Hasso-Plattner-InstitutSDG am HPI
Hasso-Plattner-InstitutDSG am HPI



Design Thinking Week: Students Improve the Daily Life Experience for People with Illiteracies

"From App to Z: Improve the daily life experience for people with illiteracies" – this was the challenge eight multidisciplinary teams worked on at our "International Design Thinking Week" (IDTW) from September 3 to 9, 2015. Together with project partners KOPF, HAND + FUSS gGmbH,AOB e.V. and the Berliner Verein Arbeit und Leben, students of HPI and D-School as well as guests from the US, Sweden, Nigeria, Botswana, South Africa, Switzerland, Greece and Egypt searched for innovative solutions to help people with illiteracies through new technologies.

(Photo: HPI School of Design Thinking)

About 7,5 million adults in Germany have problems to read and write. On the occasion of the World Literacy Day on September 8 more than 40 young innovators applied their Design Thinking skills in order to make life easier for these people. Here, the focus was especially on the possibilities of using digital technologies and computers to better the daily obstacles in life of the people concerned. Under the guidance of the D-School’s coaches the teams researched, developed and prototyped - and could present many versatile solutions in the end: e.g. one of the groups came up with an idea for a software program that lets internet browsers read texts, functions and links out loud so that people with reading problems can still use news sites or social networks like Facebook. Another idea has been a picture based app for mobile phones that helps to orientate oneself – instead of using maps and street names it leads the way step by step by using pictures of buildings and streets. Also an idea by the students: a video portal were the user can ask “how to” questions via video to a community of helpers. 

The students got valuable help and insights from the project partners to identify the needs of the target group – all of them have a long-standing record of working with teenagers and adults, teaching reading and writing; above that, project partner KOPF, HAND + FUSS gGmbH just launched Germany’s first “reading and writing” app, called “IRMGARD”, for adults. “Our teams really benefited from the project partners’ input; it was great that they were with us as contact persons for the whole week”, said Dr. Claudia Nicolai, HPI School of Design Thinking’s Academic Director and organizer of the IDTW. The focus on finding solutions with a reference to digital technologies was a conscious one: “To us it was really important that the teams came up with technological solutions because we wanted to guide people with reading and writing impairment to become more confident using new media and to help them learn how to use new technologies” Nicolai adds.

Design Thinking teams help to convert weaknesses into strengths

Besides technical solutions the teams also came up with innovations that are supposed to encourage self-confidence and self-esteem of the target group. In personal interviews with the persons concerned the students found out that analphabets often have a problem to identify their own strengths – especially when looking for a job. One team pointed out that one’s own assets only become clear when talking to a third party; so people with illiteracies should be assisted by trained workers to identify qualifications. The team then developed a “skill box“ to literally collect these skills. Another group converted weaknesses into strengths: they found out that people with illiteracies often have a certain knack of simplifying the use of e.g. appliances or software - so possible jobs for them could be product testers or consultants on user interfaces.

The project partners were convinced by the quality of the solutions "all teams dealt very well with the challenge", said Stefanie Trzecinski, Founder and CEO of KOPF, HAND + FUSS gGmbH. She hopes to actively follow up on some of the ideas and invited all participants to keep working on the solutions together.

At the end of IDTW teams also presented their solutions to a broad audience at the Festival of Ideas (www.land-der-ideen.de) on Washington Platz, right in front of the main train station in Berlin.