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Ilse Bierhoff engaging with workshop user
Netcarity: Ilse Bierhoff engaging with workshop user

Older people show creativity in design of technologies

(March 2009) Creative workshops run by Netcarity let older design technology and care services that best suit their needs.

Netcarity is pioneering an innovative approach to the development and application of technology for older people living at home. We invite older users of technology to choose how it works best for them. This has enabled a unique creative interaction between users and developers of technology. It will help to guide the installation and evaluation of smart home technology.

The workshops

In April 2008, Netcarity ran four workshops for 23 people in the Hof van Strijp complex in Eindhoven where many of its hundreds of trial homes are located. This followed a workshop by staff and volunteers from Smart Homes and SVVE.

Users become designers

Residents were given scenarios and asked to use ordinary craft materials to make models of devices that would be most useful. They were also asked to think about practical services that they would like to have.

The two-hour creative workshops demonstrated the value and benefit of putting users into the role of designer, says Ilse Bierhoff from Netcarity partner Smart Homes.

“Not only do we have valuable insights into how technology and devices can be developed around the needs of older people, this user centred approach to design has given the project a community of people who really feel included in the project,” she told Netcarity News.

“Our design specification for future devices is not being developed only by engineers, but by the users themselves.”

The scenarios presented to users were based around the Netcarity principles of inclusion, assistance, protection and health.

How one workshop user imagined a 'doorkeeper' to their home would look
Netcarity: How one workshop user imagined a 'doorkeeper' to their home would look

Workshop outcomes

After the workshops, the users were asked to share their ideas and explain their reasoning behind each design, including:

  • Screen size
  • Ergonomics
  • Colour contrast
  • Distance between buttons and handles to make each device easier to hold

Netcarity facilitators questioned each user during the process, which sometimes led to interesting changes in the design. One user, for example, had initially designed a device with a remote control. Then after a discussion they decided a touch screen would make the device easier to use.

“The creative workshops have definitely been a success. By changing the rules and turning users into developers we got a lot of very valuable information,” notes Petra Panis of SVVE, which helped run the workshops.

Feedback from the workshops will help to develop guidelines for the development of the most appropriate technology-enabled services for older people.

Ilse Bierhoff is a research project manager at Smart Homes. She studied in the Computer Interaction Department at the Eindhoven University of Technology and works on the use of smart home technology in the care and cure sector.