„Nebeneinander wird miteinander“ – from Coexistence to Cooperation
As life conditions improve life expectancy grows and therefore society as a whole is growing older. This phenomenon, often called the Demographic Change, as every new situation, yields problems as well as chances. And because growing old concerns everyone it is only fitting that the impeding change is the focus for a variety of interdisciplinary research groups (German).
With old age there are certain types of impairments we have to deal with, which can be summarized as the „Geriatric Giants“ – instability, incontinence, impaired intellect, immobility and isolation. At the same time our everyday surroundings are becoming smarter and smarter, offering new features, new functionality, new concepts and new conveniences along the way. This is the main concept of the Internet of Things (IoT). Those new, smart, connected things can also help us in dealing with old age and its impediments. However those already in demand for those smart things tend to shy away from technology for different reasons: fear to break something, too high complexity and others.
As a research group we want to find out what social factors constitute intergenerational cooperation in different kinds of households Especially the elderly suffer from increasing isolation, due to a number of factors. Decreasing self-sufficiency reduces their ability to trust, the frequency of (new) social contacts gets lower, family members live farther away.
Technologies, like Voice-over-IP to bridge large distances to loved ones, can help overcome these issues but elder people often find the embodiments of those technologies too complicated. Therefore we want to research how those new smart things can entice people to use them for bringing people together and keeping them involved rather than isolated and overwhelmed.
„Experience Design“ – designing experience itself
There are a lot of useful products which create pleasant experiences or decrease experienced impairment and almost all of those come with an own set of operating instructions and thus something new – e.g. a smartphone -, a lot to learn and a lot of pitfalls to avoid. This is especially appalling if you want to use only one certain feature, e.g. view photos, and suddenly are confronted with an operating system, software updates and account registration, just to name a few.
Therefore we want to shape experience not only for but with the users. Rather than designing gadgets doing what’s possible we want to know what’s wanted, and we want to know it from – and realize it with – those people using their resulting devices.
„Emotional Devices“ – experience designing things
Producing smart things which people like to interact with because of their experience from those things rather than just using them solely because of their functionality is our aim.
A Smart Device is any device which is wireless, connected, mobile and contains various sensors whose data can be interpreted in very different ways. Therefore the smart devices and their application tend to be more technology oriented.
However if we add the user to the design process and also factor in the experience gained from using the device as well as the motivation in encourages by its usage then we get something more: an Emotional Device. Those Emotional Devices are designed for their capability to encourage people to do nice things they want to but may lack the necessary situational motivation for. Nice things can be as simple as taking a walk, have a good conversation with their neighbors and thus regaining confidence, trust and self-sufficiency.
On the technical side these Emotional Devices are connected to each other via a moderation system which is installed in the extended living environment of the people, like the entrance hall of their apartment building. The moderation system does not only manage the technical data transfer but also provides further applications through an interactive touch interface inside a tabletop. The tabletop shall also bring people to interact with each other in cooperative, positive and fun ways throughout the generations.
Technological and ethical challenges
A lot of feature-overhead from smart things stem from their implementation and requirements, like registering an email address in order to obtain secure passwords (and retrieving forgotten ones) to access personal services. In order for users to avoid details unnecessary to them and therefore increase their user experience we have to find a homogenous way for a very diverse set of things to communicate with each other. Another challenge will be to realize functionality while adhering to data security and data privacy regulations or encountering related issues and concerns not regulated yet.
„Participatory Design“ – designing together
As said before we want to design and develop Emotional Devices with the people using them. But we also want to know how they (re-)act designing their own does-what-you-want-device, what motivates them, what encourages them, what engages them. In understanding the design process also from a user’s point of view we can increase acceptance of IoT-technologies and their result as well as lend arguments in order to reject undesired or detrimental technological developments.
Therefore the residents are continuously involved in the design process, be it through workshops, summer schools, in our design laboratory or in their everyday life, exploring and evaluating their self-designed rapidly prototyped Emotional Devices.
Change is hard.
However smart things can help us if we want to change our habits for our own good. As such we want to explore the possibilities of designing and using IoT devices and applications in order to bring people together in ways that don’t feel intrusive or imperative but which feel good to use and encourage users wanting to change.
Since we want to increase beneficial communication, participation and cooperation we also want to lead by example. So if you think we should be interested in your research, don’t hesitate to contact us. Of course, if you’re interested in our research, you’re welcome to contact us as well.