergent scenarios of use in the case of a technology probe were heavily influenced by the nature of the technology itself. We thus conclude that technology probing, while it has a valuable place in the ICT4Dev design toolbox, should be deployed in tandem with other techniques to ensure that important livelihoods problems are not overlooked.