This funny looking contraption was built by an “inventive grandson” (as he calls himself) to connect his granny to her grandchildren using the messenger Telegram. As she cannot use a smartphone, he created a device that grandma can use to send out voice messages and receive answers from her grandchildren in writing that then get printed. Three things make this brilliant in my eyes: First of all, the machines’ design uses metaphors that granny is already familiar with (plugging cables, pressing physical buttons) instead of abstracting it into a digital interface. Additionally, the system state is visible at all times, making it easy for granny to keep track and see what is going on. Finally, Yayagram is a perfect example of how the creative use of technology can build bridges between tech-savvy and less tech-savvy generations, fostering inclusion and bringing people together.
This last point got me thinking about where this “bridge–building”, enabled by technology, could be useful in the context of the projects we work on here at designaffairs.
The answer became clear when I considered which of the products and services, we design are the most likely to impact elderly or disabled people, who, in many cases, can be expected to possess lower technological literacy. Our previous and ongoing work on products and services in the MedTech and smart health sector provides perfect candidates to benefit from thinking about how the people close to the main user can be made part of the solution. Hence, this area is what I want to focus on in this article.
Even though a high level of technological aptitude can be a big barrier for users, as a designer, it’s tempting to argue that the solution you come up with is only possible when you can expect a certain level of tech-savviness and that your users just need to go with the times. However, with this mindset, we are making things too easy for ourselves. Designing in a user-centric way means finding a way to adapt to your users’ capabilities – be it direct by reducing complexity or indirectly by involving their surroundings.
Fortunately, this line of thinking is expanding throughout the healthcare industry, especially, with the unprecedented rise of connected medical devices. Today, such connected medical devices have provided manufacturers and businesses with greater capabilities and opportunities to design, build and scale health solutions with more efficiency. I want to talk about some product areas and their potential next steps to an even more user–friendly and inclusive design in that category.
Where can technology bridge a gap?
Medication reminder apps are a prominent example of how software solutions can involve family members as a fallback mechanism. Many popular apps offer a way to integrate family members or caregivers that will be notified in case the user forgets to take their medication. What if we combine a software solution like the ones described with a modern approach to medication dispensing as we imagined in this article? Not only could the danger of forgetting to take your medication be reduced, but also dosing or administering errors could be prevented by having a dedicated dispensing device in your home that can support you in taking your meds. Simultaneously, it enables other family members or healthcare professionals to be involved in the process by keeping track of your medication intake and making that record available remotely. In case a medication does not come in pill form but needs to be injected, DEARY, the holistic smart packaging solution we imagined for Takeda could be the next step beyond medication reminder apps.
Another interesting area in which involving the social circle of someone can have a hugely positive effect is geriatric oncology. Since the dawn of consumer-facing virtual reality goggles, the medical industry has been trying to utilize them for treatment in many creative ways with mixed success, depending on the use case. A promising application of VR is to use it as a way of distraction during the often very painful treatment sessions that come with some forms of cancer. However, since operating a VR headset requires a high level of technical proficiency and a certain amount of trust, it could be difficult for elders to accept this as a form of help during treatment. One way to combat trust issues and the lack of tech-savviness could be to integrate family members and friends into the persons VR experience. No matter where the nephew is in the world, he could join his grandpa in virtual reality and take care of the set-up of their activity as well as provide comfort and reassurance. In a similar vein, virtual reality applications are already being used to distract children with a fear of needles while getting vaccinated.
The last area I want to touch upon revolves around companion robots for elderly people. While the different options that are available today try to solve similar issues like preventing isolation, compensating for a lack of social interaction and in some cases even offer basic personal assistant functionality like reminders, we can see two quite different approaches. Some companion robots embrace a typical robotic look, coming with big screens and rolling around on wheels with shiny white bodies, while others try to disguise their robots by designing them like a cat or a puppy. With mistrust in technology being quite common in elders, the first design approach will often face acceptance issues that can be very hard to overcome. After all, what use is the most capable companion robot, if Grandma is scared of it and hides it in the corner? Creating a companion robot that resembles an animal can greatly help to reduce mistrust as it offers familiarity to a generation that only got to know robots very late in life. Apart from this benefit, there is another very interesting “bridge–building” opportunity that comes with an animalistic appearance: Since the design itself does not lend itself well to establish a direct dialogue between the robot and the user (cats usually don’t speak) the robot could act as a silent observer instead of an active dialog partner. If something unusual happens to the person it’s keeping company (a fall, failure to take medication etc.), it could communicate this via a smartphone app to their family members. This very non-intrusive way of keeping a (remote) eye on an elderly loved one could make it much easier for them to accept this kind of control mechanism.
Inclusive MedTech solutions can help to deal with an ageing population
Our population keeps getting older and older, which means there will be far fewer younger people able to take care of the elders. Decreasing the direct human interaction component in elderly care without sacrificing warmth & connection is one of the big challenges we are facing now and in the future. If we want to keep and even raise the standard of elderly care despite our ageing society, creative technological solutions to the problems we are having today will be crucial. Even though the Covid-19 pandemic has caused many elders to embrace certain aspects of technology (Zoom, WhatsApp etc.) more than ever before, a lot still feel alienated by complex technical products and the solutions that we come up with, will have to consider this. They can only improve a person’s life if that person is able and willing to make use of them. This can of course happen directly or, like in the examples described in this article, indirectly with the help of their environment.
At designaffairs, we look at the status quo and think about the next steps and beyond.
While designing for the future, we constantly ask ourselves what is needed to keep the user at the centre of our ideas. And while we avoid making things overly technical just for the sake of it, the use of innovative technology is often part of a great, user-focused solution in the end. With the examples I talked about in this article, I hope I could make things a little more tangible and show you how creative technology fits into the bigger picture of how we bring user-centric products to life. If you want to learn more about what we can do for you or are thinking about joining us, we are very happy to hear from you.