SFSU Extension IxD Course, In-Class Design Challenge 
Instructor: Ben Sykes

Product Design, Interaction Design, Design Specifications, Drawings, Mockups, Presentation

This project originated as a team project; concept was shared by team. Further development was a personal project.

Hand Sketching, InDesign, Photoshop



How to design a phone that can be understood anywhere, by anyone?

The challenge was presented to us: Imagine a culture that has no guarantee of literacy. Furthermore, they don't share any of the sociocultural reference points that we in the western world take for granted. Icons and text are off-limits. Even numbers cannot be used.

What would a cell phone design look like for this group? We were asked to come up with a concept in about 15 minutes, and present to the class. The below features what my team and I created—detailed renderings and the original sketches from class.




Create a mobile phone interface for people who cannot read, which does not rely on icons based on sociocultural experiences they may not share, and which allows the user to place calls without the help of others.


• Text-based interfaces and menu systems of current phones are useless and do not convey information to people who cannot read.


• Address books in phones are based on names and numbers (which cannot be read) and addresses (that may not exist.)


• Iconography is only meaningful when the icon has abstract, metaphorical meaning to the user - most phone icons are based on western experiences (e.g., phone book icons) and may not be meaningful in poor countries.



The phone dials another person's phone when the card is inserted into the phone.
Notches at the bottom of the card press into the phone & activate a call.





A phone that doesn't have any words or symbols printed on it but uses simple affordances & technology to place calls.


A frame around the front creates a window.
Slot at the top is where the user inserts calling cards (next img).
Calling cards have notches at bottom which essentially dial another phone.
A compartment at the back of the phone stores the calling cards--like a physical contact list.


The user determines how to mark the cards.

By attaching a photo
By using another medium to make a pattern
By using fingers to create pattern
By scraping a mark into the card with another object



Kim is our user who represents a person from several parts of the world--any part of the world.
Her goal is to stay in touch with her cousin in the next town.



First, she programs a card to call her cousin.


Kim draws a sun on the card because that's how she refers to her cousin's town: the sunny area.
Kim inserts the card into her phone, making sure her cousin's phone is nearby.
With the card inserted, she presses the button 2x & holds. The phone searches for a nearby phone's signal, and then assigns that phone to the card. Programming is complete when the light flashes in the same pattern–2x & hold.


Placing her call is as easy as inserting the card.




click to download PDF

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 10.26