Older people without access to a computer make up the massed ranks of the digitally excluded. This project with BT set out to develop creative new ways to connect the over-60s to the communication benefits of broadband.
More than 14 million people in the UK can be termed 'digitally excluded' and the majority of these are older people. Some have never had access to a computer and many are never likely to. Many older people cannot justify the costs of buying a computer or the complications of learning to use one. This means that they are missing out on the benefits of being connected to the internet in terms of information and services.
Perhaps the greatest missed opportunity is in the different modes of communication that broadband offers at reduced or no cost. This could be of specific benefit to many older people who live some distance from family and friends but wish to feel more connected. This project with BT set out to explore access to broadband that is thoughtful and creative and all about promoting independent living and choice - and not simply about providing hard-wired telecare solutions.
Tester design concepts
Six lead users aged over 60 were identified and interviewed in their homes. This group represented a mix in terms of age, gender, physical proximity to their family, living alone or with a partner, and urban and rural location. Six tester design concepts that visualised different ways in which the internet could be accessed without using a standard computer terminal were developed so that users could visualise potential benefits and react to new ideas. These concepts ranged from a piggy bank that displays your credit or debit card balance to a simplified keyboard that groups keys alphabetically and into logical clusters.
This research highlighted a number of issues in terms of who the outcomes should be aimed at and what technology should be used. In its latter stages, the project focused on the over-70s for whom cost is especially important, as is ergonomics of use such as tactility of buttons and easy-to-read displays. This group wanted any new devices to build on familiar interfaces and any benefits to be self-evident.
Two phones in one
The main design outcome of the study, the TwoTone Phone, addresses these issues. It is effectively two phones in one unit. The white face acts as a normal, cordless house phone but the black face is a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone that utilises existing VoIP services to allow calls to be made over a broadband connection. Turning over the phone activates its different modes: the VoIP mode does not have a screen but simply has six large buttons on which users can write the names of their contacts. The buttons turn orange if the person is online and flash when that person calls, with the added benefit of indicating who is available to chat.
Whilst designed with the older person in mind, the concept is aimed at the mainstream market. Users can connect the phone to their television in order to make video calls and the base unit also acts as a wireless router. Although the TwoTone Phone has a large number of functions, these are presented in a way that does not intimidate or confuse. The user can choose the level of functionality and adapt the phone to suit their needs. For the digitally excluded, it provides a simple way to communicate freely, using previously unattainable broadband services.