Inside the head of a designer

Activeage and tackling lonliness
August 26, 2009, 9:41 am
Filed under: Uncategorized


Last week I visited my gran in her nursing home.   Having been so busy this year with graduating and various other things going on,  I felt really bad that I hadn’t been to see her in a long time.  The reason she was put into a nursing home was because she can’t quite take care of herself and she needs 24 hour care now.

I can’t help but think, had her mind been kept more active and she had interacted with more people then her rapid deterioration over the last year or so wouldn’t have happened and I wouldn’t have had to listen to my gran say that ‘the tv has been her best friend for the last 3 years’.  That’s extremely hard to swallow when you love someone so much.

And so, I felt the need to post this, after being flagged up by dominic campbell on twitter, a document from Activeage about lonliness, when I read the line that

‘older people are using their televisions with 48% saying the television is their main form of company.’

On looking further into activeage who I believe are based in Aberdeen, I discovered a recent report entitled, ‘The employability of older people‘, current issues and debate.

What caught me in the report were a couple of bulletpoints which summed up their discussion.

  • Policy makers need to understand the issues better and spread that to employers
  • There are some examples pioneered by a few employers encouraging ‘older workers’ to stay on but these were said to be too infrequent
  • We need to better understand what contributes to attitudes much more, by engaging with workers
  • We don’t really know what people want – there is no overview of the population
  • We don’t know enough about retirement and transitions to retirement
  • The demographic debate is still immature

Part of me, in the way I have been trained and my experience, thinks, hang on a minute, isn’t there a few things I could be of help with, being a designer and all that listens to people?  When I visited my gran, I couldn’t help but pull out my phone and snap a couple of poorly designed experience factors and products.  The worst being a huge push button emergency alarm with a blue, yellow and red button, not quite sure my gran can get her hands round it, it sits next to her bed and not next to her seat and I couldn’t work out what each colour was, never mind my gran who’s vision isn’t what it used to be.

I’m not sure if an overview of the population is going to work.  I’ve just read a document by David Blunkett which links to my ongoing work with mypolice, and states that we cannot come up with solutions that suit every situation, it has to be a community level up approach in terms of understanding, creation and implementation.  One shoe never fits all, although it would be interesting to come up with some form of solution which could be tailored to varying situations.

This post comes on the back of watching panorama’s ‘Gimme Shelter’ on Monday night which followed the change in policy of wardens on sheltered housing arrangements.  Wardens now would be visiting more than 150 people a day, if you calculate that on an average day of 8 hours, that works out as 3.2 minutes per person, not including moving between each resident.

In the last couple of years, I have seen a large amount of different designers tackling these problems, with briefs coming from consultancies, councils, leading technology providers with activeage linking up a number of educational institutions and service providers.  There has been some great work and interesting services and products created to aid our current ageing population ‘problem’, too many to list here, but I reckon a google search will flag them up.

Going back to the bullet points, ‘policy makers need to understand the issues better’, I think this sums up our current problem.  Our policy makers and government organisations that create the services our public receive need to understand what the problems are for themselves.  I once read and I wish I could remember where, that designers must have experienced the research stage first hand in some format to fully understand the problem and make design decisions.

I don’t want to ramble, but I have.  I’m hoping this year to work on a project which will be using new technologies to improve health-care to elderly residents in rural locations.  For me, the technology must become transparent.  We could give every elderly resident a laptop and skype but if you’d listened to the radio 4 programme on the public, most notably the elderly generation who are not digitally engaged (removed now) you’d realise when you hear,

“Why should I press the start button to turn this thing off”

You’d realise how tough it is, especially in attitude towards learning new technology, almost defeatest.  Saying that my other gran is enjoying her new blu-ray dvd player and recording dvds, if only she wouldn’t lose the remote down the side of her chair all the time.

Activeage flagged up this, finerday , which interestingly was designed by a care home worker.  It is an easy to use online social network with big colourful buttons, large text and simple functions.  I think it is commendable, and a great tool for perhaps 60 year olds but I still feel we’re missing a huge gap.  I’d love to of been able to give this and a laptop to my grans, but I really don’t think they’re going to be comfortable logging onto a computer.

I’d like to see more work on the tv as a way of accessing services, so if anyone has got any material, post it here.  Or simply share your thoughts on this current topic.

SI Camp Film
August 13, 2009, 8:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Thought I would add this over here: I’ve been working mostly on mypolice at the minute so there’s not been much time to blog!

Fantastic work by the people speak (Psnet) guys, capturing the Social Innovation Camp and condensing what happened in 48 hours into ten minutes.

They included some of the research Gayle Rice undertook in Glasgow on the Saturday, asking residents about what they thought of mypolice.  Skip in to the 4:00min mark to see it but the whole film is worth a watch!