Our challenge this week was to design a light news app for semi-literate populations in India who only have access to low-end technology. Because these populations are semi-literate, there is a need to for clear, informative images with minimal accompanying text.
There is a paradox here: how do you create a content that makes use of images to tell a news story that can be delivered to any low tech device? We’re designing for a country that has extremely low tech mobile internet penetration (many regions only have 2G internet).
And since we’re building a relevant and up-to-date news service, it should be cheap and easy to create daily content that can exist across multiple languages.
When I first started this project, I at first thought that the best approach would be to draw frames in the news office and then send them out with each new story. The issue here is that users would have to wait substantial periods of time for this content to download every time they want to look at a new news article. In order to make the experience as frictionless as possible, it makes a lot more sense to have there be pre-downloaded images that can be reconfigured with each new story. This would definitely save time once the app is downloaded but again we’re presented with an issue of waiting time: it would take ages to download the app in the first place. Also, deciding which images to include as pre-downloaded with the app would be an arduous process, requiring a time-intensive review of news sites and then trying to find common links between stories.
Luckily, this problem has already been solved with pre-loaded images that exist on every Android and iOS device: emojis. There are 840 emojis that exist across almost platforms. And the creators of emojis have gotten very good at making them expressive of a wide range of situations. So much so that whole stories can be told using nothing more than emojis. I particularly enjoyed Moby Dick (Emoji Dick) being retold with emojis Reader’s Digest. Another great example that showcases just how expressive emojis can be is the Boring Angel music video by Oneohtrix Point Never.
Here is my idea for an extremely minimalistic home screen with emojis acting as icons:
(I used Gujarati to illustrate how even not being able to understand the text is not an issue). Clicking on one of the categories will open up a list of stories with its tag. Being a news site, stories can have multiple tags.
The list of stories is a relatively unexciting feature. After a user selects a story in the list of stories with a particular tag, the user is presented with a shareable storyboard.
This is a sample story about the pope visiting the US. I chose this story because it contains many words that may be unfamiliar to an audience removed from the events that happened by culture and geography.