While working on the design of a recent project for an older audience, I got to thinking about how I design for older generations. I began to realize that it may be time to reevaluate how I approach design thinking by taking into account design for all ages.
I am officially a millennial, regardless of how much I reject such a classification. Being identified as entitled, lazy or lacking respect for authority does not sit well with me. One benefit of being a millennial is I was lucky enough to grow up in the birth of the digital era. Being surrounded by computers and new technology from an early age, it was easy to take technology for granted.
Boomers were not so lucky to be raised on computers. It’s a common conception that they sometimes struggle with new technologies whether it’s due to lack of experience with devices or declining physical dexterity. The fact is: they are beginning to adopt technologies and businesses are realizing the 50+ demographic—which has at times been overlooked when it comes to the marketing of new technologies—is actually a goldmine of active and potential tech consumers.
We should be looking for opportunities to allow technology to improve the lives of the older generations. As they say in Field of Dreams, build it and they will come.
So what might be preventing older people from using our products or applications? There are plenty of assumptions about how older people perceive the internet. That they are afraid of technology, afraid of online security or afraid of breaking a system. From my perspective, that onus is on bad technology, not the people using it. They are not afraid of the technology, just not sure how it works. A little education goes a long way and the same can be said for all generations.
The topic of accessibility plays a role in usability, but I am going to save that for a different blog. This recent Smashing Magazine article called Designing for the Elderly thoroughly covers the topic.
Let’s look past fear and accessibility. I think one of the most important ways to get people to adopt your product is relevance. A beautifully designed app that functions well could totally miss the mark if your audience sees no need in your offering. The notion is that older generations are turning to digital tools primarily to connect with loved ones, manage online banking, for shopping and for an increasing desire to manage health care. Healthcare is an industry with incredible relevance to the aging population and one that seems to be lacking in the “easy to use” column.
According to a recent Accenture survey, there are the top five areas for growth
These survey results indicate that seniors are interested in accessing a number of digital technology applications they can use to better manage their healthcare, including:
• Self-care: More than two-in-three seniors prefer to use self-care technology to independently manage their health. AARP estimates start-up funding in this area grew to $166 million in 2013, up from $143 million in 2012.
• Wearables: More than three-in-five seniors are willing to wear a health-monitoring device to track vital signs, such as heart rate and blood pressure. AARP estimates $266 million in funding was invested in this area in 2013, more than 2011 and 2012 combined.
• Online Communities: Three-in-five seniors are somewhat or very likely to turn to online communities, such as Patient Like Me, for reactions to a doctor’s recommendation before acting on it. AARP estimates funding for these platforms rose to $142 million in 2013.
• Navigating Healthcare: A third of seniors would prefer to work with a patient navigator to manage their healthcare. Last year, $384 million was invested in solutions, like patient navigators, for care navigation.
• Health Record Management: A quarter of seniors regularly use electronic health records for managing their health, such as accessing lab results (57 percent), and projections by Accenture suggest it will grow to 42 percent in five years, as consumer-facing tools increase.
The good news is these seem like useful applications for all generations. Wearables are being adopted more frequently and being able to control your health records online would be a big win for all generations.
Outside of healthcare, using technology to help in day to day activities of those who are aging will help them maintain their independence.
People often think of services like Uber and Instacart as being something that only millennials use, but those services can be a way for elderly or disabled people who need assistance to remain in their homes. As the aging population realizes the relevance of what’s available to them, they could use Uber to meet a friend for coffee, have groceries delivered through Instacart, pay bills online, schedule dog walker on Rover or even find a nurse to care for them via CareLinx.
Changing our perception of how technology can assist in one’s daily life will liberate us creatively to release new and exciting products. Rather than design specifically for the elderly, frail or disabled, we should expand our market size by using Universal Design principles which would ensure our products are usable by anyone regardless of age, size or ability.
For example, automatic door and trunk openers benefit individuals using walkers and wheelchairs, but also benefit people carrying groceries and holding babies and the elderly. Sidewalk curb cuts, designed to make sidewalks and streets accessible to those using wheelchairs, are more often used by kids on skateboards, parents with baby strollers, and delivery staff with carts.
What I discovered while working on my project and subsequent research is that designing for older generations will benefit everyone, regardless of age or exposure to technology. We should focus on creating online products, applications and wearables that are of value for all generations.