Implementing Contextual Design for the Aging
Grace Cha, IDSA | Sidney Brinson, IDSA | Jessica Lee, IDSA | Claudia Rebola
Georgia Insttiute of Technology
Incorporating technologies in product design can provide promising opportunities to better assist older adults. Traditional design approaches may not be sufficient when designing technologies informed by the physical, perceptual, and cognitive decline that humans experience with age. Contextual Design is an effective method for designing implementable technology for older adults because it employs a variety of different research methods to enable the designer to understand the user in his or her context. This paper presents the structure and steps of the Contextual Design process and its application with a case study, KeepSeek, an interactive shelving unit designed to bolster social connectedness in older adult communities.
The Contextual Design method, which provides a rich and qualitative understanding of who an intended user is, allowed the KeepSeek design team to tailor their approach in designing for and with older adults.
After reviewing existing literature on older adults, it was discovered that older adults often explore new housing options. Due to these transitions, they may lose social connections, have difficulty maintaining daily routines, and consequently lose their feeling of independence. Existing products intended to aid older adults in feeling safe, socially connected, and independent were reviewed, and the designers each conducted disability simulations to personally experience the effects of auditory, visual, and tactile impairments. The design team also conducted on-site observations and interviews at a local retirement community as part of the Contextual Design method’s approach to data collection. The data was analyzed and infographics were produced along with typical design approaches (brainstorming, 2D & 3D ideation, prototyping, storyboarding) before reaching refinement and usability testing. Through the Contextual Design methodology and it’s rigorous approach to understanding the user in context, the designers learned first-hand that they cannot force technology into older adults’ lives and that the most effective solution often involves incorporating the least amount of technology possible. This guided approach led to the development of an unobtrusive product that seamlessly blends technology into the user’s lives.