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LiteBox: Design for

Adult Illiteracy

CHI 2017 Competition Entry

Duration: Oct 2017 - Jan 2017

Type: Group

Role: UX Designer and Researcher

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Our project was accepted as the top 12 entries at CHI Competition around the world, and we will be presenting this project on ACM-CHI international conference at Montreal this April.

Anchor 1


Our design project was an attempt to find solutions that can assist the adult illiterates in providing the ability to perform daily tasks on their own.

Methods Used

User research, contextual Inquiry, sketching, personas, design synthesis, brainstorming, paper prototyping, usability testing, high fidelity prototyping, interviewing and needs assessment

Proposed Solution

A mobile application that can assist the user at any context and situation


Problem Statement

For most people reading this report, it might be hard to imagine what it feels like to be illiterate. In fact, most, if not all, tasks of daily life in a modern society involves literacy skills: using Google Map to find out the itinerary to a place; reading ingredient information on a package of food; filling in information on an application form. For people with an insufficient level of literacy, these tasks can be difficult, and they might need help from other people.

Our team was curious about the problems faced by these people and shaped a solution  that can help and empower them.

Problem Statement

Design Process

Design Process
Background Study

Background Research


The word “literacy” is understood as the ability to read and write. However, the extent of literacy can be far more complex. UNESCO defines three different levels of literacy. 

Functional Literacy


Person who can engage in all those activities in which literacy is required for effective function of his or her group and community and also for enabling him or her to continue to use reading, writing and calculation for his or her own and the community’s development.

Adult Literacy


Adult illiteracy refers to the proportion of the adult population who cannot, with understanding, both read and write a short simple statement on everyday life.



Ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts.

General Statistics

Design Objectives



Adults in US cannot read, write, or do a basic math above a third grade level.


young adults drop out of high school every year


Adults in US cannot read, write, or do a basic math above a third grade level.


of immigrants that come to US lack high school education and proficient English skills.


Children whose parents have low literacy levels have chance of being at the lowest reading levels themselves.


of programs are struggling with long student waiting lists, and less than 10 percent of adults in need are receiving services


Interviews/Contextual Inquiry


Literacy experts are people who lead literacy programs and work with learners. Due to their rich experience with illiterate learners, they have highly valuable insights about the characteristics and need of our target user. For the purpose of our research, we interviewed two literacy experts

Interviews with Literacy Experts

Literacy specialist at Detroit Public Library

Program manager at Washtenaw Literacy




Interviews with Target Users

In order to get a closer understanding of our target users, we conducted a 45-minute interview/contextual inquiry with literacy learners at a literacy program in Detroit Public Library. Additionally, we asked them to walk us through how he conducted some specific tasks in his daily life.

Key Findings - Target Audience

Who is our target audience?

People who are struggling to do some everyday tasks due to illiteracy issue.

People who have trouble reading, but ok with everyday tasks

30-45 yrs

the dominant age group of the community.

Below 3rd Grade

is the general English reading level of targeted community.


generally more willing to seek help


usually also suffer frompoverty, learning ability issues, poor education



From our research, it is clear that a significant section of the US adult population does not have the literacy skills required to perform many basic tasks. From our interviews came essential findings related to our target community. The key findings include the pain points faced by the targeted users and the leverage we can use to shape a design.

Key Findings - Pain-points



Struggle with navigation as they have trouble reading signs and tend to stay in the area in which they live and only travel to  familiar places.

Reading menus/labels

Face problems in reading the menu at a restaurant or labels in a grocery store. Due to this, they tend to refrain from new stores/restaurants.

Professional Success

Most immigrants lack proficient English  skills, limiting their admittance to colleges and  particular jobs, in-spite of professional skills

Learning Tools

Multiple interviewees brought up the lack of learning tools available that are focused on adult illiteracy, which was also confirmed during our research.


We found that many users use the calculator application even for basic mathematics


User has a basic knowledge of using a smartphone and usually owns one. They use google search and voice assistant when with an unfamiliar task.

Design Solution

Design Solution

Based on the critical findings gathered from literacy review, competitive analysis, and user research, we conducted brainstorming and evaluated design ideas.

As our design solution, we are introduced 'Litebox', a mobile app that provides both immediate help with daily tasks and also long-term assistance with learning. The app includes two main sections: daily assistant and learning assistant.

The Logo of LiteBox

Daily Assistant

To help with daily tasks which might be difficult for our target user, Litebox provides a helper camera which has two modes.

Information mode

The information mode of the helper camera is designed to help to recognize and saving information.

Text mode

The text scanning function is designed to be an instant text helper. It allows the user to scan a line of text








Learning Assistant

Apart from daily assistance, Litebox also offers support in long-term learning. The learning assistant focuses on three aspects:

Vocabulary exercises with pictures

Litebox provides vocabulary exercises with pictures. Each group of exercises contains ten words and for each word the user has ten seconds to choose the best picture that represents the word. The words that appear in the exercises are based on user’s level indicated, and advance as the user progresses


Litebox provides a list of audio textbooks for different levels of literacy. The user can listen and read the book at the same time. A dictionary function is integrated into the audiobook.

Visual calculator

A visual calculator is a tool for the user to understand addition and subtraction. It uses a familiar scenario: calculating money, where icons of common US currency. The user can drag and drop the icons on the addition or subtraction line, which will be shown as bars of different lengths, and the result will be automatically shown on the result line.

Also, visual aids can be used on tapping the icons if the user faces difficulty 




Design Rationale

Design Rationale

Why did we design a mobile app instead of other forms of interactive products? This decision is made based on our user research. As most people in our target community own a smartphone and know the basic usage of it, they can just download the app on their phone, which doesn’t create an extra burden for them. Throughout the design of Litebox, we followed the following principles:


Taking the specificity of our target user, we aim to remove all the barriers for them to use our app and enable them to use it  with minimum learning cost. For example, the app uses simple words and regular interaction.

Strengthen long-term memory

The app provides support for long-term memory, for example, the scanned information is saved as cards, which can be reviewed


Litebox tries to provide context to facilitate learning. For example, the visual calculator uses the context of money calculation, which is a familiar scenario for the user.


We developed a video for the competition which provides an overview of the project.


Click here to view the full report of the project.

Click here to view the poster of the project.


We believe that our solution, Litebox, will help the adult illiterates to perform the daily activities efficiently than before. Understanding and learning by themselves without any other help can boost the user’s confidence and make them use the application more frequently. We intend to shape a solution that can be accessed whenever required and we believe that the availability of Litebox will make the users learn the unknown and develop a curiosity to learn more. In conclusion, we believe that the application can both help and empower people with literacy problems.

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