Key transitions in later life involving disruption, displacement and dependency require new models of communication for older people.
This study explores opportunities for internet-based services during significant states of change.
A common misconception about old age is that life transitions are generally smooth and well-planned in contrast to the more disruptive changes of the teenage years. This project in partnership with the Design for All team at Nokia set out to explore the communications needs around key points of transition in the lives of older people. In doing so, the study discovered that disruption, displacement and dependency – more typically associated with younger people – were also features of later life, requiring new service design models to address the emotional and psychological needs of older people.
The Transitions study began with a broader look at the nature of communication and at how past mobile communication projects have addressed the physical demands of ageing. Research into the ‘situational’ aspects of ageing identified three common transitions in later life: moving house, retirement and sudden dependency through ill health. Research was undertaken with 13 older people, aged 62 to 83, from varied backgrounds in the Greater London area. Interviews, observations and responses to a research probe – an activity pack to stimulate discussion in a group setting – built up a picture of communication practice as older people travel, learn, socialise and manage their health.
The study revealed just how much older people prize their independence and mobility – and how that can be hindered by disconnects in communication. When people downsize from a family house to a smaller dwelling, retire from fulltime work or become dependant following a stroke or fall, these are the ‘tipping points’ that require exceptional communication support, whether such events are planned or unforeseen. An opportunity was identified for Nokia to respond to such needs through a set of internet services branded Nokia Transitions.
Six design scenarios were created to explore new service ideas. The three key transition events were examined from both an expected and a sudden user perspective. At the heart of the proposed system is an online contacts database. This enables individuals to input personal contacts and subscribe to relevant services. The interface is organised as a series of support circles stretching from family and friends to work, neighbourhood/community and citywide contacts.
Creating new ties
For those moving house, communication services called Post and Postcode enable people to keep in touch with old friends and contacts as well as create ties in their new community. For retirees, Family Vault is an online ‘scrapbook’ allowing the richness of family memorabilia to be shared across the generations while Link facilitates pairing of the newly retired with entrepreneurs in need. For people experiencing sudden dependency through ill health, Reach is a one-touch alert service for family and friends to be in contact with each other during times of need, and Corner Shop gives access to local services – from florists to taxis – in order to maintain independence and dignity while in this state of transition.
Collectively, these design proposals respond to the growth of ageing populations as well as Nokia’s future strategy of concentrating on internet services. Nokia Transitions demonstrates how a Design for All focus can be a catalyst for innovation, challenging stereotypes on how people manage the later stages of life.