Designing Through Old Glasses

Photo by Jesus Kiteque on Unsplash

This study is motivated by a concern for the elderly people, as for how they are adjusting to the rapid changes in technology and coping with their digital everyday life. These digital innovations are like challenges, old people have to deal in today’s life, since with innovation everything has become digitized and they have to learn these changes so that they can go along with the society at the same pace. In my family and neighborhood, I noticed that elderly people did not have much information about new gadgets but are always inquisitive to know about the recent technology and innovations, I asked them about their interaction with computers and laptops. Half of them didn’t own a smart phone and the other half limited their smart phones purpose to calling and messaging purpose. This study forced me to look deep into first, why elders are not much connected to technology the way we do and secondly, look into the designing aspect of applications and services and finally take my point of view on how, I being a designer can make things simpler and acceptable for them.

Introduction

Over the past 20 years’ technology has grown widely and has been an intrinsic part of our day to day lives. Things have changed since then. Just imagine your present day without cell phone, hard to imagine isn’t. Technology has made things simpler for us, but there is one generation that technology has forgot, our elder generation. Working of things has become more virtual and dealing with all these changes and coping with it has quite difficult for them. With the rapid growth and urbanization of each small and big thing around us, older generation is also going digital. Reports says, In India the proportion of people aged over 55, who use smartphones quadrupled between 2013–2015 (Vora 2016). But changes never come easy.

Seniors and Technology

Let us go some years back to the days of tapes and cassette, wasn’t it easy for them to play a song of their choice, the most they had to do was to change cassette side, forward other songs and play the selected one- easy enough isn’t it. Just imagine them in today’s world searching that one song amongst a huge playlist in their android phones, becomes quite a tedious task for them.

Digital Natives and Digital immigrants are terms popularized by Mark Prensky (Prensky 2001). He refers to the generation born and brought up in established digital world as Digital Natives whereas the generation who was later adopted to technology at some point of their lives as Digital Immigrants. It is interesting to see how both these groups interact to any digital platform, Digital immigrants likes to carefully go with instructions and perform actions stepwise whereas Digital Natives speaks the language of technology, they already assume things to be interactive enough. This difference comes due to different thinking patterns, digital immigrants came across this technology far more late than the natives, with continuous exposure to technology young users brain has been programmed to work in a certain way.That is why they connect to visual representations quite easily.

There is still a majority of senior users who own a smart phone but use it just for the sake of making calls. This shows that usually they tend to keep a distance from technology. Sometimes they have no interest in learning new things as they think they have spent most of their lives without it and so why do they need these changes now and many a times they find it too difficult to learn and remember things. All their life they have seen a product and after checking it properly, they used to purchase it, so the whole concept of online shopping is not very trustworthy to them (Yavarai 2017). Building trust and making things easier for them is something we as designers can do from our side. Today lots of site and apps are made specially for senior citizens, but if few additions in existing apps are made with respect to senior’s small requirements it can altogether create a new change.

However, quoting the difficulties that seniors are facing with technology, there also exists a considerable percentage of seniors who have excitedly adapted to this new technology and are continuously looking forward to it. Recently there was a crash course arranged in Chennai for all people over 60 on how to use smartphones. This course was taken over by help Age India’s team, quite a number of enthusiasts joined the session and benefited themselves with the learning. With an app made for every small and big thing senior are also keen to learn new things and also there are factors due to which somewhere it has become an urgent need for them to learn using apps. To maintain contact with their children, to live independently, maintain social contact and fight isolation and do to day to day activities with ease they have to adapt to technology. In fact, last year there was a commercial series which was all over television. The Vodafone add which introduced the tech savvy couple during their trip to Goa was a huge hit. This advertisements main focus was on senior citizens experiencing and enjoying their lives through digital mediums. This add itself promotes the popularity of technology among seniors.

My Design Arguments

Besides of all these facts I still feel that with respect to designing there is a huge scope of improvement required for applications and websites. Just making specific apps for them is not enough. We need to identify the key issues they address while dealing with applications and how we can solve them. For doing that we need to step in their shoes and think in the way they think and see things. In short I think understanding their psychology is really important while designing something specially for them. I think we need to bring such approaches in some of the existing designing problems.

Introduction with tech-symbols

Since we are used to smart devices and working on different apps and websites each day, we are very much familiar with the symbols and their meanings, for ex you and me know what a magnifying glass symbol means and very habitually we click on it and start searching. But for them it’s a new thing, it’s like a new language that we have to make them habitual with.

There are many symbols that are used in digital life and these icons are used across every digital platform. Let’s say we call it as digital icons. So if elders get thorough with these icons, they can go ahead and easily operate any device easily. Thinking on that terms I have designed some portfolio. In our phone settings I have designed a quick ball thing which when turned on in the settings will appear on your phone and will provide a label for all the icons present on the screen at that time through Icon translator. This quick ball has 3 other functionalities, of a magnifier for magnifying the content on screen, shortcut for turning on the mobile torch and another shortcut for taking snapshots. This will be like a one tap button for 4 different functionalities and make things really easy.

Manuals

Earlier every other small thing used to come with a small manual guide booklet be it toaster, or iron. This small booklet used to come 3–4 languages and gave a detailed analysis of how to handle that device appropriate instructions. Today also many items contain that guide book. But have we ever thought that why apps do not come with instructions set. Maybe that is because we have become used to its working. But even if there is a higher percentage of people quite excellent in using apps, there is still a major percentage of naive users and maybe something like a guide booklet can help them simplify procedures. Let us take the case of online shopping through amazon, there are certain steps that are required to carry on to select a product and buying it. Won’t adding some sets of instructions make the whole process simpler and also add a wonderful experience.

I have created a portfolio on existing amazon application and showed the process of manuals through it. The process starts with a first time user, when he/she log ins to amazon, an additional parameter of age will be asked. If the entered age is more than 60 a separate version of the same application will open for that person. This version will have lesser content, and a separate manuals section in menu. The manual section will consist of different questions that generally users have while operating the app. If the user wants a detailed set of instructions to follow, he can choose his query from the manual section and then for his each step he will be prompted by instruction and the step to be followed next. For users below age of 60, the app structure will remain same.

Less and relevant content

What happens when there is too much data on your screen. Advertisement, promotions, lightning deals and a long list of products available and that too all fitted in a small mobile screen. I agree that having these information is necessary but at the same time there is irrelevant content on the screen and makes the screen looks confusing. Elderly people also become more easily distracted by details or noises. They have difficulty maintaining attention on more than one aspect at once (Chen 2013). Too much content on the screen shows that there is too much information to pay attention to. Keeping things precise and direct can be one way of simple designing. Sections such as advertisements and recommendations can be minimized while designing apps for seniors. Or one information at a time can also make things look easier.

Gesture Controls

Today gestures are introduced for making things simpler. A gesture is nonverbal communication made through hand, finger, face etc. Gestures independently or in combination with verbal communications are used commonly to communicate messages. Today technology has advanced and provided facility that rather than physically touching the screen, user can interact with their smart devices through gestures.

Normal ageing is associated with a decline in sensory, motor and cognitive abilities. Due to these old people sometime face problem working with mouse and computers since it requires good hand-eye coordination. Sometimes they find double click difficult, at times they also get confused with the left and right click. For such problems a simple relatable gesture comes to rescue like recently MI phones have come up with the double shake feature for opening camera or the three finger swipe touch for taking screenshots. There are certain operations which are difficult to remember for that such gesture controls act as gestures. But also these gesture controls should be simple to remember and also should be relatable so that our target users can use it efficiently.

Proper Visibility

Visual perceptions worsen with ageing. The size of the visual field decreases, which leads to a loss of, for example, peripheral vision, color vision, contrast detection and dark adaptation (Chen 2013). A mobile screen is already a very small space, and when this space gets crowded by too many information it becomes very difficult to concentrate on the screen. The font size, color schemes, image size all these parameters are very important while designing and that too specially in case of older people. Use of neutral color, bigger fonts, large images can make things look clear for them. Also keeping minimum navigations can help them with lesser confusions and will result in simplistic but effective design.

I am attaching a version of amazon with having a voice control feature so that the user can just tap on the mic symbol and ask for whatever product they ae looking for and list of sorted product appears. This can make the overall process of searching and sorting the product easy.

The main purpose behind these design changes is to provide a hassle free experience. Our target audience should not feel left out and should be able to carry out their digital activities without any problems. They should not think twice before going online or while doing online shopping.

clear for them. Also keeping minimum navigations can help them with lesser confusions and will result in simplistic but effective design.

I am attaching a version of amazon with having a voice control feature so that the user can just tap on the mic symbol and ask for whatever product they ae looking for and list of sorted product appears. This can make the overall process of searching and sorting the product easy.

The main purpose behind these design changes is to provide a hassle free experience. Our target audience should not feel left out and should be able to carry out their digital activities without any problems. They should not think twice before going online or while doing online shopping.

References

Chen, Weiqin. 2013. “Gesture Based applications for elderly people.” https://oda.hioa.no/en/gesture-based-applications-for-elderly-people/asset/dspace:6255/1107986.pdf.

Prensky, Marc. n.d. “Do they really think differently?” http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part2.pdf.

Vora, Rutam. n.d. “Older generation emerges as next big mobile data user in India:Study.” https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/older-generation-emerges-as-next-big-mobile-data-user-in-india-study/article7322192.ece.

Yavarai, Masha. n.d. “A human centered take on seniors and technology.” https://medium.theuxblog.com/a-human-centered-take-on-seniors-and-technology-7d3e02c2f5f9.

Researcher | Designer | http://radhikabelkhede.com/