What Makes You Feel Connected?

Facebook touts it “…helps you connect and share with the people in your life.”  In what other others ways could technology connect you with the people in your life? Could a lamp or a pillow do that?

ApartmentTherapy.com alerted me to Pillow Talk by the design firm Little Riot, which is designed to connect two long distance lovers, but I change that to two long distance people who love each other.  “Each person has a ring sensor they wear to bed at night, and a flat fabric panel which slots inside their pillowcase. The ring wirelessly communicates with the other person’s pillow; when one person goes to bed, their lover’s pillow begins to glow softly to indicate their presence. Placing your head on the pillow allows you to hear the real-time heartbeat of your loved one.” Be sure to watch the video.

The first time I heard of techie, glowing, subtle connection innovations to connect people was in 2003 from Eric Dishman of Intel when he described the Presence Lamp,  “…a simple off-the-shelf motion sensor on a lamp. It could let an adult child know that Mom, who is 85 and living alone in another home or city, has gotten home safely and is sitting in her favorite room in her favorite chair. The system would turn on a lamp in the home of the person the elder chose to share that information with-and vice versa, because we found that the elders weren’t really willing to do this unless it was a two-way street. They wanted to know when the person they cared about was home, as well.”

There are many ways technology can connect us in our personal lives with those we love. How do you use technology to remain connected?

The New Royal Carriage

Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall ( formerly Parker Bowles) used a mobility scooter, because of a broken leg, as she presented Afghanistan campaign medals to soldiers of the 4th Battalion The Rifles at Bulford Camp on May 5, 2010 in Salisbury, England.

What is the impact of a celebrity highlighting aging, frailty, and in this case the temporary use of mobility assistance? Who can identity the make and model of the new royal carriage?

Everything Designed with Everyone in Mind

Every wonder how great it would be if everything was designed with everyone in mind? Samsung did. They introduced the Samsung 4-door refrigerator. The fridge has a counter height drawer that puts things easily within reach.

What is important to notice is the absence of someone representing a later lifestage. In fact, the lack of an older demographic in the commercial probably helps Samsung reach out to people who might have been scared away with the special design that could accommodate a special need.

What would happen if you stopped marketing your later lifestage product or service directly to that demographic and removed them from the marketing conversation completely? What new ways would you create to excite and engage people?

Lifestage Focused Award Winning Window and Door Products

It is becoming increasingly important to create living environments that allow people to live in their own homes of choice for as long as comfortably possible.

Builders and housing developers can help extend livability in a home by incorporating design solutions that maintain quality of life and independence as people age. Milgard is a window and patio door manufacturer that develops universally accessible products with a user-centric design process.

An example is Milgard’s patented SmartTouch™ lock, an innovation that made Milgard the first window manufacturer to receive the Arthritis Foundation Ease-of-Use Commendation, and  the only window manufacturer to receive a 2008 Bronze IDEA award for design.

Milgard also makes two vinyl patio door lines that come standard with the patent-pending SmartTouch™ door handle. The handle is recognized for one-touch ease of use, and is also a recipient of the Arthritis Foundation Ease-of-Use Commendation.

Be sure to download the Milgard white paper on “baby boomer behaviors toward livability and home ownership.”

Other companies and manufacturers need to join the efforts of Milgard to design products and solutions that support people to live in their homes longer, more safely, comfortably and enjoyably.

Walker Balls – Can’t We Do Better?

Have you seen the Walker Balls accessory for mobility walkers? This Patriotic themed pair are available at Amazon.com for $4.95 a pair. They are advertised as an inexpensive alternative to the standard rubber tips on the rear legs of walkers.

Rubber tips don’t glide well on most surfaces.  They are great for stability while standing still, but their stickiness requires the user to slightly raise the rear legs of the walker to take a step forward. This maneuver requires balance and upper body strength, which can be difficult for some who needs to use a walker in the first place. As the durable medical equipment suppliers keep producing and selling walkers with rubber tips an adjacent industry grows, the Walker Ball industry.

The question arises, why don’t the “metal bender” (not my label but their own) durable equipment manufacturers understand how their walkers are modified by consumers and incorporate the needed hacks into the original design? The need to customize everyday objects in order to make it useful is disgraceful design. Customizable objects to reflect your personal style are welcomed.

Here again is a problem for design-thinkers to solve. The challenge continues and it welcomes your talents.

Your Product Personified

I met Antonella, Ashley and Natasha via a New York Times article, Before Creating the Car, Ford Designs the Driver, by Phil Patton. “Antonella is an attractive 28-year old woman who lives in Rome. Her life is focused on friends and fun, clubbing and parties. Natasha is a “a tech-savvy “social achiever”” and Ashley  is “a cool mom.”

These people don’t actually exist. They are imaginary characters created by Ford Motor Company to capture the personality of intended customers of specific car models. These colorful avatars bring to life piles of statistical research and demographic data to create a shared image for everyone working to create the next hit for Ford. I find this approach is very valuable in articulating and relating to the nuanced, multifaceted demographic data of the over 40 consumer.

Age Well Character

I was inspired to define an ideal composite character for GoodDesignAgeWell.  I chose Ashley as the core character because she is described, according to Ford’s internal research documents, as a mom “who, like the vehicle, represents an update of traditional family priorities. She shops at T. J. Maxx, H&M and Target  and“friends are part of her family.””  The concept van also fits the vision of a family vehicle that is designed well and integrates lo-tech and hi-tech concepts that make daily life better;  built-in hand sanitizer and sunscreen dispensers, storage hooks to transport scooters and strollers, large underfloor storage, constant Web access, and an RFID electronic tagging system to track, via the onboard computer, important items you don’t want to forget or lose.

In addition to Ashely,  I see GoodDesignAgeWell is more than a single character, it is a family of personalities.  Building upon the Ford research I believe Ashley’s family shares similar values and attributes across multiple generations and most notably, family members are also friends.

multigenerational family

I also put greater importance on the role Ashley plays as the family medical manager and wellness coach.  Her focus on safety and wellness is illustrated well with the photo of the concept van with Harry Allen’s International Design Magazine (I.D.) 2009 packaging award winning first aid kit for Johnson & Johnson. Available at Target.com for $18.49

Ford First Aid Kit

Other Key Points on the Value of a Persona:

•    Personalizes the ideal buyer
•    Articulates common values and attitudes across boundaries of nation and language
•    Equally effective for concepts and for products in production
•    Importance of pleasure and preference in buying choices vs. older, rational models of buyer behavior based simply on price or other hard factors.
•    Design is critical
•    “We now focus quite a bit on aspirations and dreams.”


Age Well Product and Branding Champions


I was inspired to offer a counterpoint to a blog post by one of our favorite life-stage bloggers, Laurie Orlov,  titled “Vendors Who Should Target Boomers and Seniors – Part 1 & Part 2.” Orlov advocates major brands to “create messages and acknowledgements of these [boomer and senior] segments.” Nuanced messaging that captures the joy of life is the type of conversation consumers want to have with their brands of choice at all stages of life.

Good design obviously exists in product design, but it also exists in service design as well as branding and advertising. And as Diane Vondrak Bright shared with me. “good design is just that…design that is good. Good for all, inclusive and counters exclusion.”  Over time I have collected examples of major brands that offer products and brand messages that are inclusive and counter exclusion. Upon closer examination some of their products are beautifully and subtly targeted towards consumers with special needs.  However, the overall brand experience welcomes everyone.

All of these products provide value across the age spectrum and they are found by consumers who recognize their value without marketing to fear and frailty. These examples are a guiding light for other companies trying to initiate a consumer-conversation with certain life stages.

Logo Products

The GE Profile™ Single-Double Wall Oven is a winner.  Wall ovens can be installed at a convenient height.  Universal design standards recommend installing the wall oven with at least one rack at the level of an adjacent counter top, reducing the need to bend, improving accessibility and making it easy to transfer a heavy, piping hot pan of Grandmother’s lasagna to the counter.  Other notable features include self-cleaning, easy-to-read graphics, an easy-grip handle, an oven lock-out switch, and generous interior lighting.  But the best feature is the shorter oven doors that allow simple access to each oven cavity and take up less space in the kitchen. No more bending and reaching over a full size oven door.

Timex, one of the best known watch companies in the world, reached its milestone 150th Anniversary this year. Throughout its long and rich history, Timex has remained at the forefront of advanced technology, developing iconic and internationally recognized timepieces. From the first mass-produced, affordable pocket watches to Indiglo night-light, the company’s propriety watch illumination technology, has been driven by the advancement of state-of-the-art timekeeping.” Timex further demonstrated their innovative spirit by teaming up with Core77 to conduct a global design competition.  The Timex Easy Reader ($45) is worn by a key adviser to GoodDesignAgeWell.  He is a stylish design-savvy Gen-Y’er whose other watch is a luxurious Breitling.  But he loves the Timex for its classic design that is appropriate for any occasion.

OXO‘s full range of products are must have for any kitchen.  Their products are distinguished for their purposeful use of universal design – a philosophy of making products that are easy to use for the widest possible spectrum of users. Even the name  “OXO” has universal elements, because whether it’s horizontal, vertical, upside down or backwards, it always reads “OXO.” The tools are useful for the overworked hands of professionals chefs, a parent with a baby in one hand and a task in the other, or sore hands that have lost a little bit of their gripping power.

Now the best for last.  The Wii by Nintendo is by all means a run-away intergenerational success that has created a huge following and even Wii Bowling tournaments and virtual leagues. This user-insight video from Nintendo subtly and superbly captures the essence of Wii and how it connects with consumers.


Games for Health Competition

Humana, one of the nation’s largest health benefits companies, sponsors Humana Games for Health (HG4H), to understand how video games can be used to encourage people to have a more active and healthier lifestyle.

HG4H is launching the InsertCoin competition on June 11, 2009 at 9:00 a.m. EDT.  It will conclude at 5:00 p.m. EDT on September 9, 2009.  The competition is for new game concepts that are innovative and entertaining enough to motivate kids, families and seniors to be more active or encourage them to make healthy decisions.

If your idea is selected, you could win a cash prize and have the opportunity to commercialize your ideas. Winners will be announced and posted online at http://www.HumanaGames.com in mid to late November of 2009.

While exploring HG4H be sure to watch the HG4H video for a dose of inspiration:

“The judging panel will be looking for game concepts that are fun for kids, families, seniors – or all three! What we are not looking for are the traditional food, fitness and disease management games.  Since we want people to actually want to play these games, your game idea(s) need to be fun!  In addition to being fun, your game idea(s) must have some sort of health benefit – whether it’s motivating people to move, or just encouraging them to make healthy decisions for themselves and their families.”
The game idea(s):

•    will be judged in 3 competitive categories; Kids, Families, Seniors (65+)
•    can be for single or multi-player games
•    can be played on a video game console, PC/Mac,  mobile device
•    can incorporate accessories, such as GPS, acceleromter, gyroscope, etc.
•    can be used in with fitness gear, like bikes, running shoes, or skateboards
•    can not use technology at all

$10,00 will be awarded as follows:
•    $5,000 – 1st Place Prize
•    $3,000 – 2nd Place Prize
•    $2,000 – 3rd Place Prize

Download official rules here.

During our travels, online and offline, we encountered two games that might be contenders; and will hopefully enhance any user-insight game development sessions.

Memic, A Game of Dance

Stanford University – Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school), offered a two-quarter interdisciplinary course, Design for Agile Aging, in Winter/Spring of 2008 to bring perspectives from Computer Science, Design, Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Medicine to develop projects that address the potential of people to maintain vitality and mobility as they age. The projects found innovative ways to integrate computer and device technologies with behavioral and social interventions.

The Spring quarter final project was Memic, a 2-way TV intergenerational dancing experience that creates social connectedness, encourages physical activity and feels more like fun than exercise.  The video explains it well.

memic - dance, play, connect

memic - dance, play, connect

The available presentation explains the concept in detail and offers more insights that pertain to the intersection of fun, physical movement and technology.  We thought the following key points offer ideas on how other existing health technology devices can offer a more attractive experience to the consumer.

  • More people responded to “Dance” than “Exercise”
  • With family = more fun + more motivation
  • Children give (adults) permission to do silly things
  • Intergenerational, coaching dynamic

Bounce, A Common Experience Game

Bounce Telephone Game

Bounce, A Common Experience Game is another game to be played by members of different generations. Ken Goldberg, Irene Chien, Jane McGonigal, and Greg Niemeyer developed Bounce for an expo in San Jose, CA for ISEA in 2006. The game is a tool to engage people of different ages in conversation. During a web-supported phone conversation, the game prepares questions that one young person and an older person answer together. This way, they discover a number of things that they have in common, and perhaps some things that set them apart.

Continue the Conversation…and Bring Your Best Game!

Age Well – There’s an App for That.

What’s great about the iPhone is that if you are wondering how to Age Well, there’s an App for that.

If you are wondering how to record your health symptoms, there’s an App for that.

Health Calendar $2.99

Health Calendar $2.99

If you are wondering how to amplify distant or quiet sounds, there’s an App for that.

Amplitude $0.99

Amplitude $0.99

If you are wondering how to stop smoking, there’s an App for that.

Health Calendar $2.99

Health Calendar $2.99

If you are wondering “What did you do today?” there’s an App for that.

Memiary $0.99

Memiary $0.99

If you are wondering how to dial phone numbers for your mom, other siblings or Facebook friends by choosing a photo, there’s an App for that.

Dial By Photo $0.99

Dial By Photo $0.99

If you are wondering how to manage your medications, vitamins and supplements, there’s an App for that.

PIllboxer $0.99

PIllboxer $0.99

If you are wondering how to integrate the sounds of a cheering crowd into your workout playlist, there’s an App for that.

Cheer For Me $0.99

Cheer For Me $0.99

Yep, there’s an App for just about anything.

User-Insights on Hi-Tech and an Ageing European Population

We like this video because it contains the reactions of older adults to technology prototypes for cognitive exercise, social connection and home monitoring.


From our POV there isn’t enough user-insight research available today to understand the perceptions and attitudes of this group toward technologies specifically designed for them.  It is also interesting to note that many of the features of the prototypes are available today in market ready products.  Some examples included; Dakim for cognitive fitness, Kinnexxus for social connectivity and GrandCare for home/health monitoring, cognition and communication.

The user-insights reveal positive attitudes toward technology balanced with realistic expectations on how technology can play a role in daily life, while not being a cure all. This begs the question of why is there a low adoption rate for age aware focused technology solutions and what can be learned from the user-insights?

User-Insight Quotes


“I like it. It keeps my brain working. It opens my brain up. And even though I am quite old I can learn new things.”

“Many people live alone and technology can help.”

“New technologies can be useful. They can help me to fill some gaps. Things that I cannot do by myself, for instance when I cannot move from home, or they can let me know if I have forgotten something.”

“I have just started using these new technologies…these prototypes have been my very first experience using hi-tech. It’s fun but I usually need the help of my grandchild.“

“How many people live alone at home?  Many. We are many.  And we spend lots of hours alone, isolated, without being contacted by anybody.”