Litebox: Empowering people with literacy.


Providing resources to the adult illiterates that could offer the ability to perform daily tasks on their own.


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


Kesava Karthik Kota, Vishal Reddy, Xindi Wang, Nalin Bhatia, Denise Baran.


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


What it is about?

For most of the people reading this, 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 the package of food; locating specific information on a poster. For people with an insufficient level of literacy, these tasks can be difficult, and they might need help from other people. Our team is curious about the problems faced by people with low illiteracy level and shaped a solution that can help and empower them.


Severity of the problem

Adult illiteracy is a serious issue in the United States. In 2003, an estimated 32 million adults in the USA could only understand the simplest of written instructions. In Michigan, the estimated percent of the population that lacks necessary prose literacy skills is 8%, with a 95% chance that the actual value of the percent of the population that lacks necessary prose literacy skills falls between the bounds of 6.2% and 11%.

Product Video

Design and research overview

DESIGN process

Outline of the process followed

Secondary RESEARCH

Understanding the problem and literacy

W‍hile understanding  literacy we came across various definitions from which we derived main skills that a person need to have for being literate.

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 Illiteracy (UNESCO)

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.

Functional Literacy

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

It can be understood that most people need the basic literacy skills to complete basic daily activities, navigating through streets, calculating the bills, reading menus in a restaurant and other basic daily tasks. For people having no literacy skills can make it difficult to complete basic daily activities.


To know user needs and pain-points


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 into the characteristics and need of our target user. We interviewed with two literacy experts: literacy specialist at Detroit Public Library, and Allison Austin, program manager at Washtenaw Literacy.

Before talking to them, we developed an interview protocol containing questions that we could ask in order to establish a firm understanding of the problem at hand. The interview was conducted both online and face-to-face. Through talking with literacy specialist, we gathered much useful information. Interview and Contextual Inquiry with the target user. These interviews helped us to investigate the situation further with an aim to build an intervention that assists our target population.


In order to get a closer understanding of our target user, we conducted a 45-minute interview/contextual inquiry with a literacy learner at a literacy program in Detroit Public Library. Through the interview, we were able to empathize and understand their pain-points in their everyday situations such as buying groceries, navigation, etc.


Reframing and scoping down the problem

From our research, it was evident that the main reasons for illiteracy were that the people couldn’t either afford the education or have a learning disability. Sometimes because of inadequate care, students with learning disability drop off from the schools.

30-35 years

Dominant age group of the community.

3rd Grade

Below english reading level of targeted community.


More willing to seek help from others.


Suffer from poverty, learning ability issues, poor education

It was evident from our study that the main reasons for illiteracy were that the people couldn’t either afford the education or have a learning disability. Sometimes because of inadequate care, students with learning disability drop off from the schools.




TARGET AUDIENCE and pain points

Our main focus

It is learnt that there are mostly two kinds of adult illiterates, one who can perform daily tasks and other who couldn’t. Learning and understanding the situation of the illiterates, we reiterated our focus on the users who cannot perform basic daily tasks. From our interviews we found some essential findings related to our target community that include the pain points faced by the targeted users and the leverage we can use to shape a design.


The research led us to rethink the target audience that we began with. We scoped our audience to adults with literacy level identified to be lower than 3rd grade, due to varying degrees of complexity in instruction delivery and the unavailability of resources for this age group.


User archetypes to evaluate the design


Brainstorming to explore

We had multiple brainstorming sessions to ideate different solutions taking user needs, problems and technology usage into consideration.

Final Design

Our final concept to assist adults with low literacy skills

Based on the critical findings gathered from our research we conducted brainstorming and evaluated design ideas. Our final design solution is Litebox, a mobile app that provides both immediate help with daily tasks and also long-term assistance with learning. The app includes two main components: daily mode and learning mode.

Daily Mode: Litebox provides a helper camera with two modes. Information mode, which helps to recognize buildings, signboards, etc. and save the information as a flash card; and text mode, which allows the user to scan the text and listen to the text simultaneously.

Learning Mode: The learning assistant focuses on three aspects: building vocabulary, improving reading skills, and understanding calculations.

Design rationale

How we made certain conclusions?

Mobile App

This decision is made based on our user research. Most people in our target community have 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 the them.

Strengthen long-term memory

According to theories related to memory, our memory needs to be repeatedly revised to become a long-term memory. The solution need to provide support for long-term


Concepts can be better understood in a context. The design need to provide context to facilitate learning. 


Taking the specificity of our target user, we aim to remove all the barriers for them to use our solution. The goal is to enable them to use it right away with minimum learning cost. The app uses simple words and intuitive interactions.


This is how it works

Contextual Assistance

The information mode of the helper camera is designed to help to recognize and saving information. Whenever the user encounters any board sign, building or place that they do not know, they can use the scanning camera by putting the camera in front of them, just like what they will do for taking a picture and press the scan button. The app will save the image as a card for future reference.

Text/ Vocalized assistance

The text scanning function is designed to be an instant text helper. It allows the user to scan a line of text. The app will recognize the text and read the line out loud simultaneously.

Vocabulary Game

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 literacy level. As they learn words through the exercises, the words that appear in future exercises will become more advanced.

Visual Calculator

Visual calculator is a tool for the user to understand addition and subtraction. It provides icons of the common denomination of the United States currency, such as a quarter dollar and one dollar. 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.

Audiobook and dictionary

Litebox provides a list of audio textbooks curated for user with different literacy skills. User can listen and read the book at the same time; dictionary function is integrated into the audiobook so user can quickly check the meaning of the word written in simple English.


What Litebox can do?

Litebox can both help and empower people with literacy problems. It can boost the user’s confidence and make them use the application more frequently. The application  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.

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