User testing a product in Madagascar

To some, Madagascar can conjure fairytale images of unspoiled landscapes filled with characters from Dreamworks movies. A lot has changed in the 88 million years since the island broke away from the prehistoric African subcontinent. In recent decades the republic state has gone through several economic and political crises which has left Madagascar one of the poorest countries in the world. Approximately 69% of the population lives below the poverty line threshold of one dollar per day.

tanna-open-street-sewer

Today, the majority of the population live in cities creating unique challenges in maintaining essentials such as sanitation. Most communities in Madagascar have open street sewers and the country’s many lakes are the natural soakaway for this run-off and also the main source of water for washing, cooking and drinking. Water is a scarce resource that is collected and carried by hand from these lakes. Without a sewerage system, toilets are rare and often dump straight into the street sewers, with plastic bags forming a stopgap for many that get discarded on the street, or worse tossed into the lakes. All a bit grim, right?

tanna-lake-pollution

 

This is the problem LooWatt are attempting to solve.

Their solution is a waterless toilet system that encapsulates the waste into a compact biodegradable plastic tube which is sealed shut after each use and contained with a barrel. This keeps the waste from contaminating the water supply and streets, whilst preserving the water carried for drinking and cooking.

When full, these barrels are collected and taken to a facility where they are processed into bio-gas electricity and compost. Collectors need to visit locations where full barrels need to be taken away and a empties installed, transporting the waste back to the processing facility. Streets are narrow dirt paths so collections are done by hand using push carts. This system of waste collection is where the software comes into play.

tanna-carrying-barrel

Previous attempts at such a system failed as the collectors had little incentive to always take the waste to the processing facilities on the edge of town – the waste would often get dumped enroute, so accountability was going to be a key factor. Efficiency of communication and organisation is the other benefit software can bring, ensuring smooth daily operation as the project scales, reducing the admin required and increasing the likelihood of adoption in new locations.

The solution was to use an SMS driven system for the toilet owners to notify LooWatt that a collection was required. This SMS is caught by the system, and based on the current capacity of the collection team put into a daily schedule for each collector, planning their working days to make use of the most efficient route. Collectors are paid for the day based on completing jobs in their planned schedule. Accountability is handled by use of QR codes – empty barrels, refills and toilet locations all have unique codes that must be scanned in order. Full barrels are weighed at the time of collection and the weight verified by treatment staff at the end of the day. The QR codes allow for checking into locations and tracking of inventory at each location, together they form a complete map of activity across the organisation that is required for compliance, recording efficiency and accountability.

data-flowOne of many process flows from the team at Acrea

Working closely with the LooWatt team we created the UX and design for the mobile application that would be developed and used by collectors, waste management staff and shopkeepers selling refills. To design the backend infrastructure we involved our friends at Acrea in Zurich, who devised the data structure and flow of information required in the system to build a robust and scalable solution. Area also helped with the business logic, technical architecture and used their resources to get the MVP built and deployed. We worked closely with them on the concept to reach our final solution.

There were several interesting challenges with this project, some of which we had not encountered before;

  1. A largely illiterate user base.
  2. Mobile data was not prevalent.
  3. The cities are not well mapped and properties often do not have addresses.
  4. Limitations of a phonegap application that allowed a local web development resource to maintain the software.
  5. User base for testing were 5,600 km away.

 

Our solution

Designing for an illiterate audience involved a heavy use of iconography and photography to clearly indicate what the next step in their workflow needed to be. Locations were largely identified with images the collector would use to ask for directions (extremely common in a place with few addresses) and build a working knowledge of the properties on their regular routes. Data needed to be synced when back at base, allowing a synchronisation of the app and server once returning to a wifi base station at the collection facility.

loowatt-icons

The today view we structured largely like a to do list a collector could work their way through. The app would sync on load when a connection was available and automatically provide the task list for the day in what the algorithm thought was the most efficient order.

loowatt-app-ui

The order is only suggestive and jobs could be done in any order as it a was apparent the situation changes once on the ground as collectors are flagged down and hailed in the street. Such lessons taught us not to overload the collectors with automated suggestions and allow for rollover into following days to grant the flexibility the situation demanded.

We couldn’t possibly design such an important application without verifying our design decision, and so once we had developed a wireframe prototype we sent our lead UX designer on the project to the community where the initial rollout would be taking place. There she was able to undertake research, user-interviews and test the prototype we had created.

madagasgar-user-testing

We learned a lot from this experience and made adjustments to our ideas based on the results from the field. Mabel shadowed the collectors on their daily routine to understand their workflow today without the app, arming us with knowledge of how best to create the new experience without its introduction being overly disruptive. We loaded interactive prototypes into test devices and performed user testing sessions in the field.

Upon returning back to the UK and the team here we assessed the findings and set about iterating the concept based on what we had learned. The biggest changes were to the central today view and the steps involved to process a barrel exchange on location, something that needed greater instruction via the use of illustrations.

Upon making the updates we finalised the UI details, completed our prototype and got everything prepared for the build of the application front-end.

The app has been in use in Madagascar during preliminary tests and is already showing a marked improvement across all the project success metrics. We have a mid-term review to undertake and look forward to making optimisations based on data from longer term use. It’s been a great project to work on and the whole team both in the UK and Madagascar have been great clients to work with. It was a real privilege to work on a project that has the potential to have a marked impact on the lives of people in need – the feel-good factor amongst our team has been wonderful.

 

“Every Interaction’s input was invaluable in helping get our product to market and making it usable for the users on the ground. We got the MVP ready on time and budget and look forward to iterating the product as we learn.”

– Polly Gardiner, CEO

View the case study  |  Read more about LooWatt

 

Client August 23rd 2016

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User testing

User testing refers to a technique used in the design process to evaluate a product, feature or prototype with real users. There are several reasons why you might want to undergo usability testing, the most common is that it allows the design team to identify friction in a user experience they are designing, so that it can be addressed before being built or deployed.

WYSIWYG

WYSIWYG (pronounced WIZ-ee-wig) is an acronym for "What You See Is What You Get". It helps identify an an interface that allows user input resulting in an output that is rendered in a similar way. For example; a word processor application interface might resemble a piece of paper,so when printed the user can see how the output will appear.

Content Management System

A content management system (CMS) is an tool that allows a website editor/administrator to manage the content that is displayed. Websites are made of HTML and CSS to create pages. Pages can be hard-coded but would require technical development skills to make changes. A CMS usually allows a person without coding knowledge to amend existing and add new content to a website using a WYSIWYG interface.

Responsive Web Design

Responsive web design refers to a web page that dynamically adapts its layout to fit the size and orientation of the device on which it is viewed. A responsive design allows for a more optimised user experience across desktop and laptop computers as well as smartphones and tablets of varying sizes.

User Stories

User stories allow the functionality of a product or service to be expressed as written descriptions of an experience as seen from the users perspective. The writing of user stories creates a list of design and development tasks to complete in order to create any required functionality.

User Interface

A user interface (UI) is a conduit between human and computer interaction - the space where a user will interact with a computer or machine to complete tasks. The purpose of a UI is to enable a user to effectively control a computer or machine they are interacting with, and for feedback to be received in order to communicate effective completion of tasks.

Personas

A persona in UX Design is the characterisation of a user who represents a segment of your target audience. On a project you might create any number of personas to be representative of a range of user needs and desires. The solutions you design must answer these needs in order to deliver value to your target audience.

Card sorting

A great, reliable, inexpensive method for discovering patterns in how users would expect to find content or functionality. Card sorting is used to test the taxonomy of data with a group of subjects, usually to help inform the creation of the information architecture, user flow, or menu structure on a project.

Brainstorming

A technique used to generate ideas around a specific topic. Often done in groups, but can be done individuals. The process usually involves writing down all ideas around a topic onto paper, a whiteboard or stickies often implying some kind of association.

Minimum Viable Product

An MVP is a product that has the minimum set of features to prove the most essential hypothesis for a product. Businesses building a new product can create a Minimum Viable Product to prove that an idea is viable and warrants further investment. A further benefit being that the next stage of development can be informed by feedback obtained from testing that MVP.

Sitemap

A sitemap is a diagrammatic representation of a hierarchical system. It usually depicts the parent-sibling relationship between pages in a website, showing how sub pages might be arranged underneath their parent groupings. This arrangement forms a map of the site.

User journey

A user journey represents a sequence of events or experiences a user might encounter while using a product or service. A user journey can be mapped or designed to show the steps and choices presented as interactions, and the resulting actions.

Prototype

A prototype is draft representation built to test ideas for layout, behaviour and flow in a system. Prototypes are an indispensable tool for resolving a large number of potential issues in a concept or business before too many resources are deployed to put a design into production.

Wireframes

A Wireframe is a visual schematic that conveys a basic level of communication, structure and behaviour during the design of a system. Wireframes are low-fidelity designs that bypass including a detailed user interface or visual design, conveying just enough to get across the core idea.

Usability

To say something is usable is a qualitative statement about how easy that thing is to use. Usability is an assessment of how learnable a system is and how easy a user finds it to use. The usability of a system or product is a key factor in determining whether the user experience is a good one.

Information Architecture

Information architecture is the design and organisation of content, pages and data into a structure that aids users understanding of a system. A more organised system enables users to more easily find the information they require and complete the intended tasks.

UI Design

User Interface Design is the discipline of designing software interfaces for devices, ideally with a focus on maximising efficiency, responsiveness and aesthetics to foster a good user experience.

UX Design

The practice of User Experience (UX) Design is the coming together of many specific design related disciplines to improve the usability, responsiveness, uptake and aesthetics of a product or service.

User Experience

A general term that covers all aspects of a user's participation while engaging with something that has been designed. Usually when talking about User Experience in the digital design field it refers to the interactions, reactions, emotions and perceptions while using an app, service, website or product.

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