As a UX enthusiast living in a western country, I often make assumptions about users that may not be true in different cultural or linguistic contexts. It’s a common trap that we all face. Therefore, I love opportunities to chat with designers from different cultures about their own experiences. It helps me reset my perspective and reinforces that my assumptions are not always valid.
For that reason, I was super excited to be able to chat with Muhammad Adil from the IPAL- Research lab based in Pakistan about the design projects he's currently working on and the challenges and constraints he faces on a daily basis. His answers definitely gave me food for thought, not only in helping me understand what's important to those involved in the technology space in different countries, but giving me insight into areas that previously I might not have considered important in my own design work.
Dave: What is IPAL and where are you based?
Adil: The Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab (IPAL) is based at the Information Technology University (ITU) located in Lahore, Pakistan. IPAL is a leading research lab which focuses on providing innovative solutions to social problems in underprivileged local communities.
We are a team of committed individuals who believe that technology has the potential to improve quality of life and bring about positive social change.
Dave: What are the issues in Pakistan that you feel most strongly about?
Adil: An estimated 60 percent of the Pakistani population is living below the poverty line. A multitude of problems gnaw at the socio-economic fabric of Pakistan. Issues like the unavailability of clean drinking water, inaccessible health services, illiteracy, unemployment and natural disasters are rampant in the country.
Dave: How do you think design and technology can create solutions to social problems?
Adil: Design and technology is moving at an astonishing speed with unparalleled gains and returns on investment. Thus, it has been possible through innovative design and technology to come up with cost-efficient solutions for the most pressing social problems that Pakistan is facing.
Dave: What can IPAL and designers do to influence equality in the world?
Adil: Inequality in resources, wealth, access to knowledge and even access to technology has comprehensively plagued today’s world. IPAL constantly strives to enhance the living standards of people in marginalized communities. For example, one of our recent design projects has been the development of a low-literate ATM interface for the underprivileged, thus facilitating financial access for the marginalized, low-literate or even illiterate population of the country.
A similar project has been undertaken to facilitate the development of smart phone UI design for low-literate population, so that they can also benefit from the booming smartphone industry. Through constant commitment and passion, we are currently working to decrease inequality among different social classes and will continuously strive to do so.
Dave: How can we change the way we view design and make technology work for everyone?
Adil: A user-centered approach to device design, technology design, user-interface design and application design ensures that the needs of the users are properly understood.
Design and development at IPAL has always been user-centered, with a participative approach towards development, ensuring that the design and development needs of marginalized users come first in the process. We think from the view point of our end users. First and foremost, our focus is on addressing the needs of our target user.
Dave: What kind of solutions are the Pakistani people coming up with themselves?
Adil: First world countries are often fascinated with the concept of foreign aid to help solve issues in Pakistan and other developing nations. Their belief is that impoverished groups have to be herded and shepherded, and solutions need to be enforced upon them. The concept of participatory development has been relatively new, and is practised rarely if at all. There are some fundamental issues about this line of thought.
Marginalized groups are capable of building their own vision to solve their own issues. The only resources they lack are an initial helping hand and that is what we aim to provide them with.
Almost all of the product development ideas at IPAL have been user-centered. All these ideas are indigenous, which often come up from group discussions, focus groups, and brainstorming sessions amongst our researchers. Frequent field visits, in depth participatory interviews not only facilitate idea generation, but also serve as the prime source of idea refinement. It has been observed that the most innovative and fascinating ideas often come out of indigenous communities themselves. They come up with localized ideas, which are often readily implementable after a little research and refinement.
Dave: What projects are you working on at the moment and why?
Adil: We are currently working on 4 projects in total.
First is “FolkWisdom” - which consists of a web based application and a mobile based smartphone app. Both platforms provide local language educational videos on crafts and skills like carpentry and masonry.
Second, the Water ATM project is targeted to facilitate equal, measured and safe access to clean drinking water to water-restrained communities with remote water quality testing, hence reducing the chances of catching water-borne diseases.
Another is the Har Zindagi project which focuses on child immunization in Pakistan. We are currently working on digitizing the whole system in the province of Punjab. In this project each and every single child vaccination is recorded and digitized, eradicating paperwork and improving the speed and efficiency with which the programme can be administered.
The forth project is the Agritube project which serves the agricultural communities throughout Pakistan by creating and publishing farmer and livestock educational videos.
Dave: Why did you decide to use Fluid UI?
Adil: Fluid UI is the ultimate tool for rapid prototyping, it helps my team members and I to rapidly come up with UX prototypes of our web based and smartphone applications. Comparatively, Fluid UI is more user friendly than other UX tools currently available on the market. We used Fluid UI to prototype the user interfaces for the Har Zindagi mobile application, the Water ATM dashboard and the “FolkWisdom” mobile application for low literacy users.
It would be great if Fluid UI and other such tools could collaborate to sustain an open platform for organizations such as IPAL, where all these tools are free to use for development purposes. We think that this would serve a much bigger social responsibility function for the participating firms, and will always add to the corporate goodwill of generous, collaborative teams such as the Fluid UI team.
Dave: Thanks Adil for your incredible insights.
Adil is the Program Officer at IPAL-Innovations for Poverty Alleviation Lab based at ITU-Information Technology University in Pakistan. IPAL is a research center where field work, pedagogy, and hands-on design are simultaneously carried out to develop sustainable solutions for social development. He’s a design enthusiast, innovator and trained technologist. "As an Innovator, I want to use my design and tech skills to alleviate poverty by developing sustainable and scalable solutions for Pakistan."
Dave is the founder and CEO of fluidui.com - a prototyping tool which can help you design brilliant apps, simplify design workflows and bring your ideas to life. He’s not a designer by trade, but rather an entrepreneur who is passionate about eliminating bad user experiences anywhere and everywhere they may exist.