An average person checks the smartphone every 12 minutes. However, unlocking a phone can be difficult for users with visual impairments.
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HOW MIGHT WE ENSURE THAT UNLOCKING A PHONE IS GESTURAL, SAFER AND INCLUSIVE?

To tackle this problem my Project Manager formed a multi-disciplinary team.

This project was done at Samsung Research and Development Institute based in Bangalore and Seoul. I contributed as a UX designer and used various tools like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Experience Design, Android, etc.

USER RESEARCH

We wanted to uncover the existing pain points that make it difficult for people with visual impairments to use Samsung smartphones. To gain valuable insights, I focused on three key research questions.

1. What are the aspects of the user's disability that can be assisted by smartphones?

2. What are the differences in the interaction model between users with vision impairments and users without visual impairments?

3. What are the pains and gains which might emerge because users with vision impairments adopt smartphone?

I came up with a research plan consisting of AEIOU method, Stakeholder mapping, User interviews, and empathy mapping to empathize with the problem space.

Here are some key insights gained from synthesizing research data.

User Research revealed that for users with visual impairment performing gestures is easy, reliance on reference point, quick pace of interaction, larger UI size is preferred, and they possess alternative methods of cognitive mapping.

PAIN POINTS

Observing user journeys helped me recognize gaps, constraints, and ascertain user preferences. Frequently observed pain points are

1. Most smartphone unlocks are UI based(visual) which is unsuitable for users with vision impairments.

2. Entering key code with a screen reader is cumbersome, unsafe, and error-prone

3. Fingerprint sensors are only available in expensive phones

Users with visual impairments preferred smartphones because of advanced screen reading features and availability of many helpful apps. Moreover, smartphones contain a lot of personal information. Yet, the unlock mechanisms are not eyes free.

Here are some of the examples.

This image talks about couple of pain points. Firstly, it is difficult for low vision users to interact with tiny visual elements. Secondly, unlocking with keyboard and screen reader is cumbersome and error-prone.

 DESIGN DIRECTION

Exploring the problem space revealed four opportunities.

1. Improvement in talkback code to fix TTS (Text to Speech)output for abbreviations, wrong pronunciations, etc.

2. Design of Universal switch control for Bluetooth switch enabled navigation

3. Redesigning Color adjustments for colorblind users for phones without mDNI chip

4. Eyes-free smartphone unlock for users with visual impairments

My manager recommended focussing on one problem recognizing the constraints of time, people, and budget. As a team, we came together to frame the problem considering urgent needs, impact on users, and time required to release the solution by Samsung S6 deadline.

User interviews revealed that the majority of the users find it difficult to unlock methods. Therefore they do not use any, placing their personal content at risk. We felt the urgency to address this problem, and we chose to work on eyes-free unlock.

So we created persona and scenarios to articulate user needs and contextualize the problem.

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Concepts

Having a persona on a whiteboard helped me visualize how might the concepts help users in a real situation. Exploring several design ideas was fun, but seeing an idea function in a user scenario was more exciting. Some of the filters used to converge ideas were as follows.

1. Is the concept a good match to this narrative?

2. Will it perform within given constraints?

3. Is the concept feasible?

Concepts 1 and 3 seemed simple, intuitive and functional. So I quickly crafted prototypes.

In this image I have illustrated four concepts. The first one uses joystick sort of interactions, Second concept uses contour lines. Third concept uses shifting grid approach. The last concept uses honeycomb grid structure for providing more degree of freedom.

Usability testing

We tested the prototype for concept 1 and 3 with users and recorded their response. User feedback helped us improve the design in the subsequent iterations. As a team, we defined success as i) Users are able to unlock the phone quickly, ii) Interaction is intuitive with a minimum recall, iii) Ease of use, iv) Increased desirability.

Success metrics:

Success ratio = Number of times users unlocked the smartphone/ Number of times users failed

Familiarity ratio= Number of times users succeeded without a tutorial/ Number of times users succeeded with a tutorial

Ease of use and desirability is measured using a five-point Likert scale where 1 --> Highly Disagree and 5 --> Highly Agree

 

TASKS:

1. Set a password without a tutorial for concept 1 and 3

2. Set a password with a tutorial for concept 1 and 3

3. Unlock the smartphone three times using concept 1 and 3

Users:

1. Frequent smartphone users and working professionals

2. A left-handed female with complete vision loss

3. A right-handed male with acute blurry vision

This image depicts the outcomes of usability testing. Users liked gestures, large screen size, familiar interactions, etc. Shifting grid concept was liked by most users.

 Proposed Design

After several iterations, the design evolved as a converging point of good ideas from different concepts. Users and other stakeholders involved in the project shaped the design through their expertise. In April 2014, I traveled to Samsung Headquarters (South Korea) to pitch the concept. The concept was appreciated, and our team received the approval for Galaxy S6 implementation.

Direction Unlock is a simple, gestural, yet secure way to unlock smartphones, tablets, and other touchscreen devices. Being inclusive it is suitable for both sighted users and vision impaired users.

 

Design FEAtures

1. Two-finger swipe to input directions

2. More screen space for gestural input

3. Users can choose sound, haptic, visual or voice feedback.

4. The home button serves as reference point

Insights

1. Performing gestures is easier than touching a UI element

2. Users with visual impairment prefer large touchscreen

3. Users favor multi-modal feedback for multiple impairments

4. Users utilize tactile reference points to locate UI elements

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 Reflections

Accessibility: This project remained pivotal in my career. I realized designers often fail to embrace accessibility in the design process expanding my interest in accessibility.

Pitching concepts: Initially, I failed to articulate the problem clearly. As a result, the concept got rejected. I felt the audience had to experience the discomfort to empathize with users. Consequently, I employed the role-playing approach to contextualizing the problem. All the stakeholders understood the problem and appreciated the design.

Collaboration: To successfully launch this solution, I had to work with various teams. Starting from experts in accessibility, product planning team, UX Design, Software development, Vice Presidents, etc. I had to adapt to their lingo and facilitate between stakeholders.

Mentorship: Leading a team of interns was super exciting. It was invigorating and challenging. But kudos to my Project Manager who helped me perform my duties.

This image is a branding image of Direction unlock. It speaks about Direction unlock being gestural, safe and inclusive.

Patent Filing

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Realizing the potential of the proposed design I was asked to draft the intellectual property documents. The patent filing is a step to protect the concept during the device launch. The claims under Patent publication number US20160042172A1 are available for public viewing.