Connectile dysfunction
Designers can play a pivotal role, writes Mark Baskinger, associate professor in the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University, in empowering elders towards sustained autonomous living through improving the communicative properties of everyday products.

“Products fail us every day. For some reason, though, we tend to blame ourselves for those failures—for our inability to perform adequately, our lack of understanding, and, sometimes, our unsafe practice. A product’s physical/visual form needs to communicate to the user on an immediate and intuitive level what the product’s purpose is and how it should be used. Without this communication, a gulf or disconnect can develop between what a user is trying to do (his intent) to do and what he actually does (his action).

This disconnect—caused by complexity, physical configuration, and/or poor information mapping—can prime a hazardous scenario, lead to misuse, foster product abandonment, or induce personal injury. This problem is especially pronounced for elders suffering from age-related physical, cognitive, and sensorial changes, for whom product-related accidents, unsafe practice, and personal injury are common.

Addressing this disconnect between intent and action—this “connectile dysfunction”—can be a key approach for developing products for at-risk populations. It encourages safe practices and enhances the quality of users’ experiences. In this sense, designers can have a positive impact in peoples’ daily lives.

Designers can play a pivotal role in empowering elders toward sustained autonomous living through improving the communicative properties of everyday products.

This article introduces emergent themes for designers developing product experiences for an aging population, with a specific focus on major home appliances.”

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