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Posts in category 'Elderly'

15 May 2007

Improving the lives of those with dementia and their carers through design

Alzheimer100
Alzheimer100 is a UK project that aims to come up with creative solutions to the challenges presented by dementia.

Alzheimer100 is a part of Designs of the time, a year long project based in the North East and lead by John Thackara (recent interview: En / It), exploring how design can make a positive difference to our daily lives.

People with dementia, their carers, service providers and experts in the field lead the project. The groups work together to share their experiences, thoughts and ideas via videos, photographs, journals, web logs and other means and design new services and products.

The aim is that over the course of the Dott 07 year, and beyond, an innovative pilot will be produced that will improve the lives of those with dementia and their carers through design. The possible outcomes are very broad, however, and will not necessarily focus on the new, with existing services also being scrutinised to see how they could be added to or improved.

3 May 2007

Healthcare insurers conduct ethnographic research and test prototypes to provide more personalised experiences

Humana
Insurers such as Humana and WellPoint pursue an ideal of customer intimacy with highly personalised documents and phone communications, reports Anthony O’Donnell in Insurance & Technology.

“Our work focused on a number of areas, including ethnographic research, following members home to understand how they managed their healthcare, how they made plan selections, how they budget and claim for health finance expenses,” says Chris Nicholson, Humana‘s director, integrated customer experience. The goal, he adds, was “to provide members with the relevant information that they need to make those decisions.”

During 2004, the carrier focused on determining which communication vehicles would best serve that goal, guided by four principles, according to Nicholson. The first principle, consolidation, focused on inventorying existing communications, such as periodic mass mailings, in order to concentrate them into one vehicle, he explains. The second, personalisation, sought to increase the communications’ relevance and impact by making it specific to the member. The third, distillation, aimed to synthesise the relevant information into language intelligible to the lay-reader. And the fourth, and perhaps most important, according to Nicholson, was actionability — giving members clear direction as to what they needed to do with the information.

As Humana put prototypes before focus groups toward the end of 2004 through early 2005, it set about seeking the means to deliver the final product. “We realised we didn’t have tools to provide the kind of personalised communications that our members were asking for,” Nicholson recalls. The carrier evaluated about a dozen vendor solutions, as well as two tools already in-house, he relates. “We were trying to get a good assessment in terms of cost, flexibility, scalability and integration with our print systems and [data] outputs,” Nicholson says. “We were looking for a broad solution that not only fit in the print space but also the Web.”

Read full story

8 April 2007

Consumer technology: is “ease-of-use” a myth?

Ease-of-use
A panel recently discussed the growing problems with product design features vs. the cry for “make it easy to use” and where designers and developers have to address this issue to win back consumers.

Speakers were Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO; BJ Fogg, founder of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab; John Paczkowski, senior editor of AllThingsD.com of the Wall Street Journal; and Tim Plowman of Intel’s Digital Health Group.

The forum, which took place on 4 April, was presented by the MIT Club of Northern California, the Stanford Center for Longevity, the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, and SmartSilvers Alliance.

EETimes Online has posted an excellent article about the presentation entitled “Ease-of-use crisis: Designers or ‘feature creeps’?”.

A panel of experts on “ease of use” whose experience ranges from technology design to behavioral psychology agreed rather ruefully Wednesday (April 4) that one of the most complicated challenges in electronic engineering is simplicity.

Their conclusions echoed the irony of one audience member—an attorney with Silicon Valley law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati—who defined “technology” as “something that doesn’t quite work yet.”

Panelist B.J. Fogg, a psychologist who founded Stanford University’s Persuasive Technology Lab, summarized the issue by saying that “every possibility you add to an interface increases your likelihood of failure” in the marketplace.

Tim Plowman, a professor who has studied human behavior at the University of California at Berkeley and Santa Clara University, addressed the basic issue of convincing designers to devise interfaces that are intuitively accessible to users of all ages and levels of technical sophistication. “It is much, much harder,” he said, “to achieve simplicity in interaction design.”

Bill Moggridge, founder of IDEO, a firm that designs user-centered products and services, noted that older users are slower to adapt to electronic device complexity because older users are more complex themselves, with “more things on our minds.” He said, “Among us wrinklies, it’s less likely that we’ll get it right away, unlike younger people.”

Read full story

2 February 2007

Experience Design Lab project on care for the elderly

Experience Lab
Some months ago I wrote about the plans to create a new Experience Design Lab in Genk, Belgium with the double aim of integrating and transforming the various departments of a media and design academy towards a strong user-focus, and enabling the school to reach out to and collaborate with the social and economic tissue of the region they are in, through a new and engaging vision.

The academy chose to immediately bolster enthusiasm through a socially-oriented project, focused on care for the elderly, thus enabling the various departments — photography, graphic design, product design, video, and communication & multimedia design — to learn new user-centred approaches through concrete, interdisciplinary and experience-focused activities.

Carefree living for the elderly

The Media & Design Academy started the year with a project that allowed students from various disciplines to collaborate creatively on a social topic: the living conditions of the elderly. This topic is highly relevant as our population is getting older and today’s youth will have to confront an increasingly ageing population both in their personal and professional lives. We therefore need insights in the needs, aspirations and capacities of the elderly.

The school used an experience design methodology to gather these insights: “Rather than figure out how to design for your audience, design for yourself after becoming like your audience!” (Dishman in Laurel, 2002). Objects and services are not seen as static products but as embodied experiences in a context, that differ depending on the person who engages in the interaction. To create a succesful and pleasing experience, the designer needs to learn how to see a context or an environment through the eyes of the user.

(My translation from the project website)

The students first inserted themselves in the environment of the elderly, helped by theatrical improvisation sessions. This lead to a series of innovative and creative designs and future scenarios aimed at visualising this carefree living of the elderly.

A short English-language vision document on design research is also available for download (pdf, 83 kb) from the lab’s website.

31 January 2007

The TRIL Centre: ethnographic research on ageing to develop healthcare technologies for the elderly

The TRIL Centre
Intel and the Irish government are building the TRIL Centre, the largest research initiative in the world dedicated to developing health-care technologies specifically for the elderly.

The TRIL Centre is a collection of research projects addressing the physical, cognitive and social consequences of ageing, all informed by ethnographic research and supported by a shared pool of knowledge and engineering resources.

The researchers will aim to develop technologies that can allow the elderly to continue to live independently and at home. They’ll focus on technologies that can improve social health and community engagement for older people, detect and prevent falls in the home, and help people with memory loss to remain independent.

Combined, Intel and the Industrial Development Agency Ireland, a government organization that seeks investments from overseas companies, are contributing $30 million over three years to the initiative, which will include collaboration with three Irish universities and 50 to 100 new researchers at Intel in Dublin.

Read full story (InfoWorld)
Read press release

More on TRIL’s use of ethnography:

By direct investigation and observation, ethnographic research of older people in their day to day lives and their interactions with carers and the healthcare system will equip the TRIL Centre teams with a real-world understanding of what old people need, what they find acceptable and how their quality of life can be improved.

By observing people ‘in their natural habitat’, the use of ethnography in technology research helps to identify what they find easy, what they find difficult, what would assist them day to day and how their needs can be supported by judicious interventions and devices. Ethnography uses anthropological and observational techniques to answer questions such as ‘what do people really want’, and ‘would a particular product find mass acceptance’. But it also reflects a philosophical foundation, particularly in respect of the TRIL Centre research programme, that research must have real-world impact, must change people’s lives and must have value and application beyond the laboratory.

The work of the ethnographic team based at NUI Galway will inform the design, implementation and usability of new technologies developed for older people. Ethnographic information provides guidance and feedback to the engineers and scientists who design and produce the new technologies and to the older people who use the new technologies. The Irish Centre of Social Gerontology (ICSG) will unite the various engineering and design strands of the TRIL Centre through enhanced multidisciplinary information systems that link design to application, with a personalised focus on the experiences of older people in their own space and place.

30 January 2007

Two-thirds of Brits use just 4 functions on their phones [Cellular News]

Brit texting
Over half (53%) of Brits feel that modern technology has now become too complicated and could turn their back on technology, according to the latest report from PayPal, as covered in Cellular News.

The age old problem of setting a video recorder still exists for one in three Brits, even though they have been in the mainstream for 27 years.

DVDs offer a more complex challenge with four in five (77%) not feeling confident to set one to record.

Also, mobile phones are now ubiquitous, yet many remain baffled by their features. The majority, almost two thirds (61%), use only four features on their mobile phone – calls, text messages, alarm clock and camera – while two fifths don’t even know if their mobile phone has a camera function.

Read full story

(via textually.org)

31 December 2006

UK Design Council on user-centred design and experience design

Design Council
The re-designed website of the UK Design Council features a series of new sections, including some on user-centred design and experience design.

User-centred design
The central premise of user-centred design is that the best-designed products and services result from understanding the needs of the people who will use them. User-centred designers engage actively with end-users to gather insights that drive design from the earliest stages of product and service development, right through the design process. Psychologist Alison Black gives an insight into how a user-centred approach can lead to innovative products and services that deliver real consumer benefit.

Experience design
Experience design concentrates on moments of engagement between people and brands, and the memories these moments create. For customers, all these moments of corporate experience combine to shape perceptions, motivate their brand commitment and influence the likelihood of repurchase in the future. Brand experience has the power to engender a greater degree of empathy, trust and loyalty from both customers and employees. Ralph Ardill of the Brand Experience Consultancy gives an overview of how experience design delivers new insights into how brands are perceived.
 
Unfortunately the experience design section is strongly brand-focused and therefore company-centric, rather than people-centric, and the write-up is seriously criticised by Peter Merholz, president of Adaptive Path, in a reaction to this post entitled “Experience design is not about brands“: “For ‘experience design’ to truly succeed as a discipline, it will need to distinguish itself from brand strategy and design, and demonstrate its distinct value as a contributor to business. Unfortunately, the Design Councils attempt at definition simply muddles things further.

Other sections that caught my eye:

  • Roger Coleman explains how inclusive design ensures that goods, services and environments are accessible to more people.
  • The ability of trends research to generate vital insights into customers’ and users’ future needs is making the practice increasingly important for all sectors. Trends expert James Woudhuysen explores the issues
  • The UK services sector is growing, but service design and its management are often poorly planned, argues Bill Hollins. This article reveals how companies can gain competitive advantage by applying design techniques when creating and improving their services.
  • Interaction design is the key skill used in creating an interface through which information technology can be manipulated, writes Nico Macdonald. As products and services are increasingly being created using information technology, interaction design is likely to become the key design skill of this century.
22 December 2006

UK foresight studies identify emerging trends over the next 50 years

Sigma scan
Via the BBC I found out about the Sigma and Delta foresight scans, with nearly 250 papers that look ahead at developments over the next 50 years.

The research was commissioned by the UK Office of Science and Innovation‘s Horizon Scanning Centre, and complied by futures researchers, Outsights-Ipsos Mori partnership and the US-based Institute for the Future (IFTF).

The papers look forward at emerging trends in science, health and technology. As well as assessing the current state of thinking they also examine the possible implications for society.

SIGMA SCAN

The Sigma Scan is set up as a database of 146 issue papers that provide a brief description of a particular trend or development and a projection of how, given a range of possible conditions, it may unfold in the future and influence the course of events over the next 50 years. The site navigation is rather idiosyncratic and not very user-friendly. But in fact, it is not so bad: you just click on one of the five themes, and on the next page simply hit the “search” button. Here are some of the papers that caught my interest (in no particular order):

  • Come together: Virtual communities, multiple identities?
    New forms of communities are emerging, enabled by new technology and drawn together by shared interests from across the globe. As membership becomes more common, we may see people adopting multiple identities in the convergence of virtual and real worlds. The phenomenon has the potential to unleash huge creative forces and foster social capital. However it may also challenge legislators as it permits new forms of criminal behaviour.
     
  • From consumer to creator: The content revolution and the rise of the creative class
    Consumers are harnessing media previously beyond their grasp technically or economically to express themselves creatively and to earn money. This has come about through innate creativity; accessibility of equipment (eg digital cameras); means to manipulate content (eg easy-to-use software); virtual sharing communities. Creative content may grow exponentially, spawning a new ‘creative class’. Consumer behaviour may change from plain consumption to customisation or co-production.
     
  • The digitisation of knowledge: The wholesale transfer of conventional knowledge media to online sources
    Forms of knowledge and the means of sustaining them for public good are moving online at an exponential rate. The continuation of this online trend may herald radical changes in learning and work. It may or may not imply radically different patterns of knowledge use.
     
  • Technology to empower the greying generation
    Currently, we design for a ‘youth-obsessed society’. It is often thought by designers that older people have little interest in design and in many situations the issue becomes not one of tastes but of needs. However, information technologies are becoming ever more essential for participating in modern life. Potentially they provide a valuable means of keeping people mentally active and in touch with friends and family, as well as providing a convenient means of doing shopping and obtaining advice. Yet computers can be very hard for older people to use, leading to their exclusion from this central aspect of society. There is likely to be high demand for significant redesign of user interfaces – for example, the introduction of speech recognition or the improvement of haptic (touch-sensitive) interfaces.
     
  • Sensory transformation: life in a cloud of data
    Over the next ten years, increasing numbers of computational devices may be embedded in physical objects, places, and even human beings, that would provide considerable amounts of additional information about their environment. Access to this information may enhance our sensory experience, but also stretch our sensory capacity beyond current capabilities. Information technologies (e.g. ambient displays and so-called “calm” technologies) look likely to play a major role as a medium and mediator of social and professional communication. Also, by 2015 displays and interaction may be ubiquitous and provide rich sensory experiences. High-resolution and haptic (or force-feedback) displays, that allow users to feel and touch virtual objects with a high degree of realism, could become more immersive and lifelike.
     
  • Virtual democracy?: Political activity goes online
    Democratic politics may increasingly be conducted online. Ease of access may allow citizens to virtually interact with political representatives eg mass referenda. Vast numbers may be able to register their opinions on topical issues almost instantaneously. This may revive the democratic process but also prompt debate about the nature of democracy itself, increasing pressure for constitutional reform and the creation of new outlets for participation in public life.
     
  • The end of ownership?: Ubiquitous leasing of manufactured goods
    Virtually all fixed assets may be leased to businesses and consumers rather than be owned by them. Leasing could extend from property and large machinery (e.g. all vehicles might be leased) to smaller appliances (e.g. computer hardware, furniture).
     
  • Innovation communities: Open-source, cooperative R&D
    The information economy allows technology development through global research and development, but high costs for specific applications sometimes make it risky, especially in competitive industries. Private and public sectors may combine resources to develop solutions more quickly, efficiently and mitigate risk. Internet and collaborative tools may facilitate this, with open source model allowing savings in costs.
     
  • Technology’s child: the advent of young, tech-literate commercial talent
    The economy may become dependent on those who are highly technologically skilled. While some workers may be immigrants, the majority are likely to be have grown up with the technology and been through a work focused, IT-oriented education. Without re-education or re-skilling, declining demand for unskilled labour may depress their earning potential and prospects. The knowledge economy’s increasing importance may mean increasing inequality.
     
  • From information to insight: Intelligent support and the conquest of information overload
    Computer agents equipped with artificial intelligence may automatically scan, filter and process information, reporting it to users in various targeted forms to aid business and personal life. Able to monitor, analyse, learn and understand natural languages in real time, these systems may help people become highly information-literate, process vast information quantities effectively from multiple inputs, and enable faster informed choices. This may boost productivity.

DELTA SCAN

Also the Delta Scan works as a forum for scanning the science and technology horizon over the next 50 years. The forum contains a hundred outlook pages covering a wide range of scientific disciplines and technologies. The Delta Scan was produced by the Institute for the Future, a Silicon Valley think-tank, as part of a project for the Horizon Scanning Centre of the United Kingdom’s Office of Science and Innovation. The database is hosted by the Stanford University Foresight Research group, housed in the university’s Wallenberg Center. Also here a selection of papers:

  • Ambient displays at the human-computer interface
    Developments in display technology may increase the repertoire of interactions between users and digital media by increasing the number of sites for ‘ambient’ displays.
     
  • Computing on the human platform
    Interaction between personal electronic products, mediated by human skin, may lead to new, and greater use of, invasive applications.
     
  • The end of cyberspace
    The concept of cyberspace as a distinct geographical entity has influenced the way we think about information technology, e-commerce, copyright, and high-tech products. New technologies are revealing a more complex relation between data-space and the real world, with consequences in all these areas.
     
  • New technologies for cooperation
    New technologies for cooperation and a better understanding of cooperative strategies may create a new capacity for rapid, ad hoc, and distributed decision making.
     
  • The rise of proactive and context-aware computing
    Proactive and context-aware computer systems that anticipate users’ needs and perform tasks in a timely and context-sensitive manner may begin to have an impact within the next 10 years.
     
  • Human brain: the next frontier
    The next 20 years are likely to witness a revolution in our understanding of the human brain, with implications for virtually every domain of human activity, from mental health to software design and academic performance and real-life decision- making.
     
  • Artificial extensions of human capabilities
    A wide range of technologies, from pharmaceuticals to implantable devices, and specialised cognitive or behavioural training (leading to regional brain activation through functional imaging), will enable extensions of human bodies, senses, and capabilities. This will lead to redefinition of various boundaries: natural versus artificial, alive versus dead, individual versus collective.
     
  • The rise of applied anthropology
    The rise of applied anthropology is likely to challenge the traditional structure of the discipline.
     
  • Studying human behaviour in cyberspace
    Cyber-ethnography, defined as the study of online interaction, is likely to become an important area of anthropological research as more and more human activities are conducted in cyberspace.
22 November 2006

Living old

living old
We are living longer. But are we living better?

“With 35 million elderly people in America, “the old, old” — those over 85 — are now considered the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. While medical advances have enabled an unprecedented number of Americans to live longer and healthier lives, this new longevity has also had unintended consequences. For millions of Americans, living longer also means serious chronic illness and a protracted physical decline that can require an immense amount of care, often for years and sometimes even decades. Yet just as the need for care is rising, the number of available caregivers is dwindling. With families more dispersed than ever and an overburdened healthcare system, many experts fear that we are on the threshold of a major crisis in care.”

Miri Navasky and Karen O’Connor, producers of the American investigative TV programme Frontline, investigated the crisis and explored the new realities of aging in America in the 60-minute feature “Living Old”, which aired yesterday evening on PBS (the public broadcaster in the US).

The full programme can be viewed online in Quicktime and Windows Media. The website also contains extended interviews; profiles of the featured individuals and families; an interactive map featuring the demographics of America’s elderly, and the comparative costs of nursing homes, assisted living and home care; facts and stats; special readings; and information where to go for further help.

Frontline’s Living Old website

Read also this interesting reflection by Virginia Heffernan of the New York Times. An excerpt: “What’s distinctive about old age now, and what makes the lives of the so-called old old interesting, is what this generation of 80- and 90-somethings and centurions brings to it. To that end I wish someone had asked the people in this program about Europe, Ellis Island, cars, the Roaring Twenties, cocaine, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, ghettos, the war, the New Deal, polio, civil rights, socialism, washing machines, swimming pools, the Kennedy assassination, the lunar landing. And what, if anything, they make of the Internet.

17 November 2006

France Telecom on disability and innovation

i-mag
France Telecom has launched i-mag, a new interactive e-magazine on innovation.

The first issue looks at the Group’s involvement in the field of disability, from the designing of new communication services, to working on new interfaces.

This initiative is part of France Telecom’s strategic programme NExT (New Experience in Telecommunications), which aims to “make the customer the centre of his or her communications world”.

France Telecom takes a design for all approach: “Facilitating access for all customers to all its products and services”.

The Group is developing new communication services “that use the communication mode most suited to the person you are calling”. They are also developing new interfaces, including those that use haptic technology. The longer-term goal however is “to come as close as possible to real face-to-face conversation between two people”.

6 September 2006

From designing for the elderly to designing for social inclusion

Elderly people and design
‘Designing for the elderly’ is getting trendy again.

Newspapers are filled with stories about Europe wrestling with dramatically falling birthrates and the problem of an aging Italy, and America’s top investigative tv programme, Frontline, will be showing a special documentary on the modern realities of aging on 21 November (with possibilities of online viewing).

Facing a similar situation in Sweden, the Department on Design Sciences of the Lund Institute of Technology just launched a research programme on ‘Elderly People and Design’. Also the UK Design Council has launched an ageing project.

While the problem of an aging population is definitely a major social, cultural and macro-economic issue, and the Lund research approach is very sound with its emphasis on user experience analysis and participatory design, we believe however that an approach of designing just for the elderly is too narrow and therefore possibly problematic.

In a time that people are getting older and older, many over 65 have the physical and mental capacity of people that are twenty years younger, engage in demanding professional endeavours and personal activities, and would hate to be called ‘elderly’. They might have a different time horizon than younger people but they are not less able.

An additional issue is that many of the problems that some elderly face are not unique to them, but also affect e.g. the disabled, parents with strollers, young children, people who have temporary health problems, caregivers, etcetera.

Rather than narrowly focusing on the elderly, a broader ‘designing for differences’ approach can help make sure that everyone can use certain products and access certain services. This also has a social advantage: people don’t feel excluded. We therefore advocate a social and enabling approach of ‘designing for social inclusion’.

14 August 2006

Participatory design – and why it’s more than user-centred-design

Pdc06
In a reflective article written as a follow-up to the Participatory Design conference held a few weeks ago in Trento, Italy, Ann Light dissects the difference between participatory design (PD) and user-centred design (UCD).

“What is the status of the ‘users’ you are working with?” she asks. “Are they treated as providing inspiration for design or are they treated as co-designers?”

Citing Patrizia Marti of the Communication Science Department at the University of Siena, Italy, Light writes that with the ‘user-centred inspiration’ approach “there is no accountability to the people who are the source of this material, or return to them for further engagement.”

According to Marti, “the origins of PD are deeply intertwined with trade unions’ efforts to bring democracy into work domains. So there is a political energy in the philosophy of PD about engaging people in the designs that affect them. This desire to democratise is not apparent in much current UCD work. [...] She pointed out that end-users are still often considered as Human Factors rather than Human Actors.”

Read full story

30 July 2006

Aging in the 21st century [The New York Times]

Aging in the 21st century
The New York Times Gina Kolata explores the history of aging through several generations of the Keller family in Ohio.

“The Keller family illustrates what may prove to be one of the most striking shifts in human existence — a change from small, relatively weak and sickly people to humans who are so big and robust that their ancestors seem almost unrecognizable.”

“New research from around the world has begun to reveal a picture of humans today that is so different from what it was in the past that scientists say they are startled. Over the past 100 years, says one researcher, Robert W. Fogel of the University of Chicago, humans in the industrialized world have undergone ‘a form of evolution that is unique not only to humankind, but unique among the 7,000 or so generations of humans who have ever inhabited the earth.’”

“The effects are not just in the United States. Large and careful studies from Finland, Britain, France, Sweden and the Netherlands all confirm that the same things have happened there; they are also beginning to show up in the underdeveloped world.”

Read full story (permanent link)

6 July 2006

Mature users seek uncluttered mobiles, claims research

A mature mobile phone user
Rachel Jones, founder of the UK user-centred design company Instrata, writes in Usability News about new research by her company which “set out to discover what consumers in the UK and other European countries aged 30 and upwards really want” from their mobile phones.

“The desire for a less cluttered, stress-free lifestyle is reaching into the sphere of mobile phones, according to research carried out by Instrata. Go into any mobile shop and you are faced with a bewildering array of models. The market may seem crowded but, with the focus on youth trends, manufacturers are still missing the mark for many consumers.”

“The research examined attitudes to mobiles, and levels of satisfaction. It soon became clear that many consumers are unhappy with the choice available. There is a perception that mobiles are over complicated, feature driven and aimed at the youth market. However, when asked about recent simplified models, many participants assume they are for ‘old or disabled people’.”

She concludes: “The prevailing mobile culture seems to imply that more equates to better, and simplicity means ‘dumbed-down’. When phones are created for the older market they do not have the styling or personalisation that these consumers want, or if they do, the marketing concentrates on what they feel are the more patronising aspects of improved usability instead of innovation.”

Read full story

5 July 2006

Older people ‘missing out’ online [BBC]

Elderly online
Older people are missing out on critical services because they do not use the internet, a report says.

Just 28% of people over the age of 65 have home internet access, compared to a UK average of 57% of households.

As a result, pensioners cannot access government services as well as the most competitive deals on commercial goods.

The findings are part of a wider survey by a consumer panel at telecoms regulator Ofcom looking at the online access of marginalised groups.

The survey also looked at online use by disabled people and those living in rural areas.

Read full story

29 June 2006

Web accessibility soon mandatory in Europe? [CNet News]

Eu
The 34 EU member states on Wednesday signed up for the “Internet for all” action plan, designed to ensure that the most Web-disadvantaged groups can get online.

The EC has now pledged to increase broadband coverage across the continent to 90 percent by 2010. Rural areas are still underserved, according to the Commission, with about 60 percent penetration. Urban areas fare better and are already at the 90 percent mark.

The EC has also committed to putting new measures in place to halve exclusion rates in skills and digital literacy by 2010.

The Commission is studying the possible introduction of mandatory accessibility standards in public procurement, to be brought in by 2010. The EC is also considering legislation to improve e-accessibility.

According to recent research, 81 percent of Web sites in the United Kingdom are inaccessible to disabled people, while a separate report found that only 3 percent of European public-sector Web sites met W3C accessibility guidelines.

Read full story

(via Pathfinder)

13 June 2006

Older Consumers Flex Their Muscle (and Money) Online [The New York Times]

Older consumers online
Any child knows that good things happen when grandparents reach for their wallets. Internet executives are starting to remember the feeling.

Older shoppers, who generally sat out the Internet’s first big commercial push, are helping to feed the surging Web economy. Many of them now have a few years of Internet surfing behind them — enough to give them enough confidence to click the “buy” button. And because this group has far more disposable cash than any other, executives who have not already begun tweaking their strategies to reach them will probably do so soon, online analysts and executives say.

“This group has been kind of overlooked until now,” said Heather Dougherty, an analyst with Nielsen/NetRatings, an online consultancy. “But the older boomers are far from newbies at this point. We’re not talking about people who are 100 years old and haven’t seen a computer.”

Ms. Dougherty said a recent Nielsen survey found that 27.4 million people age 55 and older bought something online in the last six months, compared with about 26 million a year ago. By contrast, the number of adults who bought something online in the last year actually dropped, to 107.4 million from 112 million.

Read full story (permanent link via reddit)

7 June 2006

Eldy, an operating system for the elderly

Eldy desktop
The Italian newspaper La Repubblica reports that Eldy, an Italian non-profit organisation aimed at promoting computer skills and access to new technologies, is about to launch a version of the Linux operating system that has been conceived for those who have never accessed a pc before, and in particular those over 55 who have difficulties with understanding terms like “blog”, “chat”, “e-mail” and “url”.

“We are convinced that by creating an operating system with a usability aimed at those over 55 who access a pc for the first time, we can help reduce the digital divide, especially if we also develop some contents that stimulate the creativity of the users,” explain those in charge of the project.

The operating system can be installed (with a very simple installation procedure) on a regular pc or on specially developed hardware. Without being experts, users can navigate the internet, chat, make video calls, use e-mail, view movies and manage multimedia contents from photos to music to e-books. They will also have immediate access to the latest news, the weather forecast and to a simple word processing tool. The ease of use will also be manifest in the graphic design and the highly understandable language itself (e.g. “mail your letter” rather than “send your e-mail”).

The Linux distribution – based on “Slax” – can be downloaded for free. In the future the developers want to add software to their operating system allowing people to manage their healthcare bills, to write legally valid auto-declarations, to access particular services of the “post office online” and the “church online”, and to use e-commerce services.

1 June 2006

Ethnographic study of robotic products in the home

Roomba
This paper by Jodi Forlizzi (assistant professor at the HCI Institute and School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University) presents an ethnographic study of robotic products in the home.

The experience of floor cleaning was studied with six families. Each family was given a robotic vacuum or a stick vacuum that offered the same vacuuming functionality.

The robotic vacuum affected significant change in the families, while the stick vacuum did not. Families cleaned more often, more members of the family cleaned, and people made social attributions when using the robotic vacuum. In addition, the robotic vacuum affected generational difference in how elders as opposed to non-elders cleaned.

Design implications for social robotic products in the home and next steps for understanding their contexts of use are presented based on the findings of this study.

Download study (pdf, 2.1 mb, 10 pages)

(via Managing Innovative Thinking + Design)

15 May 2006

Major usability and accessibility initiative launched in the UK [BBC]

it enables
The BBC news website reports on the e-inclusion charter, one of the key projects of the it enables consortium, which aims “to research the use of information and communication technology (ICT) by disabled people”.

The e-inclusion charter aims “to provide clear guidelines on how best to develop ICT working to ensure it includes and benefits disabled people”. It is based on the premise that “disabled and older people should have the same rights to participate in the Information Society as other citizens. Information and communication technology (ICT) such as personal computers, mobile phones and interactive TV should be tools that help overcome barriers they face in education, the workplace and social life.”

In the BBC article (excerpt below), the organisers stress that they are aiming at more than just increasing accessibility for disabled users, but want to promote usability improvements for everyone.

The consortium partners include the Alliance for Digital Inclusion (ADI), a pan-industry body focusing on the impact of information and communication technology on our society, with AOL UK, BT, Cisco Systems UK, IBM UK, Intel UK & Ireland, Microsoft UK and T-Mobile as its members, RNID, the Disabled Living Foundation, and the leading technology development consultancy Scientific Generics.

From the BBC story:

Technology firms are being targeted in a bid to make hardware and software easier to use for everyone.

The initiative, backed by disability charities and big firms like BT, aims to make hi-tech firms take usability more seriously.

They want to get companies thinking about how to make goods and services easy to use while design work is done.

Firms signing up will be expected to make big changes to all the things they do that customers encounter.

Despite the involvement of charities that try to raise awareness of accessibility issues, Guido Gybels, director of new technologies at the RNID, said the charter aimed to help everyone.

“We are not talking about small groups of people with specialist needs,” he said.

Instead, said Mr Gybels, the charter wanted to make companies apply accessibility and usability to everything they produce – no matter who buys it or uses it.

Read full story