Technology to help at home

This blog was contributed by Dave Wright, Age UK’s Research Assistant.

Age UK has been working with Universities of Sheffield, St Andrews and Reading on a project called Challenging Obstacles and Barriers to Assistive Living Technologies (COBALT),  to understand why the adoption of assisted living technology by older people is so low. These technologies can be anything from pendant emergency alarms to blood pressure monitors and electric wheelchairs.

440x210_computer_man_white_apple_laptop_homeThe usual explanation is that older people just won’t use technology. However, this research project has gathered data from older people, health and social care professionals, and commissioners and come to different conclusions.

The study found that despite a wealth of information on inclusive design, some assistive living technology is still poorly designed and packaged with instructions that make them very hard to use. We have tried it on a range of people and found this applies to everyone, not just older people. So given good design, older people welcome technology provided they can see it will help them live their lives the way they want. Continue reading “Technology to help at home”

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’”

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

Inclusive design – luxury or “must have”?

Philippa Aldrich is the founder of The Future Perfect Company, which promotes and sells good design for an ageing population. Philippa will be speaking about inclusive design at our Agenda for Later Life 2012 conference.

In these cash-straightened times it is easy to dismiss inclusive design as a luxury. If we are finding it difficult to find the money for the most basic of care for our older people, why are we wasting money on re-designing the products we already have? However, inclusive design may actually hold the key to reducing future care costs as well as improving the quality of all our lives as we get older.

At its most simplest, inclusive or universal design means designing for as many people as possible, taking into account the diversity of their abilities.  As many designers have up till now been focussing on younger consumers, the idea of inclusive design is today being used increasingly as a way of encouraging designers to think about the older people who are making up a bigger and bigger proportion of our population.

Not only is there an increasing demand for inclusively designed products, many older people for the first time have the money to buy them. Age UK have predicted that the spending power of people over the age of 65 in the UK is over £100 billion.

But why would people choose inclusively designed products over their mainstream equivalents?

Older people, like any other sector of the population, like products to be attractive and stylish – something that unfortunately cannot be said of many products specifically designed for their use.  And many of the designers working in this area have taken this on board. But more than mere aesthetics, an inclusively designed product can lead to increased and prolonged independence. – something which most people profess to want.  These products can either be small scale such as a teapot with a second handle for easy pouring or large scale such as automatic doors which are easy to open for someone with limited mobility.

There is also something very satisfying and empowering about using a product which is properly designed and does its job well. How much more likely are we to cook or garden if we have the right tools for the job which we enjoy using and which do not strain our wrists?

The best thing about inclusive design is that if you design with the old in mind, the resulting product is easy to use for everyone. It is not only older people who would appreciate another teapot handle,  easy to open doors or well designed garden tools. Think how popular the so-called “pensioner trolleys” in supermarkets have become.

So far from being frivolous, I think inclusive design is becoming increasingly important to the quality of our lives – and is an area which deserves investment in this era of cuts.

We will be holding a ‘twitter conversation’ about inclusive design at 11am on Monday 13 February 2012. If you are interested in design for an ageing population please join us by using the hashtag #ageukdebate

Find out more about Agenda for Later Life 2012