Learning Conversational English Made Friendly

About the Client
KieBot is an innovative technology company that among other things solves local problems in Kerala, India through software

The Vision
The founders had a vision for an english learning app that solves a need specific to the nearby population 

The Opportunity
While Young adults in Kerala have learnt english in school, they find it difficult to have a conversation when they move out of the state for jobs in Bengaluru. Through research, the problem was found to be that they didn’t have anyone to practice having a conversation with . 

The Solution
We designed a experience of learning Conversational English while having conversations with a friendly companion.

Insights from the learning sciences were used to ensure that the experiences led to actual learning.

Another English Learning App? Why?

The play store has hundreds of English learning apps. And even these represent just a small number of the total ways in which you can learn English. But even in this sea of products, there are opportunities to create differentiated English learning products by creating value propositions that are closely aligned with the needs of under-served clients. 

This is the story of how our client Kiebot did it and how we partnered with them to design a user experience that delivers that value proposition.

Someone has written about founder market fit, and these founders were just right – coming from t2 towns and eventually working in Metro cities and abroad, they have experienced first hand the problem faced by such youngsters : the inability to have a conversation in English, even though they’ve studied it in school. These students, unlike their counterparts, speak to each other in Vernacular languages. They don’t get a chance to speak with anyone, and hence don’t develop their conversational and pronunciation skills. 

So the idea was to give them a companion who teaches them English and helps them improve where they lag the most.

While we could have told this story in the typical XU portfolio page format, we’d prefer ditching that for this project and instead talking about some steps where we think we did some work that was pretty cool.

Our first step was spending time with the founders to understand the product strategy and pedagogical principle

A major part of designing an early stage startup’s product is understanding the founders’ vision. In case of KieBot, the founders were well versed in technology and had planned out the technology as well as the product strategy. The idea was simple: since these learners need practice with a helpful friendly companion, the product would be a tool that they hire not just to learn, but to ready themselves for an upcoming migration to a large city. The pedagogical principle was  based on the well known fact that one can learn a language far more easily when immersed in situations that require them to use the language. 

Based on this, we decided that the user experience would have to:

  • Focus on Conversations
  • Progress through real world situations to gain confidence
  • Learn by practicing (saying it aloud)
  • Reinforce the app as a Companion
To achieve the above, we decided to go ahead with a mascot-based experience. It was 2017 and mascots were back in fashion along with chatbots. While we aren’t proponents of having a mascot for every app, this felt like a great opportunity to deliver a fully mascot based experience.

Designing the bot

We started with some basic understanding of the taste of the founders as well as an understanding of the guiding principles of the app. A large number of mascots were tried as paper sketches(even before low fidelity sketches), ranging from animals to aliens and abstract characters. A bot was chosen as the way forward, and was then refined through a series of rounds. 

In the first stage (low fidelity), we discussed items like – how prominent should the head be? Given our emphasis on expressions, it needs to be quite large.

In the next two stages, the chosen bot was further refined to reach the final design.


Designing the flows

With the bot’s companionship driving the experience, we had to be very deliberate in where and how we introduced and featured the bot. Every interaction of the bot was carefully choreographed to create a bonding between the user and the bot. A number of times, certain flows were chosen over the others based on which ones could best accommodate the bot. 

Adding the polish

With our talented UI and art team at work, the wireframes were converted into a beautiful experience that the founders and users fell in love with.

Every possible interaction was used as an opportunity to express the personality of the bot and add flair to the experience. 

Infusing insights from the learning sciences

While conducting secondary research for this project, our team discovered a 40 year old book written for school teachers by the Cambridge Institute of English education. The book, named “A course in language teaching” by Penny Ur is written to help teach English in a classroom setting, but as we read and analyzed the book with our method, we were amazed to see that quite a few of the techniques in the book could inform design choices in our project. 

To give an example, there’s a a principle about ‘presentations and explanations’ in the book that mentions that the learning material tends to be successful when the “learner is aware that something is coming that they need to take in”.

In our flow of learning a new sentence, we used this principle by structuring the flow like this:

  1. Showing the user what situation they will be learning about
  2. Asking them to pay attention to what kiebot says in the situation
  3. ‘Playing’ the conversation between Kiebot and an imaginary person
  4. Repeating the same conversation
Here, Steps 1 and 2 ensure that the user knows what is coming their way and in what context. This prepares them for the actual learning material coming in step #3.

The Result

While the app did well in school settings, it was a bit too late to hit the app store and could not succeed as a pure B2C product. However, a number of design pattersn used in this app ere later adopted in other apps (not suggesting that they weretaken from here). This validates the design  and serves as a reminder that time to market is sometimes more important than having the right design. The product continues to be used as an assisting tool in private english tutoring centers in Kerala.

  • Saurabh Bhide
UX Design
  • Saurabh Bhide
Visual Design
  • Parshuram Lamani
  • Ved Prabhudesai
Illustration & Animation
  • Ved Prabhudesai