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Letters to a Young Manager

Texting in the Bush, #490
LTYM > Culture

Dear Sophie,
I agree that knowing more about the context for your project is important. In fact, it is critical to the project's success.

During the 2010 NetHope Summit in Kenya, my wife and I signed up for a safari tour of the Lake Nakuru and Masai Mara regions. It is a trip we will always remember. The number of big game we saw, and how close we got was astounding.

The surprise of the trip, was riding in our guide's SUV through the Kenya bush on very dusty and bumpy dirt roads. At one juncture, two Masai warriors, in full regalia, with red capes and spears were standing next to the road... texting into their mobile phones. I was stunned.

Thinking about it later that day, I had three realizations:
  1. Technology is expanding faster than we realize,
  2. The cultural contexts are sometimes a surprise, and
  3. The tech touch-points are often different than our own

These were feature phones (not smartphones), far from electricity, but evidently not far from a cell tower. If I were designing an app far from this on-the-ground reality, I would most likely get it wrong. That was humbling, but so important for design, where we are tempted to think we know better.

Context matters. It may matter the most.
Sincerely yours,


Know the technology touch-points

Discussion Questions:

1. What technologies are your project audiences most comfortable with?
2. Do you know your user's operating ecosystem?
2. Have you considered co-design with your users?

For Further Reading:

See the UNICEF "Principles for Innovation and Technology in Development,"

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