Designing for seniors

XIV.4 July + August 2007
Page: 20
Digital Citation

ICT design for elders

Jonathan Livingston

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I'm pleased to showcase recent developments in information and communication technology (ICT) design for aging users. Addressing elders' needs presents unique opportunities and challenges for design and user-experience professionals. Traditionally, we focus on innovative products aimed at youth and midcareer professionals. ICT products for elders are different. Instead of offering business or entertainment functionality, these products often provide necessities of life for aging consumers. A "needs/attributes/solutions" approach can help us understand what's driving innovation toward these new families of products.

At the core, elders need physical, mental, and emotional well-being, just as we all do. To address these needs, elders seek ways to assure their independence, security, and connectedness with friends and family. Often these attributes connect with the concept of aging-in-place, that is, remaining at home or in a familiar community for as long as possible.

Several families of ICT solutions incorporate these attributes, allowing elders and those close to them to attend to their needs. These solutions include health care, cognitive strengthening, memory support, living environment monitoring, and social interaction systems.

Each of these needs, attributes, and solutions points to future directions for further innovation. You'll notice that each author addresses one or more of these themes in their articles. I hope these themes will capture your imagination, and that you'll add your ideas and contributions to our virtual conversation.

Selecting among potential contributors for this special section was truly challenging. Despite its novelty, ICT design for elders is attracting a talented and growing range of innovators. In these next 24 pages, you'll find developments by leading-edge researchers, product developers, and innovation advocates in this emerging field. Here's a "one minute madness" version of what lies ahead in this special section.

  • Susan Walker and Michael Sarfatti from the Silicon Valley-based SmartSilvers Alliance offer an initial survey of issues around ICT design for elders.
  • University of Manchester's Sri Kurniawan shows us what her research has revealed about the attributes elders want in a mobile phone.
  • Sara Basson and colleagues at IBM's Ability Center explore the opportunities for speech interfaces to meet the needs of older ICT users.
  • Boris De Ruyter and Elly Pelgrim of Philips Research Laboratories showcase emerging technologies under development at their CareLab facility.
  • Alex Mihailidis and colleagues at the University of Toronto¬óorganizers of the June 2007 Second International Conference on Technology and Aging¬ógive a look under the hood of their prototype artificial-intelligence-based system that reduces the workload of caregivers assisting patients with dementia.
  • Jay Lundell and Janna Kimel of Intel's Digital Health Group highlight the challenges of real-world usability studies in the homes of elders.
  • And Michael Merzenich of Posit Science shows what his usability team has learned on the way to developing a user-friendly brain-exercise program for older adults.

To go beyond what we can present in these pages, refer to the bibliography below and the references accompanying each article. Better still, check out the working groups at CHI and UbiComp, and if you're in California, the panel discussions organized by Stanford Center for Longevity, the MIT Club of Northern California, and SmartSilvers Alliance.

Much remains to be done before ICT for elders delivers fully on its promise. Emerging technologies and new usability paradigms must be productized, and this can succeed only if we get the user experience right. As a first step, we'll need more real-world assessments and validations of the design and usability concepts that our authors are developing. Then we can expect to see a robust flow of innovation from the lab to the marketplace, to better serve the aging population.

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* Further Reading

Burdick, D.C., and S. Kwon, eds. Gerotechnology: Research and Practice in Technology and Aging. New York: Springer, 2004.

Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST). (2006). "Imagine - the Future of Aging." Retrieved April 27, 2007 from

Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST). (2006) "Transforming an Aging Nation." Retrieved April 27, 2007 from

Charness, N., and E. Bosman. "Human Factors in Design." In Handbook of Psychology of Aging, 3d ed., edited by J.E. Birren and K.W. Schaie, 446-463. San Diego: Academic Press, 1990.

Charness, N., and K.W. Schaie, eds. Impact of Technology on Successful Aging. New York: Springer, 2003.

Ellis, R.D., and S.H. Kurniawan, "Increasing the usability of online information for older users: A case study in participatory design." International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 2, no. 12 (2000): 263-276.

Fisk, A.D., W.A. Rogers, N. Charness, S.J. Czaja, and J. Sharit. Designing for Older Adults. CRC Press, 2004.

Gregor, P., A.F. Newell, and M. Zajicek. "Designing for Dynamic Diversity-interfaces for older people." In Proceedings of the Fifth International ACM Conference on Assistive Technologies. 151-156. New York: ACM Press, 2002.

Hawthorn, D. "Possible Implications of Aging for Interface Designers." Interacting with Computers 12, (2000): 507-528.

Hirsch, T., J. Forlizzi, E. Hyder, J. Goetz, J. Stroback, and C. Kurtz. "The ELDer Project: Social, Emotional, and Environmental Factors in the Design of Eldercare Technologies." presented at Proceedings of the 2000 International Conference on Intelligent User Interfaces. 2000.

Mann, W.C. Smart Technology for Aging, Disability, and Independence: The State of the Science. John Wiley & Sons, 2005.

Melenhorst, A., A. Fisk, E. Mynatt, and W. Rogers. "Potential Intrusiveness of Aware Home Technology: Perceptions of Older Adults." Proceedings of HFES 48th Annual Meeting. 2004.

Morris, M., J. Lundell, and E. Dishman. "Catalyzing Social Interaction with Ubiquitous Computing: A needs Assessment of Elders Coping with Cognitive Decline," in Proceedings of ACM CHI 2004. Vol. 2. Vienna, Austria: 2004.

Pew, R. W. and S.V. Van Hemel, eds. Technology for Adaptive Aging. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press, 2004.

back to top  Author

Jonathan Livingston
The Memory Project

About the Guest Editor

Jonathan Livingston is president of The Memory Project. He has spent 25 years in innovation management, developing technology-based solutions for non-technical people and bringing emerging technologies to market. His contributions have included energy-saving technologies and Web-based libraries, and he is now focusing on applications that support and enhance human memory. Jonathan has presented at major U.S. conferences and universities, in addition to the investment community. He holds a B.A. in psycholinguistics from Yale University and an M.S. in mechanical engineering from Stanford University.

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