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DESIGN RESEARCHER (M.DES THESIS)

UNIVERSITY

Emily Carr University of Art + Design

TEAM

Myself

DURATION

9 months

TOOLS

Figma, Photoshop

Intergenerational Aid in the 21st Century

In an era where essential services like banking, healthcare, and travel have rapidly digitized, seniors often struggle to adapt, impacting their independence and dignity. This necessitates reliance on digital support from younger generations and family members for tasks such as technical setup, troubleshooting, and navigating online services. This case study delves into such support dynamics, emphasizing the importance of accessible and inclusive design to mitigate the digital divide and empower elderly users.

Research Question

What factors influence this intergenerational digital support between seniors and younger generations? What is the role of technology and its design in this context?

Outcome
  • Utilized both quantitative and qualitative research methods to thoroughly research with various stakeholders.

  • Conducted 13+ interviews, 10+ participatory workshops, precedent studies, and 1 year of service learning.

  • Thematically analyzed data to derive key insights.

  • Developed a comprehensive stakeholder map and strategies for each of them to enhance digital support for seniors.

Interviews

I conducted interviews with 13 research participants to understand their personal experiences and individual perspectives on intergenerational relationships, technology adoption and familiarity with digital products.

Workshop 1

A hands-on participatory workshop was designed and conducted with 10 participants, exploring the theme of 'support' as seniors age independently.

 

Insight: Helped identify what seniors considered their key support systems and preferred means of accessing them in the near future. 

Workshop 2

The second activity probed into the idea of reciprocity between generations in today's world. It allowed participants to “make” and “explore” while conversing, allowing for more unconscious thoughts and beliefs to surface.

Insight: It gave a glimpse of what the current younger and older generations wish to 'give' and 'receive' from each other.

Precedent Study

I also conducted a precedent study to understand the pros and practical concerns of existing products and services that aid seniors with digital technologies. 

Insight: Barriers like affordability, access, awareness, etc., affected the large-scale adoption of these services.

Service Learning

The research was also fundamentally informed by my experience as an Information and Referral Desk Volunteer at the West End Seniors' Network, an NGO offering social and community support for seniors in Vancouver.

Insight: Observed the impacts of digitization on the day-to-day lives of seniors while spending quality time.

Context

A Global Ageing Crisis

As the proportion of the global population over 60 is projected to double from 12% to 22% between 2015 and 2050, society must adapt by enhancing inclusivity, design, and care to meet the evolving needs.​

Rapid Digitization & Seniors 

Older adults use technology significantly less than younger generations, due to affordability, access, usability challenges from age-related afflictions, inexperience, and disinterest.​

Intergenerational Aid 

Technology challenges among the elderly are a collective rather than an individual issue.​ Nearly half of seniors require assistance, typically from younger family members, friends, neighbors, or community members, to set up and learn to use new electronic devices. 

Warm Technology

While technology offers immense benefits, its complexity and impersonal nature call for 'warm technology,' a design ethos that enhances life quality through inclusivity, social connectedness, dignity, and self-reliance

Research

This research used methodologies like health design thinking and participatory design to empathize with the people's daily lives and learn from their expertise. Participatory design is a collaborative approach that allows for the participants not just to be objects of empathy but active participants in the research. (Bon Ku & Lupton, 2020) A variety of research participants like seniors, younger persons, community volunteers, family members, etc., were recruited to bring in diverse perspectives and lived experiences. 

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Thematic Analysis

Primary data gathered from the interviews and participatory workshops were initially organized into codes individual to each participant. A thematic analysis helped rearrange these codes based on similar themes and identify threads of compelling perspectives to map key insights.

Key Insights

Stakeholder & Strategy Map

Investigating intergenerational digital support highlights the complexity of enhancing digital literacy among the elderly, revealing that it's just one piece of the digital inclusivity puzzle for seniors. The need for support exceeds what younger family members or friends can provide alone, underscoring the importance of collective action from communities, governments, and technology companies. A systemic approach is essential for a sustainable solution to this global challenge. Below, we outline strategies for various stakeholders to bolster digital literacy for seniors.

Reflection

  • Feedback from the workshops indicated a preference for these interactive sessions over interviews among both seniors and younger participants. The inclusion of colorful stickers, cards, and activities infused the workshops with excitement and enthusiasm.

  • Moreover, I noticed engaging in physical activities made it easier and more natural for participants to articulate their thoughts and ideas.  

  • This exploration into a wicked problem helped me realize that systemic issues often require multi-fold and interconnected action involving various stakeholders. Designing for this context requires iterative and incremental improvements involving multiple tiers of social support. 

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