Illiterate friendly mobile wallet -UX Case Study

Research is done by students from Alliance University(India) and Centennial College(Canada) guided by Brett Matthews (Founder-Executive Director of My Oral Village). Year: 2018, Duration: 14 Days.

(At the time of working on this project, I had no knowledge about UX or UI)


Illiterates are finding it troublesome to manage their finances, whether it could be sending money to their family or managing their daily/monthly expenses. It takes a great amount of effort for them to walk to a local bank and have them help with these tasks. This project is an effort to simplify mobile wallets for oral users (illiterates) and make their life a little bit easier.

Team and responsibilities

Brett Matthews — Guiding the project.
Abhijeet Sharma —
Help with user interviews.
Sri Vidya —
Gathering subjects for the project and location set up.

Sahith Nayudu(ME) —
Come up with solutions, prototyping, conduct user interviews, and language translation.
Manikiran —
Come up with solutions, documentation, and Help with user interviews.
Fabio — Design, and build wireframes.

Though we had our responsibilities everyone participated in conducting user interviews.
I and Manikiran were the only people in the team who spoke the local language and could understand and communicate the subjects.

Executive Summary

What is “Orality”?
“Orality” refers to the modes of thinking, speaking, and managing information in societies where technologies of literacy (especially writing and print) are unfamiliar to most people. Orality encompasses not just speech but a wide range of modes for personal and collective information management that are preferred to text in oral cultures — from pictures, tallies, and cash, to apprenticeship, rituals, and songs.


Key Observations:

The oral segment has many strengths to leverage, including the common ability to:

The ‘neo numerate’ population (about 1 in 3 in our sample):

Mobile Wallet for Oral:

Research objective and background

Our objective was to develop a front-end customer interface for mobile wallets that addresses evidence-based usability constraints the oral (illiterate and semi-literate) market segment faces, thereby providing a superior customer experience.

Source: Digital Payment 2020, Global Financial Inclusion Database. Pratham. Annual Status of Education Report (Rural) 2014, ASER Centre, New Delhi, 2015.

As of 2017, the number of smartphones in India stood at 468 million and likely to reach 859 million smartphone users by 2022. (source: Business-Standard)

Field Observations

Screening (Signing, reading, and numeracy capabilities)

How Indian oral population identifies notes?

Curious to understand how illiterate people count money, we handed out the notes to groups of people and asked them to recognize them. We observed oral population identifies notes primarily based on a combination of color, relative size, and image of the numeral.

Other images like different types of motifs and pictures at the backside of different notes, appear to be less salient. The numeral string on the center-front of each note was only recognized visually, decoding it is unnecessary, though some respondents physically counted the number of zeroes, using this for identification, in combination with the color and relative size of the note.

Counting Cash: An easy adaption for oral people

Respondents were provided with ₹5,025 in cash and asked to count it. The 40 currency notes and coins included six different denominations:
Seven ₹500s
Thirteen ₹100s
One ₹20
thirteen ₹10s and five ₹5 coins

Nearly 3/4th of the sample, including most neo-numerates, and nearly 2/3rd of innumerates, answered correctly, taking an average time of 3 minutes and 18 seconds.

Observation 1: Seema from Siswan Village, Varanasi
is a 35-year old housewife and a neo-numerate. We gave her a wad of notes comprising:
Seven ₹500 notes
Thirteen ₹100 notes

One ₹50
One ₹20
Thirteen ₹10 notes and five ₹5 coins.
She segregated the cash denomination-wise and added up the ₹500 notes to ₹3,000.
We observed her tendency to chunk the amount in ₹1000. When left with one ₹500 note, she added up five ₹100 notes to reach ₹1,000 and put ₹4,000 aside. She stacked the remaining ₹100 notes coming up to ₹800 and smaller denominations counting ₹200 separately.
However, by the end, her memory failed to remember that the first stack of ₹4,000, the second stack of ₹800, and the third stack of ₹200. She recounted the entire stack in the same way and added it up correctly; at the very end, she added the ₹25 in ₹5 coins.

When the team tested fake currency notes, oral subjects confused the ₹20 and ₹1,000, which were the same size.

Oral adaptation to the cash economy

Unschooled adults in the cash economy learn the skills to count and calculate cash either by themselves or from more experienced people. As participants counted ₹5,025 in notes and coins, several skills and strategies adopted for speedy and easy understanding were visible. Novice counters sum the 40 notes one at a time, in no order, while the experienced adopt a good chunking strategy. A good chunk contains easily remembered groups of notes (such as ‘4,000’ or ‘1,000’, or all ₹100 and all ₹500 notes).

By contrast, the widespread presence of multi-digit numeral strings/place value in financial reporting has not led to successful adaptation among oral people. Incentives may be lower, as compared to their perceived complexity of learning. This can be addressed through design.

Oral understanding of place value of digits

Respondents were shown a list of five multi-digit numeral strings and asked to identify ₹5,025 that they had just counted earlier.

Putting Digits Together

The impact of cash economy on mental numeracy

To understand the subject’s calculation abilities, respondents were asked to perform mental calculations for 7 questions. They were given a score in the range of 0–7 (1 point for each right answer). The average score for the entire sample was 4.2. Neo-numerate respondents (5.0) scored substantially better than innumerate ones (3.9).

People within the age group of 26–35 years could be early adopters of new mobile technology

(X): Age Group. (Y): Number of respondants.

Note: Participants were provided mobile phones for calculations.

Mobile Wallet Interface

The following are the representation of screens the user has to go through while sending money from the BHIM UPI mobile wallet.

Oral people find it hard to make sense of these icons on these screens. Focus Discussion Groups were conducted with participants with different literacy levels to gain insights into the contours of mobile wallet interfaces. Primarily focusing on functions like:
1. SendingMoney
2. Receiving Money
3. Typing in the IME (Input Method Editor)

Tested out some images which oral people could recognize

Observations from Focus Discussion Groups

Abstract icons are easier for literate people to understand than for oral people.

Oral people can be primed through colors. They associate a mobile wallet with a mobile phone, so any icon which is green in color is for proceed, much like accepting a call by pressing the green icon. Similarly, if red in color, it stands for cancellation like the red icon is for rejecting a call.

A fair percentage of people understand the vernacular language but not English. Thus, mobile wallets could facilitate the use of vernacular language to enable a wider section of mass to access wallets.

Many people in our sample were innumerate and illiterate, hence:

Bill payments, merchant payments, and sending/receiving money are the most preferred transactions that the oral segment will use on mobile wallets.

Cash-Based Input Method Editor designed for oral users

Entering the amount to send the money is not an easy task for the oral as they perceive the numbers visually and not quantitatively.

Standard Numeric IME

One of the oral subjects owns a shop and we observed she had no trouble with counting the money.
She also used the stacking methods mentioned above.
I asked another oral subject to make a mock purchase with different notes like 100, 200, 500, 1000, and 2000.
The subject stacks the notes to add up to a product’s price and makes a purchase. After these observations from the store and from Seema mentioned earlier, I came up with a cash-based calculator.

Drag And Drop

Users can choose the note, drag it and drop it in the box.

The cash-based IME provides a safety net for oral users. Mistakes can be identified easily as the cumulative number of cash units is visible in the upper panel (grey in the diagram). Besides, a curious user can control the cash inputs to observe their impact on the Indo-Arabic numeral string, learning place value in the process. Error correction follows the logic of cash counting, not the logic of numeric input. A user who has inputted five ₹100 notes and a ₹50 note, respectively, to make it ₹550. If the user touches the red backspace button, it will eliminate the last note entered, resulting in an entry of ₹500.

Deepening usability and safety: Multi-coding

The only way to ensure the integrity of transactions is through effective two-way information flow. Hence, multiple codes, as a measure of safety, can be used in mobile wallets to strengthen the belief of oral users that they are following the correct procedure while conducting the transaction. Some of these codes are listed below:

Iterations of the icon

The interface design went through multiple iterations before arriving at the final icons. Icons of Indian piggy bank (gulaks), wallets, hand gestures, arrows, and cash notes were developed and modified through each iteration.


Many participants considered gulaks to be for children, and it was difficult to develop an easily recognizable wallet. Arrows caused confusion when ‘request money’ and ‘add money had to be differentiated. Below is a set of images depicting the evolution of the “send money” icon with the help of rapid prototyping on the field.

For Send and Request Money, hand gestures such as shown in the diagram proved most readily understandable. Like many oral abstractions, they are readily understood by literates and likely to please various user categories. Oral focus group participants clearly understood them and added an important graphic dimension: money ‘sent’ goes down from giver to receiver, and money is received from above.

Transaction Process — Send Money

These wireframes went through multiple focus group iterations as the team tested various configurations and came up with final wireframes.


Bringing oral people out of number Anxiety

-BHIM UPI pin input screen.

This is the problem with remembering their ATM PIN too.

Few solutions for the pin input

While asking them to choose few numbers we observed this dots system worked only till number 6. After number 6 they tend to get overwhelmed with the dots.

Here, They spend too long to count and this lines system worked only till number 5.

Although few subjects struggled with the numbers 8 & 9, This solution seemed to work successfully compared to other designs.

It was easy for the subjects to interpret the hand signs and didn’t have to struggle.

Subjects find it hard to remember a pin and hence they write down on a book and use it when needed. Keeping this in mind, images worked the best for icons, these mnemonic input methods would increase the chances of remembering the pin and also differentiate it from other input methods through the app.

Testing Usability

Methodology and process for testing the usability of our solution

Results of first usability test: Send money

Completed wireframes were tested for usability with 29 adults screened for numeracy. Results of a test of ‘send money’ are here:


Of the 15 participants screened for the numeracy test, 13 were found innumerate and 2 neo-numerate. Each received a 5-minute briefing on how to use the clickable prototype, completed from wireframes with Invision. While the test was reasonably successful, there was clear room for improvement:

•Finding the mobile phone number caused the most trouble, while selecting ₹550 in notes proved easiest.

•The ‘send money’ image developed during the project was well accepted, and 12 out of 15 people got it right in the first attempt.

•People had trouble finding the right fields to input mobile number, amount, etc. Thus, the input field can be shown in light green, while greying out the ones that are not yet salient.

•People faced problems in identifying the number of notes they had selected, reflected in IME, through naked eyes. Hence, a black border around all notes or a circle superimposed above the notes (since most of the respondents understand single-digit numbers) will help them cross-check whether they have selected the correct amount in IME.

•People found it easier to identify correct with green, hence, the ‘yes’ tick should be green against a white background (not the reverse).

•The black-colored home icon distracted people who felt it was being highlighted and hence, pressed it in the middle of the transaction. Thus the icon against which users have to enter the details should only be highlighted at a point in time.

Results of second usability test: Send money


The result of the second test was quite similar to the first usability test.

•The mock demo video was an effective tool to teach people about transactions as was a personal briefing.

•The average of the results score was better than the previous tests.

Next Steps

The research on Digital Wallet Adoption for Oral Segment helped students from Alliance University and Centennial College with My Oral Village gain a deeper perspective on the behavior of the oral market segments in India.


This was the first time in 2018 that I have taken part in a project like this, I was excited and had a lot of assumptions before starting the project. But as we started the interviews my whole perception of users have changed. Here are a few key learnings:

UX Researcher.