On Saturday 6th of January I participate in an eye opening Hakathon. Design Jam and General Assembly paired up to organise the first London Design Jam. The crowd was a good mix of GA alumni, graphic designers, UX designers, developers, project managers, and one doctor.

After spending some time mingling over coffee and breakfast we discovered the brief and the purpose of this design jam. This is really what I want to talk about in this post. Design Jam helped me to discover a new perspective in my design and I wanted to share that experience.

Make the world a better place with simple design.

The Hakathon theme was: “Designing for the visually impaired”. We had 2 briefs to choose from:

  • How to facilitate the access and navigation in public transport for the visually impaired.
  • How to help the visually impaired to re-orientate themselves.

We were a team of 5, Jane a Front-end Developer, Shanon a Graphic Designer, Tom Woodel a UX Designer and Instructor at General Assembly, richard picot a UX Designer at Blippar, and me (UX Designer and UXDI Instructor at General Assembly — at the time).

We chose the second brief: “ How to help the visually impaired to re-orientate themselves.”

Research and Ideation

Because of lack of time we relied on our own experiences, Alastair Somerville from Acuity Design, and the internet to do our research on visually impaired challenges.

We started by watching a video from the famous Tommy Edison “How Blind People Cross The Street Alone”

This video was really insightful, highlighting obvious challenges. Additionally, we were able to Skype call with Alastair Somerville from Acuity Design. The key insights were:

  • Audio plays a huge part in assisting the blind, but be careful not to overwhelm the user. A solution that requires headphones poses the risk of disconnecting them from the environment.
  • Haptic feedback is great, but can easily be missed.
  • “Enhance and enable the experience, don’t be the experience.” People should still feel independent.
  • Support the journey.
  • Avoid busy UI.
“Enhance and enable the experience, don’t be the experience.”

Finally, a few of us had known visually impaired people and we knew from our experiences that they do not wish to be assisted but more supported in specific situations.

Finding “The Idea”

We ran a mini design studio where we had to come up with 8 designs in 10 minutes. At the end of these 10 minutes we came up with a lot of really interesting ideas. However, the more we discussed, the more we realised that we wanted to keep Alastair Somerville’s key insights at the heart of our designs.

We then took the decision to create an app with minimal UI and that would work with a screen reader and audio plays. After putting all our ideas on the wall we decided to keep only the ones that were relevant to Alastair’s key insights. Once this was done, we had a better vision of where we were going and we were able to write our design hypothesis.

Design Hypothesis: 

We aim to help visually-impaired people find their way on their own by informing them where they are and where they have been.

Design and Testing

Now that we had our vision we needed to prioritise our features. We opted for a minimal UI design composed of three buttons. The image below shows the three buttons and their functionality.

In Front of Me: This button will state what is in front of you and straight ahead if you carry on in this direction.

Take a Look Around: This button will state what is around you using clock face direction. It will also mention if there is a street or a road to cross to inform the user of potential danger.

Where I Have Been: We designed this button to enable the user to retrace their steps. This would be especially useful if the user ends up in an area with poor or no cell signal.

Signal Lost Notification: As the app relies on signal or wifi, if the user loses signal we will send them a notification. Then, if the user needs to check where they are and where they have been they can. The app would save 12 hours of data to retrace the user steps. This would be useful to the user to allow them to know where they are, and eventually where they lost their way.

Testing — Paper Prototype

IMG_1615 (1).jpg

We created a quick paper prototype that included all of our functions. To test it, we had to blindfold our user and one person of our team acted as the screen reader. We created a script for the screen reader, which forced us to think of a logical way to deliver the information.

The concept we wanted to test was “How do the visually impaired reorient themselves on a known route?” For example, you and I going to our local bank. Because it isn’t a route that we often take, on our way we have a doubt. We then look around us to make sure we are going the correct way. We often look for landmarks, street names, or shops that would trigger our memory. The visually impaired are not able to “look around”, that is why we imagined this app.

We set up the testing scenario to match our concept. We tested in General Assembly Design Campus and we tested people familiar with the building, some from the morning and others from months ago.

All our testers were blindfolded, and to recreate a feeling of disorientation we span them around for a few second.

Testing Scenario:

"You are in Classroom 2, and you are heading to the front desk. You are not sure which direction you are facing and want to find out."

Test Findings:

  • Distance in steps were more relevant in an immediate context and everyone could relate to them.
  • The button “Straight Ahead” was misunderstood as instruction and people started walking. We changed it for “In Front of Me”, which end up being more successful.
  • Some people misunderstood the purpose of the app, they were waiting for confirmation of direction. However, we really aimed for the app to support the user journey and not be the journey. We realised that the app would need some on boarding or explanation when first activated to avoid frustration.
  • Be more to the point on “Around Me”: Users feedback was that the Around Me functionality was quite long, so we needed to be more to the point and choose our landmarks.
  • Repeating information: Users tried to find a way to repeat some information. We need to add a functionality to help them do that.

Prototype and Future Considerations

We chose to call our app MyWay for two reasons. Firstly, the obvious one it helps our user to find their way. Secondly, users are reorienting themselves on their own. They are doing it their way. The app is only a reassurance, it does not assist them every step of the way.


Please have a look at the video above to discover our prototype.

Future Considerations

We did this project in 8 hours. If we had more time, here are some changes that we would make.

  1. Smart updates when the user moves or turns during directions.
  2. Find a way to repeat information when requested.
  3. Bringing the technology inside using Magnetic Field Based Location Technology.
  4. Increase user base to include cyclists and people with Alzheimer’s.