Guest blog – Making airports more ‘user-friendly’

This blog was contributed by Seema Jain, a Designer and Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK.

In a recent visit to a London airport, we were shown how accessibility measures have been improved, ahead of the London Olympics, in an attempt to meet the needs of those passengers with reduced mobility. Although it is crucial to consider the needs of these passengers, many of whom are older travellers, it has brought to light the need to include the needs of older passengers specifically.

Certainly not all older passengers would consider themselves as a passenger with reduced mobility, but some may still require assistance with the complex and sometimes tiring task of travelling by air. The following suggestions aim to consider the needs of passengers who do need assistance and in doing so provide useful recommendations for passengers of all ages.

Five key recommendations for airports:

  • It would be beneficial for airports to provide paper maps of the layout of their terminals, highlighting the key services such as toilets (and accessible toilets), food outlets, accessible seating areas, information desks and passenger assistance points so that those passengers who require assistance upon entering the airport can locate these services quickly. The airport could even go one step further to provide this information as an app which is contextual (i.e. provide the airport layout depending on where the passenger is located). Airport layout maps can be a tool utilised by all passengers, especially those who are unfamiliar with the airport.
  • Airports and airlines should attempt to steer away from using the term ‘Special Assistance’ as this could be taken to mean that those passengers who require assistance are ‘out of the ordinary’. Instead passengers should be able to take advantage of a service which provides a seamless experience and without highlighting their need for ‘special’ help. For example, an alternative name such as ‘Extra Assistance’ may be better suited and would still highlight the availability of accessibility services in airports.

Continue reading “Guest blog – Making airports more ‘user-friendly’”

Guest Blog: Aspirational products for older people: What are we waiting for?

The guest blog is written by Anna McConnell, a Product and Service Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK.

Assistive living products are devices or systems that allow a person to perform a task that they would otherwise be unable to do, or increase the ease and safety with which the task can be performed.

Recent focus groups conducted by Coventry University, Age UK and Grandparents Plus as part of CoModal: Consumer Models of Assisted Living, a research project that explores the development of a consumer market for assisted living technologies suggests that many users, carers and prospective users believe that these products are often unattractive, stigmatising and expensive: ‘Some people find them embarrassing… my sister has one [raised toilet seat], because she’s got arthritis, but if she’s got visitors she takes it off.’ ‘Absolutely disgusting.’ Continue reading “Guest Blog: Aspirational products for older people: What are we waiting for?”

A changing approach: inclusive design

The guest blog is written by Anna McConnell, a Product and Service Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK.

For too long industry has perceived inclusive design as ugly, expensive, time consuming and complicated. It’s time to stop focusing on the barriers and instead realise that demographic changes mean that inclusive design can help organisations become and remain competitive in our ageing society – by continuously assessing and interpreting the changing needs of their customers as they age in order to develop targeted and aspirational products and services to people of all ages.

Although difficult to definitively prove the economic benefits of inclusivity; design as a whole is difficult to quantify and focusing solely on the bottom may be misleading and may hide the bigger picture. Inclusive design practices can help organisations to see the world through their customers’ eyes and put people of all ages and abilities at the centre of their business strategy.

“Design for the young and you exclude the old; design for the old and you include the young”.  Bernard Isaacs, Founding Director of the Birmingham Centre for Applied Gerontology.

Large brands are beginning to take notice of this approach. Twinings and Unilever have both recently discussed their changing strategies on the Marketing Week website; Unilever’s senior vice-president of marketing, Marc Mathieu, says their strategy is more about real people rather than generic customers, “creating a brand that puts real people’s lives at the centre of everything, rather than consumers”.

Many companies have found significant financial success by applying Bernard Isaacs’ principle to the development of products and services; the BT Big Button 100 Telephone, developed in 1998, designed with the wider needs of all users in mind, is still one of their best sellers.

Internal investment in internal design and innovation can have very positive effects of the financial performance of organisations: “Product Design and Financial Performance”, “Valuing Design: Enhancing Corporate Performance through Design Effectiveness”, “Design Index: The Impact of Design of Stock Market Performance”, “How do Creativity and Design Enhance Business Performance? A framework for Interpreting the Evidence”, and “The Economic Effects of Design” have demonstrated positive effects to higher investment in design. These effects include increased sales, cash flow and revenue, lower costs, increased productivity, greater probability of innovation and increased stock market value.

Things are starting to change; businesses are rethinking the way they see older customers, moving away from our traditional ageist approaches to product development and marketing and to understanding the real value in an inclusive corporate strategy. Here at the Engage Business Network we work with companies to explore this growing market and give older people better choice of products and services.

Find out more about the Engage Business Network

Read more about our work on consumer issues

Reaching older consumers – where to start?

The guest blog is contributed by Mona Shekarriz, Research Associate with Age UK’s Engage Business Network. Mona is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK to conduct market segmentation and to examine consumer behaviour in later life.

It is often the case that businesses either neglect providing products and services to older age groups or at best think that they have them in their customer base but do not consider the importance of understanding their needs.

There are also companies that properly understand the older groups of people, but in general businesses overlook the great potentials that lie in correctly addressing the needs and wishes of this age group. Ideally, there should be solutions which help companies to be inclusive in their design and delivery so that people won’t get excluded because of age or lifestyle. But to get there we first need to start understanding the real needs and expectations of older consumers. This is where most businesses fail because they see them as one big group of people who are over a certain age.

This is certainly wrong for every age group and especially for older people as they develop more individuality as years go by. Professional and social preferences, life changing events such as health changes or loss of a partner, role changes such as becoming retired or becoming a grandparent are some examples of why people develop more individuality as they grow older. In other words, years gives them more time to develop more differences. So there is a high level of granularity within the older age groups. Continue reading “Reaching older consumers – where to start?”

Internet usability and older people

This guest blog was contributed by Seema Jain. Seema is a digital and web designer, and researcher, in Group Product Development within Engage Business Network (a part of Age UK which helps businesses better serve the needs of older people).

The internet is a huge part of most people’s lifestyle in the world today, and going by its development over the years, there will be a great deal more changes to come. These advances have even more of an effect for those who did not experience the growth of computing throughout the years and therefore are somewhat disengaged from its benefits.

Nearly 58% of people over 65 in theUK have never used the internet. Even for those who have, with access to the internet also growing into devises like smart phones and tablets, the connection between the product and its functions can be somewhat elusive to some. AgeUK is dedicated to improving digital literacy to older people.

When it comes to actually browsing the internet, I would like to think that web developers create websites to be straightforward to use by as many people as possible. However, when it comes to ‘novice’ and ‘non-confident’ users (which many over 65s are) this ‘ease of use’ may not be as easy as others believe. Research has found that even those creating websites with the user in mind still seem to neglect the over 60s in their considerations.

The older age group is equally if not even more diverse than younger age groups, and therefore their skills, physical and cognitive needs, and interests should be taken into account.

As with other users, older people’s experience or aptitude for the internet can be the factor in determining how successful their interactions are. For example, those users with limited experience using the internet such as carrying out one or two functions, like checking emails and looking for transport information, tend to find difficulties in searching around unfamiliar sites if the layout and menu organisation are not easy to follow.

On the other hand, as I found from research carried out with users, when a website is designed simply, offers a range of clear options for users to click through, and is not too text heavy, those with a lower aptitude can still successfully locate the information they require. Other features such as short cut links proved useful, but objects such as flashing or rolling images reels were regarded as confusing.

There are simple changes to layouts, style or just order that can be made to websites, which make navigating around unfamiliar sites much easier. Designers should keep the user and their needs, characteristics and wants at the centre of the design process.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Steve Jobs

Read more about our work on digital inclusion

Home accidents amongst older adults

The guest blog is written by Anna McConnell, a Product and Service Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK.

Stories regarding the living standards of older people have been hitting the news with uncomfortable regularity. The recent Equality and Human Rights Commission report found that the home care of many older people often fails to reach basic standards. This report, among others, highlights a lack of regard and understanding of the needs of older people in our society, and without addressing these areas it is possible that standards will not rise and the isolation and loneliness that many experience will continue.

Until 2002, The Department of Trade and Industry published nationwide accident data, broken down by kind, severity and age. This data provided a useful insight into the areas of potential danger in the home for many older people. The last report of this kind was the 24th Report of the Home and Leisure Accident Surveillance System which estimated that in 2002, 750 000 people aged over 75 were treated in Accident and Emergency in the UK. Falls were found to be the most common causes for hospital admissions, accounting for over sixty percent of accident related deaths, with a fifth of falls amongst women aged over 50 resulting in hospitalisation for bone fractures. Kitchens and stairs were shown as the locations of the most serious accidents whilst the living and bedrooms were the most common places for home accidents.

The HLASS report represents an extensive accident data collection across eighteen UK hospitals. Unfortunately, there are several issues which might reduce the reliability of the data:

The age of research means many changes since 2002, including:

  • Increasing population of over 65s (under 9 million in 1995 to 10.3 million in 2011)
  • Medical advances
  • An economic downturn, affecting the stock market and private pensions
  • A sharp rise in the cost of living (including fuel, inflation, cost of food)
  • The focus of the report is on cases requiring hospitalisation, so a large number of minor injuries may not be included
  • The age classification of 15 to 64 is too large and will prevent the efficient analysis of injuries amongst younger old people aged between 50 and 64.

Older people are more susceptible to injury than the population as a whole and they tend to be more seriously physically and emotionally affected by accidents. Older people, for example, are more likely to break a bone as a consequence of an accidental injury than the rest of the population, perhaps explaining a common fear of repeated injury amongst many older people.

Interestingly, the emotional consequences of accidents amongst older people can often be more severe than the physical ones, especially for women. Accidents can often reduce a person’s confidence, leading to decreased social interaction and self-esteem, and loss of independence and confidence. In severe cases these symptoms can results in long-term conditions such as depression, which affects women more than men.

The 24th Report is now dated and although it can still provide a partial overview of common accidents amongst older people, new research is needed to deal with current trends. It is unclear why accident data collection and publication stopped in 2002, especially given the unprecedented demographic changes that the UK is experiencing and the financial burden on the NHS.

Collecting this data will have represented a significant cost to the National Health Service but despite the costs, this data is crucial in building a picture of the lives of older people and designing inclusive products that can reduce injuries and dramatically improve quality of life of older people, who often live alone and can feel isolated from the communities they live in. Therefore new quantitative and qualitative research is required in order to fully understand home injuries amongst older people and design effective and non-stigmatising product and service solutions that could reduce the numbers of accidents in the home.

Find out more about our Care in Crisis campaign

Read more about falls awareness

‘Products and services for older people’ – What does this mean?

The guest blog is written by Mona Shekarriz, Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK to conduct market segmentation and to examine consumer behaviour in later life.

When hearing about a product or service for older people a number of questions come to mind. Who are “older people” and on what basis these products and services are designed and delivered?

A lot of dispute exists on the meaning of old age. Is it simply a factor of our birth date? Is it the life stage we are in? Or does it come from our looks or physical or mental state? Maybe our interests, plans for the future, experiences, our social circle, and financial status…the list could go on and on.

In fact our real age is a combination of all these, but the sad truth is that industries largely judge our age only by our date of birth.  The reason is that we are more comfortable comparing people against the stereotypes we have in mind. These stereotypes come from our social, cultural and personal experiences in life, for instance we assign certain characteristics to older people and others to younger ones. It is much easier for us to ask for someone’s age and start building a picture of their life in our head based on the stereotypes we have.

But if we are working towards a world tolerant of people with different behaviours and interests, why do we make an exception in the way we treat age? Why do we keep asking people’s age and take major actions based on this one piece of information? This is especially damaging for companies designing and developing products and services. 

There are no doubts that ageing causes some physical and mental decline. However it is a mistake to overlook all other aspects of someone’s life and assume their physical and mental state based on their age. With the advancements in technology and medicine, and equality and diversity legislation, people have better opportunities to live longer, healthier and more distinctive lives.

This brings us back to the issue of how products and services specifically for older people are actually being developed. In other words, do we really think of all the above in development and delivery of those products and services?  If a product or service targets people in a certain life stage, the best way to success and to improve the quality of later life is to start understanding people not only by their age, but also by all aspects of their lives.

“Man’s age is something impressive, it sums up his life.  A man’s age represents a fine cargo of experiences and memories.”  Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Learn more about what Age UK does to help make digital technology inclusive for older people.