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.


12 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you for posting on this, I found it very thoughtful as well as thought-provoking. Rather than posting the post I wrote, I just thought you might like to see this..

Comment by Sian

No I haven’t Sian, but I will be definitely sending an email forward to them.

Thank you for posting this!

Comment by sarahdrummond

This is what I will most likely be focusing on in my masters sarah! Let me know what your thoughts are on the subject as I will be undertaking a variety of live projects over the next coming 2 years, most of which I will focus towards this area! facebook it!

Comment by pedro

You wrote “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” Your selfish life style seems to have kept at least one person away? Entirely your own fault she likes the tuning card more that you

Comment by john

Hi Sarah,

This is Lilla from Finerday. I was so pleased to read you article. Thank you … really refreshing.

This is an area that I feel gets too little attention. There is huge potential to help the people that need more support, via the TV. Less technically aware people are more accepting of the TV and there are a number of new net top devices about to be launched that will easily enable the TV to be an internet device.

Carry on the great work!

Comment by Lilla Harris

Sorry John, but I don’t understand your comment about “how my selfish lifestyle kept at least one person away?”

Perhaps my phrasing is a bit off.

Maybe some rephrasing and a bit of background information is needed.

I feel if she had more people visiting, for a longer period of time, with more constructive activities to undertake with her, then she wouldn’t have deteriorated so much in the last year as she has done.

She had visitors, she even had a warden visit a couple of times a week, but this time was brief, and all the time inbetween, she was inside in her flat watching tv as she found it increasingly difficult to get out. There is no mental stimulation there and constructive human interaction, this is the area where I see opportunity for intervention.

My lifestlye has nothing to do with this issue so I’d rather leave it out of this and the majority of our family live outside of the UK.

Comment by sarahdrummond

I’m so saddened by John’s comment, using your personal experience to publicise such a moving an important issue is very brave, to have someone respond in the way John did disappoints me.

It would be very interesting to know whether it would be possible to intervene and slow down an older person’s deterioration. I’ve learnt, since my Dad’s early dementia, that the UK’s medical profession does not invest heavily in to research in to how age affects older people’s brains, and this angers and saddens me. It feels like a mixture of campaign, positive examples and new sorts of products and services are needed.

And, for me, the one thing not needed is someone making a judgment on my or someone else’s lifestyle.

Comment by Sian (SianeP on twitter)

Kicker Studio recently did an interesting internal project, trying to consider lots of the issues you picked up on:

I always think it’s sad that projects that are so important have historically rarely had “really good” designers working on them (perhaps they just haven’t been seen as glamorous, or the money’s not there, or whatever), so it was good to see Kicker take it on. We as designers could have such an impact if the structures/projects/”clients” were there – or we took the initiative to create them (whatever that might involve, and I’m sure it would vary widely).

Comment by Mayo is a case study of how an older person benefits from ICT. I know you have seen it and liked it Sarah, but am posting it here so others can see it. I think it is a lifeline for people to retain their independence, and then if or when they lose it they still have a means of communication because they learnt it whilst still ‘young’. I know it is possible because I have seen it happen. If family can keep in touch even with skype it makes the miles disappear. Good luck with your project, it is very worthwhile.

Comment by cyberdoyle

I usually just read blog posts and ponder, rarely commenting, a sort of secret lurker but I felt I had to reply after reading your excellent post and the thoughtful comments (and of course the awful comment from John which warrants no further attention).

I know very little about service design (if anything) but have a number of older people in my life who steadfastly refuse to engage with IT (some of them not even trusting the tv) and I would like to thank you for considering how you address the issues you mention; totally agree that to get solutions you need to involve those working to support older people and ideally involve some of those older people themselves too. I also personally believe that it might be necessary (or beneficial) to involve younger people jointly in some sort of intergenerational working around this sort of thing.

Anyway best of luck with your projects, keep us posted on how they develop.

Comment by George Julian

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