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Monday, April 12, 2010

Not the designer’s dilemma more the designer’s challenge

Joseph Coughlin, of MIT AgeLab has an interesting posting on his blog about the challenge facing designers when dealing when older people.

He uses the good example of the mobile phone and argues that you can either create a product that is specifically designed for older people. He uses the LG’s Migo VX1000 as an example of this type of product – paradoxically as can be seen it is designed for children rather than older people.I guess that gives substance to the argument that old age is like childhood?

Alternatively, he argues, you can provide the ability to personalise the ‘normal’ phone (i.e. features to enlarge display font size, functionality). He mentions Vodafone, in collaboration with Toshiba, in this context.

I think that Jo has missed out on a third option. It will not come as a surprise to anybody who reads my blog that this option is connected with apps.

His arguments are based on using the existing technology platform. You either use it to create a bespoke simple version or provide it with the functionality to enable it appear less complex than it really is.

The third way is that you abandon the old technology platform and create a new one. This is what has happened with the smartphone and the use of apps. The technology platform is larger in size and the functionality is a step-change easier to use than the old menu driven phones.

Jo raises an important point that he calls the designer’s dilemma.

The older consumer serves as the designer’s acid test of success or failure in resolving the trade-offs of function, form, fun and usability. The explosion of technological capability makes it difficult to resist more function even if the form it takes makes it unusable. If all functions are designed to fit, they must also be designed for ease of use. Greatly reduced function may result in a more usable device, but at the possible risk of not meeting the aspirations of the older consumer and alienating younger buyers. A product obviously designed for the old becomes an ‘old man’s product.’

That’s as far as it goes. What you should add is that the designer’s challenge is to create products where the building block of functionality is easy to use and can be combined with an unlimited number of other building blocks, at the discretion of the user, to create a personalised device (i.e. The foundation of the product is personalisation) . Welcome to the Apple iPhone app. Dick Stroud

1 comment:

Joseph F. Coughlin said...

Dick, as usual a very well reasoned critique and comment. Agree on all fronts. ICT-enabled devices, in particular, offer the capacity to acquire apps on demand in the form and function we desire - they are the answer to the older (actually any age) consumer's demand. What we see with the iPad, iPod, kitchen appliances and even our own, now ubiquitous, desktops is the ability and expectation to make a product 'my' creation. Not just the product of the designer/engineer/market researcher's imagination. Now, if I can only find my reading glasses to fix the defaults on my Blackberry.
Joe Coughlin, http//www.disruptivedemographics.com & http//agelab.mit.edu