Indrani Medhi

. IDC Home
. Phd at IDC

Project Title: Software User Interfaces for Non-Literate and Semi-Literate Users

Supervisor : Prof U. A. Athavanka

In recent work in the area of Information and Communication Technology for Development, there has been a focus on computing applications for socio-economic development of underserved communities. One common characteristic trait of these underserved communities is illiteracy. Even conservative estimates of illiteracy suggest that there are over one billion illiterate people in the world [1]. As such, any computing application intended to aid and be used by people in these communities must be made accessible to non-literate users. This poses a significant design challenge, since interaction with most existing computing applications requires different skills from the user, such as: literacy, understanding of hierarchical menus, quick decision making, and appropriate cognitive models. This suggests that significant retooling of the interface or completely new interaction styles would be required to ensure usability by non-literate populations.

My PhD work would focus on understanding how we can design software user interfaces such that any first-time, non-literate user on first interaction with a computing device (PC and mobile phone) can immediately recognize useful interaction with minimal or no assistance. I would like to investigate this design problem at three different levels. At one level, the question is what particular design suits a given application; at another, there is a question of whether certain design principles transcend the application; finally, I would like to delve into the cognitive reasons why particular design principles hold, and how they can be explained by the unique cognitive capacity of non-literate people.

This work will draw from a variety of disciplines and methodologies, including interaction design, cognitive science, cultural human factors, and ethnographic user observation. The hope is that the results of this research will help better design software applications for non-literate and first-time computer users, so that they are comprehensible to non-literate users.


Lourie, S. (1990). World literacy: where we stand today - One billion non-literates. Editorial, UNESCO Courier. July 1990.






Contact details:

Industrial Design Centre,
IIT Bombay ,
Powai, Mumbai 400076