By Khoa Pham, Creative Director, K4Connect. The process for designing for older adults is much like designing for any other audience. You begin with research and guidance, gather user data, synthesize and interpret the data, prototype, test, reevaluate and iterate on the product until it becomes not just a minimum viable product, but a minimally lovable product. You may end up using some different tools, but the toolbox is still the same. Let’s talk about the tools.

We seek expertise from many sources ranging from physicians to painters, to gather information that allows us to create the best product. Vision decline is a major problem in older adults, so we seek out physicians from the medical community to help us understand what happens to the eye as it ages. Additionally, we consult with the National Institute on Aging, and Human Factors International for best practices to follow. Traditional color theory and paint schemes used in senior care facilities derived from Sherwin-Williams help inform our color palette.

From this research, we continue to discover that hearing loss, motor skill diminishment, and cognition effects were also factors to be considered. At a minimum, we commit to exceeding Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 AA standards for all our products. This gives us a baseline from which we evaluate color contrast and font sizes, user interface elements, and paradigms.

Using our baseline research, we incorporate traditional user experience methodologies to gather data about our users and their needs. We are fortunate to have great partner communities and seniors from which to gather data. Using ethnographic research methods such as field observation and interviews, we develop personas or user archetypes. This validates our decisions to design for real needs and situations. We invite our local users to be part of the design process as well. After distilling this data, we move onto prototyping.

Prototyping begins with quick sketches and whiteboard layouts and progress to low fidelity wireframes or comps. We create digital prototype tools to make comps and also create click-through prototypes, interaction designs, and assets. We also use an application to simulate varying vision issues, such as different degrees of red-green confusion and yellow-blue confusion, to approximate viewing our app through our users’ eyes.

Throughout this prototyping process, we constantly take wireframe and mockups to the communities and to our end users for their input. We conduct usability tests such as card sorting, task analysis, contextual interviews, surveys, and journey maps to help us refine the prototypes. And this process is repeated until we have a working product. This working product goes from design to implementation where it is coded, benchmarked and tested to make sure our product continues to perform well.

Even our K4Tablets are optimized for ergonomics and elderly use. Every tablet comes with an oversized, soft silicone case for grip and comfort. We provide stands so they can rest their tablets on a table. We provide a stylus with every tablet because they are easier to use than finger tapping on the screen and improves their accuracy.

The research for this population is always evolving. We learn new things every day and are therefore are constantly improving and discovering new possibilities. For example, currently, we are exploring tremor tolerant user interfaces, tweaking our color schemes, improving workflows, and simplifying tasks to better accommodate recent findings. All this effort is to make sure that it is effortless for our users.

Our goal is not just to create an app but to create connections. The app is merely the tool through which we enhance meaningful interactions with those connections. want it to be easy for residents to connect with their families. We want it to be easy for residents to connect and communicate with the staff.  We want it to be easy for the staff to connect with each other and know what’s going on. And to that end, we will use every tool available in our toolbox.