by Edalene Tay
How old are you now? How old will you be in say, 30 years time? Well, if you are going to be 55 years old or older – hello there, next generation senior citizens.
Sure, you are still young and everything is going well for you – having a well-earned steady income with a healthy body and I’ll-party-like-there’s-no-tomorrow lifestyle. But I kid you not, time flies and before you know it, your waist starts growing sideways, your body breaks down every now and then, your memory starts to fade and poof! There’s no denying, you are a senior citizen.
Gadget shopping with my mom these days isn’t much fun because we always seem to leave empty handed. It’s too small. It’s too heavy. It’s too complicated. It’s too ugly. It’s too old. It’s too old? Well, Mom, you’re just as old. (Just kidding. Don’t tell her I said that.)
The thing is my mom is aging. Her eyesight isn’t as sharp, she doesn’t have the strength she used to have, her hearing isn’t as good and knowing all that, she still wants something that makes her feel like she’s still able to own and function something cool and up-to-date all on her own.
I can’t blame her, because that’s probably what I’d also feel when I turn into a senior citizen. The only difference is that I’d probably still be more digitally savvy than she is. But in 30 years time, how would things have changed digitally? Has the digital world done enough to cater for the elderly?
Just taking the iPhone as an example. I got one for my mom. She loves it. She likes how it has a big enough screen, how ridiculously big I’ve made the font in her SMS messages look, how she can easily check her emails. And the greatest achievement of all for her is being able to plan her traveling route by knowing how long it would take for the bus to come through a bus service app.
While Apple did a great job in catering for the elderly with the iPhone, most of the apps in the iTunes store don’t seem to cater for the elderly at all. While the phone came with customisable settings for the fonts, the fonts within the app don’t get changed together in the setting. Yes, there is the accessibility option for zooming. But let’s be honest, it’s quite a pain to use.
Then there are complicated remote controls with more buttons than what we bargained for. I’m sure you have seen some of your grandparents either randomly pressing the remote controls because they can’t remember which are the buttons to press, or just memorising where main buttons are because they can’t see the labels of the buttons or the icons are badly designed. And with the increasing release of interactive TVs, keeping the controls and navigation simple would be an uphill challenge.
Designing with the elderly in mind probably would give you an edge over the rest that either doesn’t or focuses exclusively for the elderly. Take the Spin & Go Pro mop for example, its appeal isn’t just that it’s a mop that cleans with very little effort, it’s also a mop that anyone can use. It no longer takes a lot of strength for one to mop the entire house. Was it designed specifically for the elderly? Not exactly.
The first design that Spin & Go Pro came up with had a foot pedal. It fulfilled its promise of hands-free wringing, but it required you to balance on one leg, using the other to step on the foot pedal. In the latest design, Spin & Go Pro managed to come up with a design that didn’t require a foot pedal, instead, you just have to push the handle of the mop down and it spins. Now the latest design is better suited for the elderly to use.
So app builders, web builders or anybody in the digital production team, my appeal to you is to start thinking about catering for the elderly. It doesn’t need always need to be a priority for sure, but it doesn’t mean that it should be disregarded entirely.
There is still quite a long way to go in designing for the elderly and we need to keep improving the situation because in 30 years time, I’m definitely not going to be happy with being stuck with the technologies of today and be denied the chances of enjoying the technologies of tomorrow.