This one is a transversal research line offering support to every project in the laboratory. It involves the use of the User – Centered Design paradigm to provide all the technological outcomes in the laboratory with the usability, user experience, and accessibility features required by our target population: older people and their whole ecosystem of integrated care.
Elderly form a very special segment of users. They are affected by age – related limitations such as:
• Reduced eyesight.
• Hearing loss.
• Memory problems.
• Changes in proprioception and coordination.
• Difficulties for using touchscreens due to skin dryness.
In addition, some of them face literacy and technological skills challenges. They can sometimes limit themselves in the usage of technology because they think they will not be able to learn to use new technology or have been restricted to do so by their loved ones so they don’t get into any technological risk (fraud, loss of data, etc.).
Our thesis is that elderly can take advantage of the technology if the design takes them into account, with their special characteristics and limitations. Interaction demands must remain very simple while not losing any informative capabilities.
Motivation is a key aspect for technology adoption. E-health monitoring systems can provide this motivation for the elderly, because they feel that technology can provide them a more regular contact with their physician, and that they are better cared for as a result.
The analysis of the results of extensive usability testing with older users of the e-health mobile applications developed in the Ageing Lab has shown that there are some generic usability heuristics that need some adaptation for this kind of users, and there are some specific guidelines to be considered.
Jakob Nielsen proposed 25 years ago a list of teen usability heuristics for user interface design, which have been widely adopted as the generic usability heuristics for application across different domains. Nevertheless, three of this ten heuristics need to be contextualized for this user population, as follows:
• User control and freedom: Older users need a more focused interaction, so there are less options to get the wrong path. A majority of these users have a low IT literacy, being a more directed interaction the most effective interaction design approach.
• Flexibility and efficiency of use: Efficiency of use is typically less important than the error rate for these users. Any strategy to make the expert user more efficient has the risk to increase the error rate, so designers need to be very cautious with this kind of interaction solutions, avoiding providing added flexibility if it can make the interaction more complex.
• Help and documentation: Extensive user manuals or online documentation is a burden for most older users. Alternative approaches like brief and focused tutorials or videos are preferred.
All the rest of Nielsen’s heuristics apply for older users, but we have found that Consistency and standards is the top priority heuristic to consider when designing a user interface for this user population.
Guidelines obtained for the design of user interfaces for older adults include:
• Use large fonts and enough contrast foreground/background.
• Avoid complex and long pieces of text.
• Provide focus.
• Don’t include multiple actions in one screen.
• Use both text and audio for every piece of instruction for the user.
• Use simple backgrounds and don’t use text overlaid in images.
• Avoid assumptions about knowledge of common user interface widgets or icons.