A live-translation app designed to empower non-English speaking seniors to live more confidently and independently.View the Figma Prototype
Hao: Speak My Language is a live translation app designed to help increase the independence and life quality of non-English speaking seniors.
Seniors are able to voice and video call a translation service from their phones to receive immediate assistance in their preferred language.
My eyes were opened to an accessibility barrier that was affecting thousands of people in BC when my mom came to me for assistance booking her COVID vaccine. Although the public campaigns promised assistance in 120+ languages, she discovered that it was purely by the luck of the draw.
The online booking system was confusing to maneuver and the phone operators who answered your calls were not guaranteed to have any language skills apart from basic fluency in English.
This frustration had ripple effects further into the BC Chinese Community. Not only was my mom trying to book her own vaccine, she was attempting to learn the system so that she could assist the 10+ seniors who had already reached out to her for assistance as well.
None of her 3 calls were answered by a Chinese-speaker, and so she did her best to communicate with her last impatient phone operator.
This experience helped me understand a painful truth about the lives of non-English speaking seniors: Our worlds are only as big as our ability to communicate with those around us.
Non-English speaking seniors depend wholly on the benevolence of their support systems and strangers to help them interact with the world around them, stripping them of their independence, agency, and opportunity to explore.
Ironically, the most significant primary research constraint that I faced was my own linguistic limitation.
I'm a native English speaker, but apart from that, I'm a novice level Cantonese speaker with only an HSK level 2 reading and writing ability. I have a rudimentary level of understanding in Spanish, but I struggle so much with the syntax that I would be considered incoherent.
With my linguistic constraints in mind, I decided to limit my pool of research candidates to Cantonese speakers only.
To ensure that my interviewees were not frustrated, I also enlisted the help of a translator in case I stumbled upon vocabulary that surpassed my abilities. My translator was also a senior which lowered the cultural barrier of age formalities.
This constraint also helped me narrow down my first app users as Chinese speaking seniors.
I asked for verbal permission to use their personal data for my project and case study because they were language and literacy issues.
While I used Otter.ai to record my interview sessions, I was unable to have the audio transcribed as it did not register non-English languages.
The path to gaining understanding was incredibly humbling and helped me grow in empathy for these seniors who lived in this restrictive state 24/7, through all facets of their lives.
Language-barriers affect people from all educational, career, and economic backgrounds.
All interviewees had no English knowledge upon arrival.
Higher education was correlated with higher current English ability and tech savviness.
Seniors recognize the learning curve exists, but are very willing to learn how to use any new app if it improves their lives.
Apps like WhatsApp, Zoom, and YouTube with lower text barriers are not necessarily easier to learn but they are less intimidating to approach, therefore they are used more frequently and with more confidence.
Immediate support networks like families and community groups will be key deciders on whether the seniors are using an app.
Seniors accept the reality of needing assistance. This does not mean that they are happy to be in such a circumstance.
are unable to fulfill their day-to-day needs because of an English-langauge barrier. This leaves them anxious and helpless as burdens on their loved ones.
are being over-relied upon to translate a world of information and interaction for non-English speaking seniors. This puts imbalance in their relationships.
are failing to provide vital services to these seniors and are losing an entire market segment as seniors travel far distances to access langauge support.
How Might We assist non-English speaking seniors with language barriers in order to make their tasks more accessible?
"There are so many older people who are in need of help... so many whose families have given up helping, and now we need a larger social response and solution. Seniors are needing to find help to survive in this society but are facing barriers they could not possibly face on their own."
-Interviewee, 65-year-old male
I broke down each step of Chen Sing's shopping journey to better understand her shopping experience. This helped me gain empathy and visualize the areas of opportunity.I chose the first opportunity that would disrupt the experience before it became negative. Here, I could remove the need to create extra labour for her support network, and prevent a loss in sales for the business.
"As a senior, I want to be able to ask questions in the moment so that I can make immediate decisions."
I mapped out each touch point and channel throughout Chen Sing's journey through the Hao app.
Moving from notebook sketches through 3 rounds of mid-fidelity iterations.
My research showed that seniors struggled to remember each step of a task completion journey.
For this reason, I decided that the Hao opening page would always be a quick step-by-step tutorial on how to use the app.
If users did not want to watch the tutorial, they could easily skip to the next page.
he Home page only has 2 main functions: video call and voice call.
This minimizes confusion, distraction, and the potential for error for senior users. Those in their support networks can access more features and information through the user profile area, accessed through the bottom navigation.
The call screens went through the most changes for the sake of clarity.
The loading screen was unclear to testers in the lo-fi and mid-fi prototypes.
Non-uniform button styles on the call page were confusing for users and the spacing was difficult for shaky hands to accurately press with consistency.
I also made an assumption here that the translator would be able to give the senior step-by-step instructions to flip the camera view and to take snapshots for translation purposes.
I chose to use a thumbs up/down rating system because of it's familiar meaning and because it was the clearest indicator of a choice between a positive and negative experience.
Adding backings and labels made it more obvious that the icons were independent buttons rather than a rating bar.
The confirmation page helps the senior understand that their rating has been received. In iteration 3, all buttons were given full screen width frames to create familiarity so that seniors could instantly recognize them.
The final frames drew together a minimalist design with large buttons, high contrast colours, and only 2 options for app functions.
Each change to the iteration above came directly from user testing feedback. I completed 3 rounds of user testing with 15 individual participants in total.
Two rounds were in English, and one in Chinese. Participants were tasked with 6 specific steps to complete, and each task had a 100% successful completion rate. This is due to the simple UI which limits opportunity for errors.
Despite being able to easily complete the tasks, users still had small difficulties at different stages. These difficulties were placed in a design matrix to priorities updates.
I chose to do a 3rd round of user testing to gain some insight and feedback by Chinese speakers and some seniors as well. The prototype was made in Simplified Chinese and all users completed their tasks successfully.
The feedback was very positive, and the seniors in the group found that the large text was helpful and the simple layout was clear enough for them to know how to fulfill objectives without any confusion.
The seniors especially appreciated that all buttons and icons were labelled so they would not need to make any guesses.
My secondary research showed that Apple is targeting seniors as a user demographic for the iWatch, and that adult children are choosing to gift their senior parents with hopes to both track and support their wellbeing.
It is important for apps to be able to transition seamlessly between devices. Like the with the mobile app, the on-screen language will be presented in the whichever language the device has been set to use.
The translator's photo and name will still appear on the call screen to maintain a level of familiarity between the senior and their translator. I chose to keep the high colour contrast and error prevention designs to keep the senior's usability experience central. A final confirmation screen ensures that the senior is always informed on where they are in the process.
Hao can democratize the business world by extending the opportunity for translation services to businesses as small as corner stores and as big as amusement park chains. This also frees the business from missing out on qualified employment candidates by removing the needs to provide in-house language services which are typically sub-par.
Hao reinforces the safety and accessibility of foreign travel. Although the primary audience would be non-English speaking seniors, the high level of accessibility in design on this app could make it an ideal travel buddy. Travellers in foreign countries could skip the frustration, fear, and stress of pre-learning a language by utilizing the Hao app.
Hao significantly lightens the burden of caretaking on seniors' support network. In cultures that value filial piety (such as in Chinese culture), the burden of caretaking is exponentially higher and creates significant tension in relationships to the point of implosion. A 3rd party addition like Hao could be a low cost solution to returning to healthier familial relationships, better mental health for all parties, and clearer boundaries between parent and child.
This design process has taught me the value of first seeking to understand the user and the context of the situation before trying to solve a problem.
I've learned that human-centric design is not a fad; it's a way of ensuring we value humans over work, and seeking viable solutions rather than just completed task lists.
I have also learned in this process that I am not apart from the experiences of my users. In my journey to create a solution to the language barrier problem, I found myself experiencing just the tip of the iceberg of an issue that I never expected to face. The user experience is very much just the human experience.