One Laptop Per Child UI

Posted by & filed under Usability.

This is really fascinating. Design studio Pentagram has developed the look and feel of the UI for the One Laptop Per Child project. (“Pfft, poor people… right?”)

They’ve abandoned the “desktop” metaphor, in favour of the “zoom metaphor”. This echoes OLPC’s overall design goals in sticking to the basic Children can quickly switch between different views to connect with other users, or collaborate on a single task.

Other cool features include the complete lack of text labels for icons and UI elements, meaning there’s no need for them to be translated for each localized version. Only truly necessary text must be translated to produce a localized version for a given language. This completely avoids problems phrases like “la homepage” may pose for non-English speakers.


2 Responses to “One Laptop Per Child UI”

  1. Frans Charming

    I think the UI would also be good for the elderly that haven’t used computers yet. It limits possibilities and with that the fright of doing something wrong or getting confused.

  2. AnneDroid

    Personally, I like the design of the hardware (thankfully, sans the handcrank). a 6v power supply allows use of alkaline batteries for the truely desperate, and Ni-Cd/Ni-MH rechargables — which are vastly less expensive than the Li-ion/Li-Polymer batteries typical laptops use (although weightier). For durability, it doesn’t have a hard drive — that’s great — but it’s total storage is just 1GB of flash memory.

    However, for the supposedly “break-through” UI, I’m a bit underwhelmed. While the 1 Laptop per Child project was originally intended for the internationally poor, every time (prior to now) that it’s been mentioned to me, it’s been framed in the context of providing computers to American Government School students.

    While Gates may have expressed himself insensitively, I’m not sure that the average impoverished farmer in rural Tajikistan is going to see value in owning a computer that can’t help him farm more efficiently, or connect to the internet to provide that knowledge — much less the value of teaching their kids how to use such an implement.

    If the counter argument to that is, “but they’ll learn how to use a computer to get a job other than argiculture,” as undoubtedly it is in the case of American Government School children, then the UI fails miserably. It doesn’t prepare a student to use any of the current (or even forseeable) business platforms. Their website claims to be able to teach programming, but with an iconograpic-only interface, that seems somewhat dubious. Furthermore, its extremely limited storadge means that it will be unable to run standard office programs (word /word perfect, photoshop / paintshop, excel, powerpoint, etc.) which indicate to employers a general familiarity with computers.

    If we are to presume that the internationally poor don’t have access to a more traditional computer, and aren’t likely to get it, is there really much point in learning computer skills?

    “Oh, but they’ll be able to move up to more sophisticated computers after this!” According to this site, a vast swath of central africa makes less than us$530 per year (roughly the average American’s weekly salary¹). Even a us$100 computer would need to be financed over several years (note that the full expected lifetime of the XO laptop is 5 years). To which computer are they going to graduate?

    I’m certainly not an educational expert — in fact, I’m miserable at teaching — so its educational benefits may have completely slipped past me. But either way, even with these flaws, I’m glad that someone is putting the effort into a project like this. Heck, maybe they’ll get jobs as phone-in tech support for the American students who’ve already broken their XO laptop.