Share on Facebook Tweet on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share by email
Indrani Medhi Thies


Microsoft Research India, 'Vigyan', #9, Lavelle Road, Bangalore-560001, India


Contact me at indranim at microsoft dot com         

 Brief bio:


Indrani Medhi Thies is a Researcher in the Technology for Emerging Markets Group at Microsoft Research India in Bangalore. Her research interest is in the area of User Experience Design, and Technology for Global Development. Her primary work has been in User Interfaces for Low-Literate and Novice Technology Users. Indrani has a Masters degree in Design from the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT-ID), Chicago, USA. Indrani is also a Ph.D. candidate at the Industrial Design Centre, Indian Institute of Technology, (IIT Bombay), India. Her thesis is submitted and currently under review.

Indrani has been listed in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-Technology Review’s MIT TR35 2010 world’s top 35 innovators under the age of 35; has featured in the list of "50 Smartest People in Technology" by Fortune magazine; and has won the "Young Indian Leader" award from CNN IBN.

Indrani was born and raised in Guwahati, Assam, and has been living in Bangalore since mid 2005. She lives here with her husband Bill and baby girl Tara. When not working, Indrani loves watching and reviewing Bollywood movies, and going on wildlife travels. She has featured in an advertising campaign with Bollywood star Farhan Akhtar. Video here.




 1) UIs for Low-Literate Users



One of the greatest challenges in developing Information and Communication Technologies for global development is that 41% of the population in the least developed countries is non-literate (UNESCO 2007) and even the literate among the poor are only novice users of technology. “Text-Free UIs” are design principles and recommendations for computer-human interfaces that would allow a first-time, non-literate person, on first contact with a PC or a mobile phone, to immediately realize useful interaction with minimal or no external assistance. Through an ethnographic design and iterative prototyping process and rigorous user evaluations, involving more than 700 hours spent in the field and 570 study participants from low-income, low-literate communities across India, the Philippines and South Africa, we established design principles that use combinations of voice, video and graphics (ToCHI’11, CHI’09). We have applied these principles to designing three PC and mobile phone-based applications:

- Job-search for the informal labor market (CHI’08, ITID’07)

- Health-information dissemination (WWW’07)

- Mobile-phone-enabled banking and payments (CHI’09, HCII’09).

Rigorous user evaluations with test participants confirmed that our non-textual designs were strongly preferred over standard text-based interfaces and that first-time, non-literate users were, in fact, able to navigate through our UIs meaningfully (ToCHI’11, ITID’07).

We have also observed that non-literacy is not just about the inablity to read, but seems to be coorelated with a variety of cognitive skills, such as ability for transfer of learning and understanding hierarchical navigation. In current work we are studying design implications for UIs for low-literate users given their cognitives skills (CHI'13, ITID'12).


2) KrishiPustak- Social Networking for Low-Literate Users



With the wide penetration of mobile internet, social networking systems are becoming increasingly popular in the developing world. However, most social networking sites contain medium to heavy text, and are therefore unusable by low-literate populations. KrishiPustak (CSCW'15) is a research and design investigation that explores what a social networking application for low-literate users would look like and how it might be used. We designed, developed, deployed and evaluated KrishiPustak, a prototype audio-visual mobile application for low-literate farming populations in rural India. A video demo is available here.


3) VideoKheti- Video search for Low-Literate Users


VideoKheti (CHI'13, DEV'13) is a multimodal video search system for low-literate farmers that combines local language speech, graphics and touch interaction to help find and watch agriculture extension videos (of digitalGreen), in the farmer's own language and dialect. We investigate if the complementarity of speech, graphics and touch lead to a better experience for low-literate and novice users? And if it is even worth the extra cost in engineering (to build automatic speech recognition) and bandwidth for sustained use? Among other things results from our usability studies show that speech works best where there is a long list of choices and selections comprise of short familiar words and expressions. A video demo here.


3) Mobile Data Collection:


In rural settings within developing countries where digital devices are not pervasive, all written records are maintained on paper forms which take a long time to aggregate and process data, resulting in corresponding delays in remedial action. We study this problem in the context of malnutrition treatment of rural children in Madhya Pradesh through ethnographic interviews and contextual inquiries, and present a health data record management application on a low-cost digital slate prototype (UX'12) built through iterative prototyping. The solution directly accepts handwritten input on ordinary paper notebooks placed on the digitizing pad of the slate, and provides immediate electronic feedback on the display of this device. This simultaneously generates a paper and digital record of the data. The digital slate’s micro SD card can be transferred to a mobile phone and the data sent to the backend database via GPRS. The server is updated at the end of each day, and the summary of the data is made available to the decision makers.

We also conduct a case study of dimagi's CommCare (NordiCHI'12), a health data collection and record management system deployed on low-cost mobile phones. Through a three-month unsupervised field trial in rural Madhya Pradesh with ten health workers we report data management gains in terms of data quality, completeness and timeliness for 836 recorded patient cases, and demonstrate strong preference for the system by rural health workers. 




Indrani Medhi Thies, User Interface Design for Low-Literate and Novice Users: Past, Present and Future, in Foundations and Trends in Human-Computer Interaction, Now Publishers Inc. , April 2015.

Indrani Medhi Thies, Pedro Ferreira, Nakull Gupta, Jacki O’Neill, and Edward Cutrell, KrishiPustak: A Social Networking System for Low- Literate Farmers (Best paper honorable mention), ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work , March 2015.


Indrani Medhi, Kentaro Toyama, Anirudha Joshi, Uday Athavankar, and Edward Cutrell, A comparison of list vs. hierarchical UIs on mobile phones for non-literate users, Interact: 14th IFIP TC13 Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, September 2013.

Indrani Medhi, Meera Lakshmanan, Kentaro Toyama, and Edward Cutrell, Some Evidence for Impact of Limited Education on Hierarchical User Interface Navigation, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 2013.

Sebastien Cuendet, Indrani Medhi, Kalika Bali, and Edward Cutrell, VideoKheti: Making video content accessible to low-literate and novice users, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, April 2013.

Dipanjan Chakraborty, Indrani Medhi, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, Man versus Machine: Evaluating IVR versus a Live Operator for Phone Surveys in India, ACM Symposium on Computing for Development (ACM DEV), January 2013.

Kalika Bali, Sunayana Sitaram, Sebastien Cuendet, and Indrani Medhi, A Hindi Speech Recognizer for an Agricultural Video Search Application, ACM Symposium on Computing for Development (ACM DEV), January 2013.


Indrani Medhi, S. Raghu Menon, Edward Cutrell, and Kentaro Toyama, Correlation between Limited Education and Transfer of Learning, in Information Technologies and International Development, vol. 8, pp. 51-65, June 2012.

Nicola Dell, Vidya Vaidyanathan, Indrani Medhi, Edward Cutrell, and William Thies, "Yours is better!" Participant Response Bias in HCI, in CHI 2012: Proceedings of the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, May 2012.

Indrani Medhi, Anuj Tewari, Mohit Jain, and Edward Cutrell, The Fate of a Digital Slate: Unexpected Issues with Deployment in Rural India, in User Experience Magazine, vol. 11, 2012.

Indrani Medhi, Mohit Jain, Anuj Tewari, Mohini Bhavsar, Michael Matheke-Fischer, and Edward Cutrell, Combating Rural Child Malnutrition through Inexpensive Mobile Phones, Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 2012.


Indrani Medhi, Somani Patnaik, Emma Brunskill, S.N. Nagasena Gautama, William Thies, and Kentaro Toyama, Designing Mobile Interfaces for Novice and Low-Literacy Users, in ACM ToCHI, vol. 18, no. 1, ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, April 2011.


Indrani Medhi, Raghu Menon, Edward Cutrell, and Kentaro Toyama, Beyond Strict Illiteracy: Abstracted Learning Among Low-Literate Users, 4th IEEE/ACM Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and International Development (ICTD) 2010, London, UK, IEEE, December 2010.

Thomas N. Smyth, Satish Kumar, Indrani Medhi, and Kentaro Toyama, Where there's a will there's a way: mobile media sharing in urban india, in CHI '10: Proceedings of the 28th international conference on Human factors in computing systems, ACM, New York, NY, USA, April 2010.

Indrani Medhi, Ed Cutrell, and Kentaro Toyama, It's not just illiteracy, India HCI in conjunction with the IFIP TC13 Special Interest Group on Interaction Design for International Development, 2010.


Indrani Medhi, Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan, and Kentaro Toyama, Mobile-Banking Adoption and Usage by Low-Literate, Low-Income Users in the Developing World, in Proc. of HCII 2009, Springer Verlag, July 2009.

Indrani Medhi, Nagasena Gautama S. N, and Kentaro Toyama, A Comparison of Mobile Money-Transfer UIs for Non-Literate and Semi-Literate Users, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2009.


Jonathan Donner, Rikin Gandhi, Paul Javid, Indrani Medhi, Aishwarya Ratan, Kentaro Toyama, and Rajesh Veeraraghavan, Stages of design in technology for global development, in Computer, pp. 31-41, June 2008.

Indrani Medhi, Geeta Menon, and Kentaro Toyama, Challenges of Computerized Job-Search in the Developing World, ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, 2008.


Indrani Medhi, Archana Prasad, and Kentaro Toyama, Optimal audio-visual representations for illiterate users, International World Wide Web Conference, 2007.

Indrani Medhi and Kentaro Toyama, Full-Context Videos for First-Time, Non-Literate PC Users, IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development, 2007.

Indrani Medhi, User-Centered Design for Development, ACM interactions. Vol. 14. Issue 4 , 2007.

Indrani Medhi, Aman Sagar, and Kentaro Toyama, Text-free User Interfaces for Illiterate and Semi-literate users, in Information Technologies and International Development, 4(1), 37-50, 2007.

Indrani Medhi and Renee Kuriyan, Text-Free UI: Prospects for Social Inclusion, IFIP 9th International Conference on Social Implications of Computers in Developing Countries, 2007.