By Dr Deborah Morgan, senior research officer, Centre for Innovative Ageing
We are all familiar with that moment when we get a new phone or table pc, we open the box, charge the device, turn it on and the interface feels unfamiliar. You click on something, and you don’t know how to change the screen, do you swipe up? do you click back? Nothing happens. The whole interface feels unfamiliar, clunky, and overly complicated. You feel disappointed, frustrated, and are ready to put the device in the draw and forget about it. Trying to find a solution to your tech troubles is time consuming even for those of us who have digital skills and are familiar with technology.
So, imagine if you are new to technology. How would the above scenario make you feel? This sense of unfamiliarity is a reality for people who are new to technology. Yet they lack the knowledge or skills to find solutions, so they give up and the smart phone goes in a drawer to be forgotten. Although there are launcher apps available to simplify the interface of smart phone and tablets these are either too restrictive and designed around what tech developers think older people want. Furthermore, they are often based on ageist stereotypes and assumptions. Or the apps are too complicated and aimed at a younger market, and you need knowledge and some basic skills to download and use them.
This was the starting point for a seedcorn project Adjust Tech – Accessible Technology funded by Cherish De and supported by Awen Institute.
The team, comprised of social gerontologists, geotechnologies computer scientists, alongside partners from Digital Communities Wales, and Digital Voice for Communities in the North East of England, worked with older people with limited technology use, to co-design a new launcher app.
Over three workshops we explored common issues with technology, what our older co-designers liked and disliked about the existing apps, and what they would like an app to look like. In the final workshop the computer scientists demonstrated the prototype app that the group had co-designed. They were delighted and excited to have something tangible that they had developed.
Co-producing or co-designing solutions with end users brings substantial benefits in terms of wider health wellbeing outcomes as well as increased confidence in using technology and basic skills development. This was reflected in feedback from our co-designers who stated that involvement in the workshops gave them increased confidence, and they felt listened to.
The key benefits of a co-production approach are seeing older people as assets and recognising their capabilities and supporting them to achieve them. This can include supporting other digitally excluded populations to have a voice and to develop digital skills, develop online safety skills, support social connections, improve social cohesion, and decrease social exclusion.
Furthermore, co-producing a solution gives end users a sense of ownership and pride over the application which can provide an opportunity for personal growth and development- empowering them to participate in other activities within their communities, or to act as ambassadors for digital inclusion.
Co design is a reciprocal relationship. The co-designers highlighted an issue in a lack of understanding of the icons used in mobile phone and tablet technology. This was something they felt was important and we could help them address. So, we co-developed an Icon booklet with the group, thanks to additional funds secured from the Open University who partnered on the project. This , is now available bilingually, in both hard copy and digital versions. We are actively seeking funding to make the prototype app a reality.
We have also co-produced a podcast to accompany the project where you can hear more from our co-designers and partners about the project and the benefits of co-design.
Co-design needs time and older people need to be front and centre of the process. We need to start with them and what problems they want to resolve. A world of possibilities opens up, when we design with people for people. Co-design can be widely used for more technological solutions, or interventions, or service design. When you think about it, the possibilities are endless, aren’t they?
To access the Icon Booklet, please click here
To access the podcast, please click here