Movirtu’s MX Series of products and services allows someone to borrow a mobile phone and use it as if it were their own. frog helped the company find ways to make their offerings more useful and usable to end-users.
Providing products and services for the so-called bottom of the pyramid—the several billion poor people in emerging markets who typically earn less than $2 a day—is of increasing interest to many companies, but understanding how to address this large but diverse group is difficult. Movirtu is a UK-based for-profit social enterprise that provides wireless communications infrastructures for Africa and South Asia. They turned to frog to help them find ways to make their offerings more useful and usable to end-users.
Movirtu’s MX Series of products and services allows someone to borrow a mobile phone and use it to make a call or send a text as if it were their own. Each person gets a login when they buy a locally sold Movirtu ID card, which works much like a conventional calling card except that it doesn’t just provide minutes; it changes the digital display on the phone itself so that every device behaves consistently, avoiding the problem of having to frequently learn new interfaces of borrowed phones.
Also, a user’s information is stored by Movirtu rather than on the phone to ensure that called and received numbers are kept private. It’s a bit like using a web-based email service—accessible from anywhere, with a consistent experience no matter what device is used.
Understanding the Cultural Context
Much of the world's lowest income societies can greatly benefit from mobile communications, so the services offered by Movirtu are in high demand. But to succeed, Movirtu had to create an easy-to-use service. They hired frog because of our ability to gain deep insights through research on the ground.
For this project a team of designers traveled to Kibera, Kenya, to interview a range of men and women of different ages who do not currently own mobile phones but who often need one. For these people, access to the Internet is limited, so a mobile is their primary mode of communication. Still, they often have to borrow phones from others. Sometimes this means doing it secretly, which they don’t feel good about. Some insert their own SIM cards into other people’s phones to make a call or, more often, send a text, but it's inconvenient.
The people we interviewed found it embarrassing to have to rely on others to borrow a phone. They view phones as a way to create a personal or business identity. This pride combined with concerns around privacy and security were regular themes. We also found cultural nuances around how people learn to use mobile phones, and the general unreliability of having to use another's phone for important daily communications.
Improving the Experience
Based on the findings in Kenya and having people try the existing Movirtu interface, we established a set of design guidelines for how to make the process of using Movirtu’s service more appealing and less confusing. We streamlined the interface the user sees when logged on to a borrowed phone. We also simplified the steps needed to send and receives texts, calls, or voice messages. The service works on any phone (even street payphones), without requiring people to have SIM cards or download software.
Movirtu and frog were award the 2010 MEX Mobile User Experience Innovator of the Year award for this work. In giving the award, the judges noted that Movirtu’s MX series “highlights the real user experience needs of the billions of new customers in emerging markets.”