People-Focused Design For An Ageing Population

By Olivia Chandler

24 January 2018

People-focused design is one of our most valuable tools. We believe that successful ideas rely on an understanding of people’s morals, preconceptions and needs. To demonstrate this, here’s how I used people-focused design methods to develop a product called Ami.

Ami is a digital companion, designed to give older people a simple way to manage their online medical records. It aims to build confidence, by enabling supportive connections with medical professionals and family members. 

Whilst Ami tries to fulfil the practical medical needs of older people, it was important to create a desirable and appealing product in it’s own right – something often overlooked in this market.
The Ami Prototype

Defining An Opportunity

By looking at healthcare topics such as the confidence to self-treat, first aid awareness and the ability to manage minor illness at home, my initial research suggested that there was an opportunity to ease the pressures facing the NHS. The research suggested that the greatest impact would be achieved by focusing on the ageing population.

To confirm this, I spoke with NHS experts who work closely with older people. In doing this, informal caregiving emerged as a reoccurring theme. Informal caregiving is where someone, usually a family member or friend, performs unpaid care duties like cooking, housework and helping out with medication.

Informal caregiving impacts many different groups of people. By focusing on it, there was an opportunity to to provide better solutions to help older people, their families and friends, and then, in turn, the NHS.

Understanding People’s Needs

Speaking to both the older people and those who provide their care was essential in order to gain a sympathetic understanding of the relationships.

I ran an activity based focus group to uncover the unspoken needs of the users. The aim of this was to elicit an understanding of where the project could offer them something unique that could make them feel empowered and positive. The activities were designed to make the group feel comfortable and gently introduced them to a personal subject in order to gauge their comfort zone.

The group were quite forthcoming and many were happy to share enlightening stories. Primarily I learnt that, for the older people, being able to live in their own home and to keep track of their personal medications had a huge impact on their positivity, wellbeing and confidence.

A people-focused design workshop in action

Speaking with real potential users was really encouraging, it reassured me that the project would be worthwhile and could bring something meaningful to many people.

With the project objectives defined by the users, the Ami product was beginning to take shape.

Visualising The Goal

Whilst the Ami product had no physical form at this point, what it would do for the user was quite well defined. 3D storyboarding was a flexible and engaging way to explain how the two users (the older person & their care-giver) would interact with the product and each other. 3D storyboarding allowed me to iterate very quickly and easily change the scenario if required.

A 3D storyboard provides an easy way to visualise the thoughts and actions of users, which can then be saved as photographs. Having a storyboard with characters acting out a scenario was a really great way to explain the project to people.

3D prototyping

Designing With Users

I used co-creation workshops to help me decide how Ami would look. This process allows users to choose shapes, colours and materials to make sure the physical form had the right personality. This was key to ensuring it was interpreted and understood by people as I hoped it would.

Once the first prototype was created feedback from users helped to determine the success of the final Ami prototype and make suggestions for improvements in the future. The co-creation workshop

The Project So Far

The Ami concept provides the blueprint for a friendly and desirable smart home companion. The product provides an intuitive way for older people to connect with their medical records, provide updates, receive reminders and share information with their caregivers. The device acts as a bridge to encourage conversations and remind both people that they are there for each other. 

People-focused design methods enabled me to understand the needs of two different demographics and design a product to serve those needs. During the product development process, people-focused design methods ensured that users were at the heart of all design decisions. By constantly seeking feedback and listening to personal stories, my hope is that Ami represents a positive step towards the development of solutions that improve ageing for everyone.

The Ami project was exhibited at the OXO Gallery in London and is regularly featured on Behance, having had over 2,800 views.