Trove: Preserving the World's Endangered Languages
DATE — MAY 2022
LENGTH — 4 MONTHS
TYPE — UX/UI, PROTOTYPING
TEAM — EMMA ROSHAN (DESIGNER), ASAD PERVAIZ (ADVISOR)
01 — Introduction
Trove is a mobile app that aims to elevate and safeguard linguistic diversity by facilitating the acquisition of endangered languages and reconnecting young learners with their cultural heritage. It achieves this by adopting a contemporary cultural perspective, promoting inclusivity and accessibility in minority language resources, and facilitating meaningful interactions between native speakers and learners, thereby fostering harmonious coexistence and interconnectivity among diverse linguistic communities.
Despite being little more than an initiative, Trove has been recognized for its impactful design and commitment to change. The project has received the MICA Leadership Award for Design For Change, the AIGA Flux Design Award, and the GDUSA American Graphic Design Award.
Why should you care?
The disappearance of languages is a growing concern, with a language becoming extinct every two weeks globally. People who grew up disconnected from a culture in which a minority language is spoken face challenges in reconnecting with it and lack access to language resources. This poses a threat to the preservation and revitalization of endangered languages.
Growing up in a linguistically diverse country like Spain, where I was taught a former endangered language in school, convinced me of the importance of preserving and promoting minority languages.
People who have grown up disconnected from a culture in which a minority language is spoken have a hard time reconnecting with it, and need better access to language resources. If this problem isn't remedied, it will most certainly accelerate language extinction.
02 — Ideation
To gain insights into the language learning landscape, a thorough audit of existing language learning platforms and apps was conducted. Special attention was given to platforms offering courses in minority or endangered languages.
In order to validate the problem, I aimed to understand it better by researching Trove's potential users. I had already identified heritage learners as my primary users, but conversations I had with learners or prospective learners of an endangered language revealed that endangered languages had a more extensive learner base than I thought.
Methods: Form-based surveys and one-on-one interviews. I then documented the results of all four interviews and synthesized the findings through affinity mapping using Miro.
Learners with a familial connection to the language or heritage learners became my primary users because the language would be best preserved through them. If more heritage learners carried the language, the likelihood of the language becoming extinct would be a lot lower.
Secondary users, or conventional learners, are learners without a direct connection to an endangered language but are nonetheless interested in it. Perhaps the language piqued their interest, or they wanted to explore a new language family or maybe even contribute to its revitalization.
The research revealed that both groups had different goals but similar frustrations. When it came to learning a language, both groups struggled with finding resources and natives to converse with.
Based on the research findings, the following user goal was identified:
1. Overcoming roadblocks unique to learning an endangered language
The lack of accessible resources was a significant concern among learners. Trove addresses this by providing a space for learners to store and find minority and endangered language resources. The app aims to become the go-to source for all aspects of endangered language learning.
2. Language learning rooted in cultural awareness
Heritage learners value reconnecting with their cultural roots, while conventional learners see learning about the culture of the language they are studying as essential. Trove emphasizes culture as an integral part of the learning experience, promoting a holistic approach for all learners.
3. Creating a personalized and inclusive experience for all learners
Many learners face isolation in their language learning journey. Trove creates a space for interaction between native speakers and learners, fostering connection and social learning. This personalized approach makes each learning journey unique.
Right from the start, I recognized that Trove needed to distinguish itself from typical language learning apps. While leveraging conventional design elements can enhance user experience, it was crucial for our app to forge a distinct connection with users. The app’s exceptional visual design serves as a tribute to the unparalleled diversity of languages worldwide.
Trove’s visual design evolved through iterations and user feedback. The selection of a rounded serif font over a modern, condensed font was made based on user perceptions of friendliness and academic appeal. User feedback collected through testing sessions helped refine the visual design, ensuring usability, accessibility, and visual attractiveness.
Two rounds of testing were conducted to gather feedback and improve the app’s design and functionality.
Round I: Mid-Fidelity Wireframe Testing
This round focused on testing the app’s navigation and basic features using mid-fidelity wireframes. Participants were recruited online and provided feedback asynchronously through Maze. The testing helped refine the visual design direction and address minor usability issues.
Round II: Full Design and Feature Testing
The second round involved in-person testing with a fully designed app and finalized features. Participants interacted with the prototype on a real phone, providing in-depth quantitative data and qualitative feedback. This testing phase identified and categorized errors (minor, critical) and gathered valuable insights for further improvements.
& Next Steps
Designing Trove as my senior thesis project proved to be an immensely enriching experience that deepened my passion for the intersection of culture, education, and technology. It had such a profound impact on my professional trajectory that it guided my career choices, leading me to work at Тhe New York Times and my current role at Semafor, a dynamic news startup (after nearly accepting a job offer at Babbel). Additionally, I took the initiative to co-found my own language learning game startup, driven by the mission to provide fun and accessible education.
Although the initial project concluded in May 2022, my aspiration would be to one day further develop the prototype into a fully functional product in the future. I have envisioned four exciting pathways for Trove’s evolution, each aimed at enhancing its distinctive features and offerings to the user.
1. Designing a volunteer experience
Creating a volunteer experience within Trove would allow native speakers and enthusiasts to contribute by creating courses or gathering resources in different languages.
2. Testing content effectiveness
Continuous iteration is necessary to gauge the effectiveness of the content offered to learners, ensuring the highest educational value.
3. Accessibility Partnerships
Partnering with schools and libraries would help Trove reach a wider audience and ensure financial viability without compromising access to universally available content.
4. Expanding Capabilities
To meet evolving user needs, Trove should expand its features and capabilities, staying responsive to changing demands in endangered language education and preservation.
By embracing these future steps, Trove can expand its mission of preserving endangered languages, promoting cultural diversity, and fostering meaningful connections between linguistic communities.