My field visit to Digli, a small village in the Kendua sub-district in Bangladesh was my first ever instance of being a coder in the field. It proved to be an invaluable opportunity for me to get close to the end users of a system that I am designing. While it may not seem too useful an experience from the traditional standpoint of the typical software developer, the visit yielded a number of interesting insights for me- insights that I would have otherwise been largely ignorant to.
By gaining a deep understanding of the perceptions of those who would ultimately by the users of my designed system, I was able to generate a clear idea of the components and their corresponding linkages of the system I would need to design. The experience allowed me to identify the functionalities that would be perceived as most valuable and discard certain elements that I had previously thought mandatory, but later realized to be trivial. All in all, I came back to Dhaka with a much better understanding of how to organize the processes so as to create a better user experience tailored towards the end users.
Being a tech savvy person, I was fascinated with the rural perception towards technology, an entity which we take for granted. Seeing the people’s enthusiasm towards the proposed solution also helped provide me with a much greater sense of purpose than any technical specification could ever provide.
The experience itself was very refreshing from the tedious work hours sitting in front of the pc, coding away. Interacting with the people and getting to know their lifestyle and immersing myself with a society which is very different from my own helped me value my privileges more and allowed me a to glimpse into a more organic way of life.
Although the above points are very poetic and philosophical, it serves as little more than amusement to the logic hardened coder. Yet, i did spot some interesting aspects in the technologies which these people have accepted in their lifestyle. The most prominent is the use of smartphones. I remember seeing children (who probably do not have any formal education) understand the use of my smartphone to the extent of browsing through my app lists and opening a game they saw me playing before, all in a matter of minutes. This shows the power of a visual user interface; I strongly believe that if it was not for the vibrant colors and distinctive appearance of the app icons, they could not figure it out. This experience showed me the power of visual and iconic cues in order to help such users get acquainted to the system and its operations.
I realized that text based UI will be the worst idea for targeting such people as it becomes very difficult for them to associate an action with a bunch of cryptic symbols whereas the process of associating an icon with an action is a lot more intuitive. This has influenced my design of the software to better facilitate the end user by using visually engaging UI instead of traditional simple text-based UI. I have also found out that a system which can track them and keep record of their actions is perceived as a better tool for them instead of software which does not track them. It is rather surprising as we want the complete opposite to this, however, to them, the fact that the software is tracking them and can display information related to them is a sign that this software can truly benefit them and that they are not just one of the countless nameless members in the list of users, but rather a dignified user who has an identity and value.
All in all, this trip has provided me with a much deeper understanding of the end users of the system and has improved my understanding of how to design and develop the software so as to make the end user satisfied with the result.
Sadat S Ahmed