Technology being used in a human way, not as a driver but as a support — not that is wonderful idea to behold isn't it? We spoke to 25 year old designer Emily Groves who spent 2016/2017 working with our partners at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design. Her research looked at how technology could be used to strengthen social ties for older people. We would suggest that Emily could go one step further, as her insights will make life more connected for all of us. Read the first step in her research rooted in real people.

Words by Emily Groves.

I’m an experience designer from London currently living in Lausanne, Switzerland. I spent the last year working at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, a design research centre at the Royal College of Art in London. The Centre specialises in Inclusive Design; celebrating diversity through a human-centred approach to design. 

I was running a research project that looked at how technology could be used to strengthen social ties for older people. 

The Centre encourages a methodology where designers work directly with individuals to gain a greater perspective on the challenges and opportunities that exist in their day-to-day lives. So I spent a lot of time with older people at activity groups, cafes and their homes to find out about their social lives and the part technology had to play in it.

Unsurprisingly, I found a huge variety in older people's confidence with using phones, tablets and computers. But more interestingly, it became clear that a lot of older people were becoming disconnected from their local communities because of poor communication. For example, local newspapers were no longer publishing events, and activity groups had poorly designed websites and only infrequently posted out information about their events.

This led to the decision to design a digital directory of local activities that would provide up-to-date information for a range of interests. To reach as large an audience as possible, it had to be accessible on personal digital devices as well as in public spaces. To develop ideas further, I set up workshops and interviews with older people.

The outcome was a proposal for an app and public information hub that clearly advertised local events and activities. The app avoids things that older people find off-putting, such as technical jargon, confusing transitions and digital profiling.

The solution also decided to have a no technology version, where paper print outs were available for those people who don't use the internet at home or prefer more physical forms of communication. These proposals are now being developed and will hopefully soon be rolled out to keep older people more connected with their local communities. 

"A society where age does not define us will be a society where people are seen for being themselves; wonderfully different and wonderfully similar to everyone else."

Emily Groves.

In addition to Emily writing her project up for us we asked her views on the importance of the human connection. This is what she had to share with us:

"...I don’t think my age defines how I think about myself, as I feel like the voice in my head has always seemed, and will always seem like me. Maybe my age gives me some context to reflect about how I am living my life, or a way to compare it with others, but in reality you really can’t ever make any equal comparisons about anything, so I should probably stop doing that!

When you first meet someone, I think how old you are probably does change how people think about you, in the same way that other aspects of your appearance do such as your hair or clothes or voice. But hopefully that rubs off over time as people know you better for your actions than your appearances. So, I do like spending time with people of all ages, particularly those who are older than me. I think this is because I feel like a more essential version of myself.

I think that people can gain perspective, variety and fun from spending time with people of other ages. You can see situations in a new light and integrate opinions different from your own into your outlook. Because, older people often think they’re boring you when they talk about the past, but I actually find it incredibly interesting to hear about people’s day-to-day lives from when they were younger. It’s amazing how those experiences can sound so familiar and different at the same time.

Younger people are just other people and other people always have something to teach you; be it a recommendation, an insight or a different way of thinking about things.

A society where age does not define us will be a society where people are seen for being themselves; wonderfully different and wonderfully similar to everyone else."

"I think that people can gain perspective, variety and fun from spending time with people of other ages."

Emily Groves.

If you liked the story above, we think you will also like these related stories from our In—Common library.

Be age confident

07.04.17 - Technology

The Age of No Retirement follows the women disrupting sexism and ageism in the (more)

Talking chairs

04.07.17 - Technology

Full time carer Victoria Lee is asked what she would ask for if she (more)

The answers lie in the crowd

13.12.16 - Technology

Norman Lewis, Head of Crowdsourcing at PwC passionately argues the case for encouraging all (more)

Read more of our In-Common stories here