Budget applications have become a vital part of financial planning for a growing group of users. These applications allow users to easily track purchases, plan retirement funds, and even check credit scores. As the applications continue to grow in usage they will need to adapt for lower literacy populations as they account for 50% of the US population. To help address these needs a team including of two including myself worked to design an application that would allow for maximum usability among low literacy groups.
We started by gathering information on the target population. To better understand the needs of this group a literature review of the social, emotional, cognitive and motor skills associated with this group. Based off preliminary research we understood that certain steps would need to be taken to best engage this population.
Research showed that this population can become averse to reading text completely often choosing to complete task by try/fail/try again methods. They were also more likely to become easily distracted and not finish reading instructions. Many individuals in this population relied on context clues to help them understand terms they were unfamiliar with, such as images or sounds. It was important that we accounted for these special needs when designing.
Understanding this population socially and culturally was also pivotal in the design of this application. Low literacy users come in a variety cultures however many of their coping mechanisms remain the same across groups. Due to the necessity of reading to navigate through life many individuals within this population use coping skills such as mimicking (copying the actions of literate counterparts), reliance on others, or repetition (sticking to a routine) to navigate through daily life. Although the vast majority of Americans fall into the spectrum of low literacy (reading below 8th grade level) there is still high stigma attached to this inability to read. To address this a few steps were taken in visual design, such as color choices, language, and ideal font, to prevent the application from feeling overtly childish or demeaning. Financial language which is often too advanced for low literacy users, even when such language has been modified into simpler terms was instead explained via story telling within the app, basically walking users through each step of financial planning with images and text to help guide users through the application. Icons used reflected real life expectations as to not confuse users (i.e. hamburger menus,). We decided that the design layout would simple and included minimal text to prevent users from being distracted. We also wanted to include visual guides such as graphs, predefined text, and colors to increase readability among this user population.
Using the research collected we were able to design a low fidelity prototype of how a budgeting app for low literacy users would work. We emphasized the use of icons and colors as context clues for users. We also incorporated the use of “storytelling” or walking users through activities to help prevent frustrating them. Since low literacy individuals were found to be more likely low-income and therefore not use electronic payments as much as their wealthier counterparts we made sure to integrate methods to track cash payments within the application. We added some additional convenience features such as voice to text, and photo options to help users with alternate methods of data entry. Graphics such as pie charts, and sliders were inputted to help users better grasp some of the more complex financial concepts such as monthly budgets, interest, and financing calculators. Lastly avatars were introduced to help users better guide users through the application, preliminary research revealed that using avatars was one of the most effective tools for online training.