Para Mobile

A quick display of data driven design implementation.

Para - A data-driven mobile experiment

Earlier this week I was convinced I wanted to design a mobile dictionary app to display as a project on my website and to that end had written up a small set of observations that were to guide my process. My thoughts were as follows:

  • Current search UIs are for the most part, emotion agnostic.

  • Dictionaries aren’t fun but incremental advancements to one’s vocabulary can be. (Possible gamification?)

  • How do people really learn the meanings of words? By association (thesaurus)? With example sentences? By rote learning?


In a bid to simulate a tight design sprint (3 days), I set up a quick survey using Google forms and floated it around to 100 individuals from my contacts list. The survey was about one’s relationship with words and dictionaries, and I must confess I was simply looking reaffirm my presumptions. However, post the data-gathering exercise, I realised those very presumptions, weren’t necessarily true. Here’s the list of questions asked and subsequently the learnings:

  • How would you rate your vocabulary?

  • Do you own a dictionary or its mobile app equivalent?

  • How often do you use a dictionary?

  • What colour would you associate a dictionary with?

  • Do you sometimes wish you had a better vocabulary?

  • Did you learn a new word this week?

  • What was the word?

  • Please enter your age

  • Please enter your gender

Sample size - 77 | Males - 53 (69%) | Females - 24 (31%) | Age Range - 20 - 68


The Initial Rating

Seeing 77% of respondents rate their vocabulary upwards of 7 was a bit of a revelation. The study already seemed biased to me because of the lack of representation from the other NCCS categories, but hey! this was just a pet project and everything was malleable. So I embraced my world and moved on without judgment.


Usage Analysis

I am someone who’s predisposed to using a dictionary more than a few times a day, and I was absolutely expecting the data to skew that way (designer’s bias). So it came as a surprise to me when I gleaned that nearly 71% of my hypothetical market wasn’t even using dictionaries.


74% of respondents revealed they used Google for their word search needs. Google’s focus on convenience combined with its ecosystem prowess has enabled them to design a very organic dictionary experience. I will, however admit, that the idea of a dictionary application at this point, did begin to seem redundant.

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Understanding User Motives

The silver lining was that 82% of the respondents wished they’d have a better vocabulary and that piece of information to me was critical. It’s important to clarify that the dictionary is at best, a trusty aide. It is, in my opinion, rarely the causality behind an individual’s improving vocabulary. Vocabulary is something that can only be improved by reading new words in context or listening to new words in context.


Summary of learnings and the eventual
design intervention:-

  • 77% of respondents rated their vocabulary upwards of 7

  • 71% of respondents sparingly used dictionaries

  • 74% of respondents used Google for their word search

  • 82% of respondents wished they’d have a better vocabulary

From the findings post the survey it was rather clear to me that it would, in fact, be wasteful to design a dictionary application for my hypothetical market as that need was already effectively fulfilled by Google search. However, the sparing use of dictionaries coupled with the generally high vocabulary ratings the respondents gave themselves led me to posit that perhaps there could be an undercurrent of complacency. If my hypothetical market was constantly reading more and more challenging content, would 82% of them really wish they’d have a better vocabulary? This question led me to the realisation that the more appropriate design intervention for my market would be an application that could induce more word searches by challenging their current reading habits. That’s how I came up with the idea of the application, ‘Para’ — a daily reading app focused on nudging users into reading more varied content in short bursts. The goal is to introduce them to new ideas, and as a direct consequence of that, new words.


Illustrations on the welcome and success screens were courtesy of