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HCI4D: The Emerging Discipline of Human Computer Interaction For Development

By Kelechi Edozie-Anyadiegwu on March 7, 2011

The practice of Information and Communication Technology for Development enjoys a host of disciplines within the sector (m4d, health informatics, e-governance, etc), some enjoying more popularity then others. Although, a discipline that is making a more commanding presence in the ICT4D arena, is Human Computer Interaction for Development also referred to has HCI4D.

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The significance with HCI4D is that it investigates ways of appropriately designing ICT’s so that they are conducive to the unique user and infrastructural requirements met in multicultural environments. The importance with HCI4D is that it emphasizes the user rather than any other entity. Melissa Ho, Thomas Smyth, Matthew Kam and Andy Deadren best define HCI4D as:

A subfield of ICT4D that focuses on understanding how people and computers interact in developing regions and on designing systems and products specifically for these contexts.”

I remember one day, in a class I was taking on HCI, my professor was talking about a dvd player sold at Best Buy, top of the line, ornate and beautiful….to look at. Surprise to no one, this product sold very well for Best Buy. Although while it sold very well it also yielded one of the highest return rates in Best Buy’s history. Why? Because while the product was beautiful, people could not operate the DVD player.

The confusing interface of the product made it extremely difficult for people to understand how to use. While the design was aesthetically pleasing, user centered design principles were not employed. Now if this philosophy is applied in an ICT4D context, what is to be said of all the technologies brought to the third world designed for people in the western world?

That being said, the question becomes how can ICT’s properly be designed with the customs of third world users in mind? How can ICT’s be properly designed that take into account local technical, economic, cultural and financial aspects and what other socio-technical constraints should be addressed?

Low literacy rates is a factor that is increasingly taken into consideration when ICT’s are designed for third world users. Other areas taken into account in HCI4D research according to Dearden, Light, Dray, Thomas, Best, Buckhalter, Breenblatt, Krishnan and Sambasivan in ‘User Centered Design and International Development’ include:

  1. Interaction Metaphors: Exploring beyond the Western-centric Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers (WIMP) metaphor to other interaction metaphors that are more culturally and socially relevant to the intended user groups.
  2. User Analysis: Developing methods to most effectively understand the users and their context, practices, and wants, by understanding SocioCultural and Economic differences unique to them.
  3. Interaction Methods: Localization and customization / alternatives to traditional input output methods.
  4. Evaluation Methods: Thinking outside traditional methods by making evaluation more appropriate to the target user audience to elicit accurate and actionable feedback.

ICT4D is a highly contextual field that is built upon empowering the rural poor with ICT’s. The needs and wants of the user are key to the success and sustainability of ICT4D projects. HCI4D is a practice that transcends all disciplines of ICT4D, it is also a discipline that addresses these contextual issues and is an integral part to any ICT4D project.

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I am currently an undergraduate student at Michigan State University, majoring in Media and Communication Technology with specializations in African Studies and Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D). My interests include ICT4D and Human-Computer Interaction for Development (HCI4D). I am very passionate about the ways in which ICTs can be used as a told for social and economic upliftment in the third world.My dream is to have a role in socio-economic development of African countries, to discern how greater technology adoption in Africa could aid in achieving social and economic development. I would also like to see an Africa where youth have the same life chances as their counterparts abroad. making this dream a reality calls for the mobilization of African youth, to help them build the tool that they need to enter and become successful in a globalizing economy.
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9 Comments to “HCI4D: The Emerging Discipline of Human Computer Interaction For Development”

  1. lindsaypoirier says:

    I’m really excited to read this post because I think that as a field HCI4D is often overlooked but should be the first consideration when implementing ICTs in developing countries. One thing I have been questioning:
    What is the best approach to design for development? More specifically, is it better to follow a user-centered approach, where research and observation is carried out to determine design needs, or a participatory approach, where the users are involved in the design process? Following a participatory method could ease the training process once design is complete, but do future users have the vision to be involved in the design process? Will this depend on the the category of the ICT being implemented?

  2. andrewjdupree says:

    I’ve no idea, but I can point you in the right direction. Do you know of CMU’s MILLEE? It’s a research group that started as part of Berkeley’s ICT4D lab. As far as HCI4D goes, they’re a great place to look into.

    http://www.millee.org/

  3. kelechiea says:

    Hey Linday, thanks for the comment, you right! HCI4D (or whatever you would call it, some just refer to it as HCI) is an exciting and emerging field. I’ve had the opportunity to learn alot about the field in the past couple monthes. One women I would HIGLY suggest you research is Apala Chavan, she works for Human Factors International – Asia and she does alot of work in Design for Emerging Markets and Contextual Innovation. I recently interviewed her and that interview should be up on ICTworks within the next couple weeks.

    To answer you question, based of what I have learned about Design for emerging markets over the past couple months, it seems like the Participatory approach is preferred, that is, going into the field and integrating users into the design process. As I attempted to convey in the article, the current problem is stakeholder try and implement application design for those in the western world to those of the third world. This does not take into account the plethora of cultural and societal differences that exist. Simply changing the language is not enough. I’m not sure what you mean by “but do future users have the vision to be involved in the design process? Will this depend on the the category of the ICT being implemented?”

    If you would like I can send you some literature on HCI4D, I’ve got lots.

  4. kelechiea says:

    If either of your are interested in doing HCI for grad school, let me know. I just spent the past year undergoing the grad school process. I will actually be attending CMU next month and hope to get involved with the MILLEE program. CMU probably has one of the best HCI programs in the nation and they have lots of ICT4D resources.

  5. andrewjdupree says:

    Thanks for the offer! I actually just went through the grad school ringer myself and ended up at Stanford. They’ve got some cool ICT4D stuff here too – I’m sure we’ll have plenty to talk about in the future.

  6. lindsaypoirier says:

    Thank you! I’m considering a lot right now, but I still have lots of time before grad school.

  7. Sarah says:

    An excellent post and very timely. We are currently contemplating the challenges of equipping young people for lifelong learning. They live in a developing country as transient migrants. After school they’ll have no access to the formal economy or education, but most have a mobile phone…

  8. Sarah says:

    More literature would be awesome…

  9. kelechiea says:

    no problem, just email me, my email address is kelechiea@gmail.com and I will send you everything i have