In order to cause concrete change and cater to people’s needs, you need to acknowledge their context. You cannot enable technological development or trigger social change without understanding the people who will be using the new products or technology.
icebauhaus knows this. And they also know that user-centered design isn’t only applicable to consumer products; it can also be applied to technological development and activist initiatives.
icebauhaus, based in Weimar, Germany aims at fostering technological innovation, sustainable business development and entrepreneurial thinking in local environments. So far most of their work has been in East Africa and Southeast Asia.
Katrin Proschek, icebauhaus board member and certified usability professional, explains exactly what this means to her:
“icebauhaus is a totally different concept. We work with a lot of partners instead of just applying technology that’s functional in our context without adaptation, without user research.”
One of icebauhaus’ most notable UX projects is a training app for runners in Ethiopia. icebauhaus conducted in-depth user-research to determine how the app would be different from usual European or American coaching apps. Ethiopia is a country known for its talented runners. It is a place where running is a way out of poverty. Bringing accessible and innovative ideas to Ethiopian runners — like a training app that enables runners to easily collect and analyze running data — can revolutionize many people’s lives.
“It was an international collaboration,” said Jörn, icebauhaus board member and consultant on learning and collaboration technologies. “We did field trips [in Ethiopia] researching the local ecosystem of training support and the different training centers. We conducted interviews with different levels of athletes. We developed a prototype there that we tested on site with trainers and athletes.”
This was one of Katrin and Jörn’s favorite projects because it included funding, field research, and the time necessary to listen to actual users of a possible future project. They were then able to make tailored concepts for the app.
They created detailed user stories for Ethiopian athletes and coaches. The prototype of the running app was made by icebauhaus member Bastian Walthierer.
icebauhaus worked in conjunction with local entrepreneurs and startups such as AhadooTec based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to develop app prototypes. The idea is that local actors know the users’ needs best. Indeed, the goal of the app is also to empower local actors and athletes.
The app is made to be used by both athlete and trainer and has different functions for each role. The athlete account is optimized for self-tracking. The athlete carries their phone which uses its GPS to track the training. The app also records the time, and allows the runner to set manual split times (for laps or landmarks). The app allows athletes to create an after-training plan; start, pause and end tracking, and add additional relevant information through manual data input.
The coach account is optimized for recording and tracking the athletes’ training. The trainer can simultaneously record the workouts of up to six athletes. The app records the time and split times and allows the coach to create an after workout training plan. The app also allows the trainer to analyze one athlete’s data at a time. The coach can compare past training data over time with famous runners.
Ultimately, the development of this training app differs from most in that it was designed based on local needs.
This exponentially increases the potential for successful use and positive change in the local context. The app was adapted to local language, culture and training traditions. In addition this project took into account the local population’s education and IT literacy, and the technologies and infrastructure available.
This project signals a change in mobile app development. It was developed locally in conjunction with local software developers. It involved field research and usability tests with different training groups and domain experts.
This project has a huge potential for impact in Ethiopia seeing as the country is famous for its talented runners.
Haile Gebreselassie, an Ethiopian long-distance track and road running athlete who won two Olympic gold medals and four World Championship titles, perfectly illustrates the social impact of this app:
“We did not know how many kilometers we did, sometimes we did not even know where we were (…) you know, I am a bit jealous, it comes too late for me.”
icebauhaus also works on several more broad and less technical projects. Over the past three years, icebauhaus has worked on a series of projects called South-South Media Lab Collaboration, which Katrin calls “one of the most beautiful things icebauhaus did.”
The project started in 2017 with the East-African Media Lab Collaboration (EAMLab), a short-term residency program focused on networking and collaboration among young professionals and innovators in the East African media sector. The initiative was aimed at introducing spaces of collaboration between East African media, culture and innovation centers and East African media professionals, innovators and storytellers in order to promote engaged, creative and peaceful media work.
The EAMLab focused on peer-learning and open and free media technologies. In this context, participants and their host organizations were encouraged to approach political and social challenges in creative, experimental and interdisciplinary ways through digital means.
Jörn explained that there are many similar challenges in the context of East Africa but there aren’t many local networks. Most people in that context are networked with Europe and outside Africa where most project funding comes from.
“We realized that instead of bringing some experts from Europe to these local media organizations, it’s more useful to connect the different organizations with each other and allow them to collaborate on the topics that are important to them,” said Jörn.
In 2018, the program aimed at introducing spaces of collaboration between East African and South East Asian media, culture and innovation centers in order to promote engaged, creative and peaceful media work.
“It’s actually a really simple idea but it produces a lot of surprising and beautiful things. Networks are established. Ideas change their validity and impact by putting them in a different context,” said Katrin.
One of the beautiful things developed through Media Lab in 2017 is Omnia Shawkat Abbas’ project in Sudan. Omnia worked on the mechanics of setting up and running periodic media forums while improving her team management and recruitment skills. She also wanted to expand her website Andariya from Sudan to other East African markets.
By the end of her Media Lab residency, Omnia had formed a strategic partnership with a local media outlet, recruited new writers based in Uganda as content contributors to andariya.com, wrote a few stories herself on South-Sudanese diaspora in Uganda, and began the process of setting up a Uganda Andariya branch
Media Lab encourages projects in very diverse fields. A very different yet very impactful project was developed in 2018 by Victor Nyang’a in Tanzania. Victor developed a client-server communication tool for environmental data. He designed a remote metering system prototype that collects environmental data from sensors and logs it in an online database. The tool shares the collected data with interested users such as researchers, businesses, activists and weather forecasters. The data collected include CO2, temperature, humidity, UV, wind speed, wind direction, noise levels, precipitation, atmospheric pressure, GPS, etc.
icebauhaus has been the driving force behind many innovative, forward-thinking and impactful projects. Their interdisciplinary and user-centered approach has ensured that projects and ideas are adapted to the local context and therefore have a real positive impact. In the case of the running app, it gave more Ethiopian athletes a chance to properly train and possibly make it big. The EAMLab allowed innovation, ideas and technological advancements to flourish by establishing local and long-distance networks with fellow innovators in similar contexts.
However, this approach does not need to be limited to icebauhaus. Interdisciplinary collaboration and user-centered design can and should be the basis for future impactful projects and social change within contexts all over the world. The point is that projects, products or services are only impactful if they’re sensitive to and adapted to their environment and their users.
Источник: UX Planetdesign innovation ux media social-justice