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Switch

Type: Mobile + Smart Speaker App

Context: Master's Thesis, Spring 2018 (15 weeks)

Guidance from Brent Arnold


 

The Challenge

How might we encourage users to push the boundaries of their comfort zones and try speaking with other accents.

The Outcome

A mobile app and a voice assistant that tracks their code switch


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What It Is

Switch lets users track their code switch on their phones and their smart speakers by learning their speech patterns. Depending on the users’ needs, it can nudge them to code-switch less, encouraging them to speak more like their culturally authentic selves, or to code switch more, helping them to speak Standard English like their white colleagues at work, for instance.

Accent is a signal you don’t deserve
to be treated the same.
— Henry Yu Professor of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia
 

What’s a Code Switch?

Code-switching is the practice of shifting the ways one speaks depending on context, as when one changes their accent to sound more like those around them to fit in. It is a practice most recognized when black Americans shift their speech from slang usage to more grammatically proper (or white) “standard” ways of speaking. But code-switching is also an everyday experience for many immigrants, and often happens involuntarily and quickly, without the speaker recognizing the change.

 
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How It Works

The app first learns the user’s speech patterns by asking her to read example phrases (just as how Alexa learns to recognize individual users’ voices). Then, the app prompts the user to create profiles for the different accents (e.g. Mike for the American accent and Minh for the Vietnamese accent). Having learned the speech patterns associated with each identity, Switch now listens to the user throughout the day, either on a phone or a smart speaker device. At the end of the day, the app generates a color-coded and time-stamped map of where and when s/he was either identity.

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Why you need it

More than a tracking app, Switch is a habit-changing app. By setting the goals to code-switch less or to do it more, the app nudges the users to speak with their accent or to speak in Standard English, encouraging them to push the boundaries of their comfort zones and try speaking with the other accents. Its goals are to encourage users to embrace the multitude of their identities, and feel more comfortable expressing themselves authentically regardless of context.

Turning on and off an accent is a
privilege… a protective layer.
— An Interviewee
 

Two Opposing Goals

Switch acknowledges that there are two opposing objectives when it comes to code switch. While users want authentic self-expression, they also strategically change their accents depending on context to win acceptance.

 
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Process

 

Scenario Mapping

 
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Initial Screen Sketches

 

Wireframes

 
 
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User Testing

Testing the prototype with users yielded 6 insights

  • Make signs clearer to prompt interaction + help navigate

  • Don’t require dual-identity setup in the beginning

  • Make the app ask/suggest who they code-switch to

  • Current stats do not allow users to be both - show switch in the stats

  • Combine time of day with geo-location

  • The stats shown in percentage don't mean anything - make numbers more tangible