Worth-centred mobile phone design for older users

Renaud, K. and van Biljon, J. (2010) Worth-centred mobile phone design for older users. Universal Access in the Information Society, 9(4), pp. 387-403. (doi:10.1007/s10209-009-0177-9)

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The twenty-first century society fights against an inherent tendency to over-classify and label people. In the case of the aged, despite all efforts, the perception of the helpless, feeble older person still prevails. The truth of the matter is that people over sixty often do not fit this profile. The aged are a heterogeneous group with varying different skills and abilities in many different areas. This paper challenges prevalent mobile phone design decisions that appear to have been made based on the erroneous pre-conception of the incapable elder. Designers currently produce “senior” mobile phones that are, at best, inadequate and, at worst, insulting to a sector of society that deserves respect and consideration. Age does indeed influence mobile phone usage, and people over sixty often have specific and special needs, quite apart from age-related limitations, that predict their use of mobile phones. Most mobile phones designed for older users simply reduce the number of features: the so-called simplification approach. Apart from reducing the effectiveness of the phone, this approach often incorporates the fatal design flaw of using numbers or letters, on speed-dial buttons, which requires the user to remember the button–person mappings. In fact, this design rationale reduces the value of the phone to the user. This paper argues that mobile phone design for older users should be worth-centred (Cockton G in Designing worth is worth designing. In: Proceedings of the 4th Nordic conference on human–computer interaction: changing roles. Oslo, Norway, pp 165–174, 2006) rather than simplification-driven. The worth-centred approach maximises worth to the user of the phone. This is achieved by maximising effectiveness while accommodating reduced capabilities. To maximise ease of use, and consequent accessibility, features may have to be reduced in an informed way. To facilitate this, a mapping process is proposed whereby user needs are linked to uses of the phone, and then to the features that facilitate these uses. Needs fall into a number of categories, and each category is characterised by a number of different uses, which form a usage space. Features can be linked to one or more usage spaces, and thus be used to support needs. The first step in the conducted research entailed the identification of the needs of the older mobile phone user. Then, it was determined whether these needs were indeed being met by the uses afforded in existing phones. Having concluded that most users’ needs were not being met, the next step was to capture data on the needs, limitations and expectations of people over the age of sixty. This was achieved by conducting a series of one-to-one interviews with a number of older mobile phone users and also supervising a participatory design experiment. Using the findings of the analysis, a usage space model is proposed, which serves to align feature inclusion with user needs. Based on this usage space model (the theoretical contribution), a prototype mobile phone design is presented as the practical contribution of the paper.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Renaud, Professor Karen
Authors: Renaud, K., and van Biljon, J.
College/School:College of Science and Engineering > School of Computing Science
Journal Name:Universal Access in the Information Society
ISSN (Online):1615-5289
Published Online:23 August 2010

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