Dave O’Brien &
Gary Elshaw

Wellington, New Zealand

Parachuting into Cambodia: 5 days of dust, heat, and design





As part of the Good For Nothing volunteer project in 2014, we travelled to Cambodia to design a literacy-testing tablet app for rural schools.

We knew it would be a different world, but could the UX design process we brought with us survive a new language and a different culture, and produce something our hosts could build and use after we left? Would the system we dreamed up really work on $80 tablets in schools with no WiFi, flakey power, and the nearest printer kilometers away? Was it really possible to produce a decent design in five days and throw it over the wall to developers we had never met, who may not have coded tablet apps before, and who would only partly understand our intentions? In short, did we find this kind of "fly-in design" a good model for getting projects done in developing countries?

Join us as we reflect on how we approached the problem, sweated rivers while interviewing teachers dressed in sweaters and jackets, translated paper prototypes from English to Khmer, tried to bulletproof things for a harsh environment, and utterly failed to convey that usability tests are 1-on-1 sessions. There's even a happy ending.

Dave O’Brien

UX Designer, Researcher

Dave has been researching, designing, and testing user interfaces for 20 years in Toronto, San Diego, and Wellington, most recently with Optimal Experience. He is also the creator of Treejack, Optimal Workshop's tree-testing app, author of an upcoming book on tree testing, and dabbler in Android apps.


Gary Elshaw

Communications Specialist

After a distinguished early career as a lion-tamer and stand-in/stunt-double for Steve Irwin, Gary decided it was time for a change in direction and embarked on a moderately successful career in Film and Media academia. Attaining three post-graduate degrees in Film and English literature, and a $45,000 student loan, he felt satisfied his work was done. He likes beer.