At today’s lecture, we managed to cajole Eric into telling us what he’s been up to recently. Eric has been sadly missing for most of the recent lab meetings, as it clashes with a Computer drop-in session at Age UK that Eric has been helping out with. This, as it turns out, is all part of Eric’s master plan (no evil chuckle required!).

Eric has been heavily involved with the HCT group for a fairly long time now, learning a lot about participatory design practices amongst other things. Simultaneously (inevitably?) he has also been gaining an increasing awareness of the difficulties faced by the slightly older individual (he cites his first pair of reading glasses as quite a defining moment in this). So he started looking to combine these two interests.

He quickly found that although designing for older people has been reasonably well-explored in academia, it has mostly been done from an external observation point of view. Very little of the work that he has found (in industry or academia) really seeks to engage with this audience, and get their input into the designs. He feels there are a few different reasons for this, such as different language and so on, but also that most designers are younger and find it easier to talk and spend time with their peers rather than their elders. He also feels it is not as easy to get access to the older generation for their views – channels such as twitter, facebook, and other social media routes are not as well used by this particular audience (although clearly there are exceptions).

So, Eric has created a website specifically looking to gather feedback on a variety of technical issues. posts news and reviews about various apps and pieces of technology, and solicits feedback via surveys. Eric then reviews the responses, and posts a follow-up post. He’s trying to keep the posts coming at a reasonable rate – aiming for one a month at the moment – and is using his contact with older people who (by turning up to the drop in centre) have an interest in technology to drive up interest. At the moment, his main aim is to build this site into a useful place for people to visit, but in the longer term he is hoping to link this with industry. He has a couple of ideas for this, from potential access to older, tech-savvy people, or potentially as a way to source panels of more naive users for companies to talk to (clearly all with the participants’ approval, and sharing any income generated!). This is still in the very early stages.

Eric is also talking about trying to reach out to older people who currently don’t use technology at all. This is a hard audience to reach, but could have some really key insights into the barriers they feel exist for them. He has already identified two types of problem that he sees most regularly: the accessibility issue – accounting for the physical and cognitive deterioration that comes with advancing years, and the more difficult problem of technical solutions not matching the outlook of the older population. It is probably this second category of problems that could be most helped by a more participatory approach. Jim also asked if he’d thought of offering a service for re-writing instructions, and Eric agreed that a lot of the time it’s not that they don’t want to use the technology, but they are scared off by the initial setup.

A proposal has also recently been submitted to look more closely at some aspects of this work, so fingers crossed for that!

(Eric also tweets on these issues. Anyone interested can find him there!)