Thursday, October 31, 2013

A case for 'local' user interfaces?

The tweet above got my attention. Most folks in Ghana still enjoy SMS and those with smartphones enjoy text-based apps like Whatsapp. (Do note that Whatsapp now has voice-enabled input functionality).
From the convo on twitter, one realises that my friend is concerned about folks who cannot read English. I am however of the view that, a great majority of such folks can read in their local tongues.

A suggestion for developers who wish to design text-based apps for non-English speakers can be to use an API from Kasahorow. This would afford them the flexibility of using local languages.
However, another cool approach for developers looking forward to implement text-based apps, would be to use voice in place of text.

When it comes to using visuals, a lot of work has to be done to come out with better metaphors. This is because I've been contemplating how User Interface designers (in Ghana -- and Africa) could come up with icons that are 'local' enough to be understood and appreciated by their users.

Is this necessary, though?

What would the icons be like? A basket instead of a shopping cart? An earthenware bowl in place of fork and knife?
Well, as I've stated, more research needs to be done to really get a hang of this. An argument will be that the world is a global village, no? But what of the 'local' folks?

Forgive me if my thoughts are not 'falling in place' now.
I'm an enigma to myself.


  1. Glad my random tweet got a post out of you, but i disagree about using local icons. I mean if we wish to be global, we must under global metaphors. HCI should be about finding that peculiar application of universalness without losing the local touch. In Ghana using a plastic bag will be the most likely replacement of the shopping cart. Yes, a basket works good if you are in the market however it breaks in the face of a supermarket/mall. Fork and knife applies to eating, i must say people will.get it, the earthware? not so much but put there a take-away pack, now we are eating. :) But seriously, when you think about how low things have gone eg. plastic for waakye instead of leavea. You have to appreciate local icons but will they hold in the present way we apply them?
    By all means, let us create new metaphors, icons, etc but we in the end we will wish to move beyond the local. However for now, local will do. :)

  2. I am inclined to agree with you on how low things have gone. The challenge here is to come out with universal icons that also 'speak' locally. I am looking at mostly our peasant farmers and fisherfolk who do not really identify with 'foreign' icons. More work to be done though.