On a recent release from ProjectUX we dipped into the vault and took a look at Seattle startup PotaVida. Their Smart Solar Purifier helps aid organizations deliver drinkable water in disaster relief and refugee contexts. The daylight-powered device records its own usage data, so aid workers can make better decisions with limited resources.

CEO and Co-Founder Charlie Matlack joined us in Seattle last year to explain how his team helps the helpers when disaster strikes. UXperts Andy Fitzgerald, Ona Anicello, and Adonis Acuario weighed in on the challenges of designing for a cross-cultural user journey that includes hardware, software, and print touch-points. Many topics were covered, and at the core sat the “topic” of universal design.

In examining the case of universal design the UXperts made a point to focus on the language choices to make sure they clearly communicate the function. For instance, The “stop” button function for instance was not clear, as it was supposed to serve as both a reset and off function. Charlie new his ultimate goal was to get to a set of instructions that relied on no words, and Andy challenged him to make a new design with that limitation. Often designing within a set of limitations can lead to the most universal result.

Another important aspect of creating the language of their product is crafting an iconographic language that most clearly represents their use case scenario. This is an extremely important point that all products must take note of, as iconography serves a powerful purpose but runs the risk of being misunderstood. For instance the different colored water buckets in PotaVida’s instructions didn’t necessarily indicate the true intent of their design. Ona pointed out how they could be misinterpreted as not being able to use dirty water at all, when instead the intent was to use the cleanest water possible. The UXperts suggested using a gradient scale of some kind to show the variations allowed, rather than making it appear binary.

Charlie brought up the challenge of designing a product that takes into consideration the variances in setting and environment of different users, particularly those who may not be tech savvy. As a product designer and product inventor special attention must always be paid to putting one's self into the proverbial shoes of the user. PotaVida presented an interesting use case for this idea as the concept is supposed to be able to be deployed across all different types of cultures. They must design universally by solving the problem not from an engineer's perspective, but from a user's!

As with many good products or services there is data that comes along with its use. Again PotaVida demonstrates a good example of the importance creating data sets that cater to the needs of your users and are easy to understand. Some of their metrics such as "aborted cycles" and "timed-out cycles" were unclear in their meaning, as pointed out by Adonis. Overall though the information and service provided by the solar purifier is very useful, the intent is simply to maximize its utility.

PotaVida's commitment to building a universally designed product strikes at the core of what good UX can do for the world. It's always a thrill to work with a company backed by such a noble mission dedicated to understanding and improving users' lives. At ProjectUX we hold these values as central pillars of building great user experiences, and we’d like to thank PotaVida for their commitment to universal design! It is a central principle that all startups should embrace.