Co-designing ICT concepts with older people: a legacy of the Sus-IT project

The Sus-IT project ran from 2009 until 2012 with the aim of helping older people to use information technologies for a better and more independent future. During the life of the project, the barriers to the sustained and effective use of ICTs by older people were investigated and  a range of solutions that combined both technology and social context were explored. In brief the project was able to:

  • Produce a conceptual model of the risks to sustaining digital engagement for older people;
  • Develop an innovative suite of tools, methods and guidance for working with older people in research and design of ICT-based products and services;
  • Formulate an ‘adaptivity framework’ to develop prototype software that helps to address problems encountered by people experiencing age-related changes in vision, dexterity and;
  • Produce a user-generated strategy for provision of sustainable, community-based ICT learning and support for older people.

Arguably one of the most engaging outputs has been the production of a design catalogue of 40 product concepts aimed at the ICT industry to stimulate new product development for the older market. These 40 design concepts were generated during four group ‘sandpit’ session strands, each carried out in close collaboration with older people. They covered the areas of: A custom computer for older people; Supporting memory and identity in later life; Combating social isolation; iPad apps for older people. The concepts show an intriguing mix of familiar objects with more advanced technological functions. In one such design, an everyday telephone becomes a ‘Photo phone’. Here, the standard functionalities of a telephone are preserved and augmented by the ability of the user to add electronic photos and then also share them with a caller. The idea behind this concept was stimulated by a desire to find social technical solutions to combating isolation and loneliness.

What further strengthens this approach is the nature of the methodology. By embarking on a process of participatory co-design the concepts encapsulate the authentic voices of the older people who are, after all, the intended end-users of these potential prototypes. This is a compelling message to send to companies building ICT products and also an empowering experience as older people become co-designers of their own tools and services.

Frolich, D., Lim, C., Woods, S. and Amr,  A. (2012). What older people want: A catalogue of co-designed ICT concepts. University of Surrey: UK.

Authors: Steven Warburton

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