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Kaiik'ìt

# education

a mobile app for learning the Gwich’in language

backend
Python
Django REST Framework
PostgreSQL
Redis
Celery
design
Product Design Workshops
Competitor analysis
User tests
Wireframes
UX design
UI design
Style guide
frontend
Flutter
Firebase
Block
Rive
Hive
fastlane
qa
Manual system testing
Manual interface testing
Manual acceptance testing
API testing with Postman

2

Gwich’in dialects

5

types of language learning exercises

7

software development experts on the team

8

months to build the MVP

problems to solve

With language revitalization specialists on board but no experience in software development, the Council was looking for a tech partner who’d bring their idea to life. The client sought mobile development experience and support in defining the product vision further and setting measurable goals. To empower them with both, we put together a product team composed of developers, designers, a QA specialist, a DevOps engineer, and a Project Manager.

To build the first version of Kaiik'ìt, Merixstudio took care of:

  • Holding a product design workshop to define with the client the product vision and value proposition
  • Running a thorough competitors’ analysis to identify industry trends and space for innovation
  • Conducting user tests to best address the needs of the target audience
  • Designing the application flow and UI to incorporate the cultural aspects of the Gwich’in heritage
  • Building the mobile application that works both online and offline

solutions

The first stage of our work on Kaiik'ìt meant filling in the gaps in the product vision. Giving the client a platform to voice expectations and simultaneously conducting market research allowed us to identify the tasks that would best facilitate learning an endangered complex language like Gwich’in. The Product Design team tested these assumptions with representatives of the app’s target audience. 

User tests began with the participants receiving extensive instructions explaining the installation process and the course of the research. Then, users would download the app and take part in the tests via video call. Introductory conversations about their culture, language knowledge, and experience with learning foreign languages led to users performing tasks within the app, e.g., creating an account, checking the word’s meaning in a dictionary, or finishing a lesson. Thanks to a combination of screen sharing and video calls, Merixstudio’s designers could see how users interact with the app and observe their facial expressions. As a result of the tests, we examined the app’s usability and decided to go for thematic modules with interactive exercises focused on vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. Once the application goes live, we’ll be able to monitor user behavior with data gathered by Firebase Analytics.

When working on Kaiik'ìt, it’s important for us to get people's responses and see how they feel about the app. Feedback from the Gwich’in population tells us whether the application actually helps, for example in a kindergarten or a teenager setting – and if so, how can we make it better. 

Celina Jerome, Language Revitalization & Early Learning Manager at the Gwich’in Tribal Council

The application is more than a language-learning tool, though. It’s also a means of exploring the Gwich’in culture – which is why our designers used visual storytelling to incorporate elements of the indigenous heritage within the software. The app's name was initially Gwich’in. However, as the work progressed, it changed to a more unique Kaiik'ìt (which translates to community) and now points to the importance of building language-centric communities, where Elders and Youth work together towards language and culture preservation. The logo is also a means of telling the product’s story. Shaped as a chat bubble and made of tribal beads, it is essentially a visual representation of learning Gwich’in. 

The apps’ flow and aesthetics are inspired by the Gwich’in people being scattered across almost 24 thousand square kilometers of Yukon and the Northwest Territories. To learn the language, the user embarks on a journey, which is complete only when they visit all settlements. As learners proceed from one module to another, the tents on the map open up and change color. Thinking about the product’s future, we came up with the idea of making V2 even more engaging and adding the gamification element by having the users collect beads, which will make up a badge upon the module’s completion. These plans are reflected in V1’s empty state screens featuring an illustration of beads.

We aimed to build a high-performant, good-looking, and scalable solution in a relatively short time. Achieving these goals on the mobile side was made possible by Flutter. On the backend, on the other hand, it was django-polymorphic that allowed us to optimize the database queries and ensure that adding new types of exercises in the future will be a breeze. As we enjoyed a lot of freedom in choosing the best tech solutions, we could also adopt a forward-looking attitude to the architecture and draft the roadmap based on our experience. A result of this approach was a smooth introduction of the offline mode, which wasn’t a must-have initially but turned out to be invaluable due to many Gwich’in speakers living in low-connectivity areas

Once the Kaiik'ìt user downloads a module, they can interact with the app and complete tasks just as they would if they had access to the Internet. The entire offline logic of validating users’ answers and scoring them is handled by the mobile app, and the backend is notified of the change in data immediately after the user goes online. In addition to downloading content, the app caches images and audio even in the online mode. That way, when the user decides to download a given lesson, the download is quicker – and so is going through a lesson online because it doesn’t initiate a download from scratch every time. 

In terms of the workflow, we got the best of both Agile. As the GTC has no previous experience building digital products like Kaiik'ìt, we  put emphasis on enhancing their confidence. Staying proactive in suggesting the most relevant solutions, we made sure to keep the Council in the loop by frequently explaining our reasoning and the implications of the product-related decisions. 
 

 I really enjoyed seeing how the features were being developed in such small   pieces, and then having it all come together – especially that I've never done   anything like this before. At the end of the day, when I looked at the app, I thought  it’s amazing —  and it was just really great to see that.

Celina Jerome, Language Revitalization & Early Learning Manager at the Gwich’in Tribal Council

view examples

key features

  • lessons

    users have access to various lesson types, including listen and repeat, true or false, image selection, correct word selection, and putting words in the correct order to form a sentence

  • profile

    users can edit their nickname and avatar, select dialect, show learning progress, and manage app notifications

  • dictionary

    users can check the meaning and pronunciation of Gwich’in words, and save dictionary offline

  • admin panel

    using the customized Django-based admin panel, the client can quickly and easily manage the content of each module

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