Charli Edwards
Oct 3, 2023

Inclusive technology will improve wellbeing for all

Designers of digital products must respond to the needs of vulnerable groups and create solutions that foster connection and combat loneliness.

Inclusive technology will improve wellbeing for all

According to Centre for Aging Better statistics from 2019, of the four million people in the UK that have never used the internet, 94% are aged 55 and over, 84% over the age of 65 and 62% over the age of 72. 

Past the age of 60, the adoption of technology and digital products decreases sharply. That's partly due to a fear of learning something new, the complexity of products people have been exposed to and their cost.

I decided to embark on my own research, recruiting a very personal user to help me. Let me introduce Geoff, who is in his 90s, living alone and a self-proclaimed technophobe.

Geoff is my grandfather and is a confident, socially capable man. Like many others, Geoff was affected by the pandemic and the vulnerability and loneliness that came with it.

Geoff is renowned for his uncontrollable problem-solving skills, and I became intrigued by his appetite for digital tools and whether they could help him.

Digital communication tools, if developed correctly, could help older people embrace technology in an effort to create more independence and relieve loneliness for many people.

To gain insights from Geoff, I came armed with tea and cake. I took time to interview him to see how much he really understood about the technology available to him, whether that's online, traditional or mobile.

Using a set of pre-planned questions, I was able to gather Geoff's thoughts on the challenges of using modern technology to communicate with other people.

My questions surrounded daily communication, for example, how Geoff kept in touch with people and whether he had used platforms such as Facebook for video calling.

If the response was no, I wanted to find out why and what challenges they presented for his generation. I also wanted to find out what he liked about the digital tools and whether he would like to use video more when talking to friends and family.

To get a clear picture, I gave Geoff two devices – a mobile phone pre-loaded with WhatsApp and a tablet pre-loaded with Facebook Messenger. I observed him open a contact on both devices, type a message, add an image and start and end a video call.

I believe one of the barriers was perception. Geoff had a natural apprehension about the technology. He perceived it as complicated to use and wasn't confident in the activity.

However, through our chats, it transpired that Geoff had never tried video calling or text but he was comfortable with sending emails, so some technology-based experience was a plus.

A key insight was around the final question: he found it tricky to pin family down, so he would like to be able to set up "meetings". He struggled with the mobile phone much more than the tablet; the combination of smaller buttons and shaky hands made it difficult to type accurately and led to frustration. He did, however, find it somewhat easier to take photos and send them to the contact if minimal text input was required.

Geoff preferred the tablet and found it more accessible as the screen was larger, but the buttons still felt too small and caused some misspellings. It was also more awkward to take a picture because the size of the tablet.

So, what can we do as creators to combat loneliness and contribute meaningfully to independent living? It's about inclusivity. If you need a core demographic to adopt a product or service, consider how they interact with other demographics. 

Perhaps we need to think less about the masses and more about minorities when developing digital products that connect and assist communication.

Younger and more affluent generations are more tech savvy, yet it is the older generations and disadvantaged youngsters who stand to benefit the most from technology.

Building confidence in technology could open new markets and opportunities for young people, and build friendships and communities among the older generation.

This month, World Mental Health Day (10 October) is focusing on making mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority.

With the increase in social media and the impact that it can have, designers of digital products must respond to the needs of vulnerable groups and create solutions that foster connection and combat loneliness.

In his 90th year, Geoff wants an independent life and connections with people – this can be achieved with products that enable communication and boost mental health.

We need digital development that focuses more on the minorities and less on the masses. That would get Geoff's vote, and mine too.

Charli Edwards is creative director at Cavendish Consulting

Campaign UK

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