Although most people realize that English derived a lot of influences from other languages, they really don’t know how deep it goes. Hint: it’s really deep ;)
HelloCaesar is an app that will explore this topic, focusing on connections between Latin and English. It may be classified as a linguistic or educational app, but the idea behind it is not to feel like one. Users (or readers) should have fun while learning about everyday words and themselves (yes, language is part of peoples' identities).
The beginning: Some crave creating Idols
I have a diverse experience as a product designer. But, every time I come across people such as:
(And many others)
I feel amazed, not only because I’m a curious-nerdy-scientific creature, but more importantly: They simplify complex topics into engaging content for everyday people.
I spent my whole career creating applications to solve problems, but there I was: missing working with the Content and Education area. I thought: “Why am I not doing that? It’s very related to Design, and I could apply my interactive skills for an extra punch.”
The answer to this craving was to create this side project. But, about what?
Picking the Topic
My usual tasks are: observe people, design solutions, get feedback, and move on/act accordingly. I’m not a teacher or author. On the sunny side, as an avid book reader and podcast listener, who learned a bunch of disconnected curious facts, I felt confident I could find something to engage people.
So, I assigned myself the following task:
[ ] Go through your repertoire of curiosities and find a topic ready for a makeover @saulo
Task done, I picked: Etymology, the study of the history of words.
Reason #1: As a Portuguese (Latin based) speaker, I would often explain to some friends that many of their dearest English words come from Latin, and then see a spark of joy on their faces 🤩.
Reason #2: Etymology is very dull. It’s basically dictionary entries. I saw this problem as an opportunity to turn it around.
I had to dig deeper into the Etymology field, finding interesting material to start building my own data inventory. Also, I had to see what other people and companies were doing out there.
After going through lots of products (websites, blogs, books, podcasts, and apps), these were the ones that impacted me the most:
Lessons learned and Observations:
#1: There’s a wealth of reference material. The Etymology Online Dictionary is a superb resource.
#2: Etymology is not an exact science. It’s more like History, where some words explanations are disputed between different (and interesting) theories.
#3: Most importantly, the assumption that Etymology can be fun was proved right by the book Etymologicon. It was a bestseller in the UK and still sells well in other English speaking countries. The vast number of personal blogs about etymological fun facts also helped to prove this point.
With my content inventory (in early stages) at hand, I jumped into sketching solutions to the problem: "Is it possible to create a captivating and interactive Etymology experience?". I saw this challenge as a kind of data visualization exercise.
During this exercise, I noticed I had to use a "News/Book App" format. I would have one article about each Latin root, and each article would consist of multiple sections. Each section provides a different point of view of the etymology of the words. In the end, the section templates became the building blocks to the app.
Prototyping and User Validation
My next step was to translate the sketches into comps/prototypes and validate them with some users.
The test users were English speakers with no Latin background (Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French). I did not tell anyone I was the creator. If a friend who participated in the test is reading this, sorry ;)
These were the items for which I was looking for validation:
#1. Is this app/article interesting? Would you share it?
#2: Did you learn something you would share with other people?
#3: Did you have any issue understanding how to use the app?
#4: What did you learn with every section? Which ones did you like the best?
Test Results and Iterations
In general, the feedback was very good: people really enjoyed the experience. I saw smiles (even some laughs), and comments like: "I now feel like having Italian grandparents!" and "These are great for party conversations."
Besides the feel-good part, I got an action list of improvements where I could act on. Some sections were dropped, others were created, and others improved:
The app is under development and and should be released in 2020 for the iOS platform. Below are some screenshots to give a brief (and very partial) preview of it.