Older people and product design

Industry’s ideas about the usability of their products doesn’t match those of older people. That’s what the Centre for Modern Ageing found in their survey of 1000 older people and product design. Given Australia’s ageing population, product designers should focus more on making everyday products more user-friendly. That means taking a universal design approach and using co-design methods.

A word cloud created a visual representation of how many times respondents used a word to describe the difficulties they have with product design. And these are everyday products. The image is from the report.

A screenshot from the report showing a word cloud. Words include difficult, small, expensive, complicated, poor instructions, impossible, frustrating and disappointing.

Key findings from the survey

Key findings focused on products older people use in their daily lives.

  • 93% said product usability supports independent living
  • 43% rarely or never seek assistance to operate the product even when dissatisfied with product usability
  • More than 50% believe products are not user-friendly.

The Image is from the report.

A graphic showing the different issues with product design. Opening mechanisms, weight and handling, safety, connectivity and compatibility, inadequate instruction, remotes and interfaces, small print and complicated technology

Grip issues related to slippery handles, tight lids, weight of products, and small text on labels and confusing instructions weren’t helpful either. Product packaging is also a challenge and probably not just for older people.

Electronic devices with menus and different functions as well as issues connecting devices to others and to networks were difficult and challenging.

The title of the report is Empowering Older Australian with Better Product Usability. Go to the Global Centre for Modern Ageing to download the report for more detail.

Help for product designers

The Inclusive Design Toolkit from the University of Cambridge has an Exclusion Calculator to show how many people can’t use a design due to their level of capability. It covers most of the issues discussed in the report. It’s an excellent online resource for product designers.

The Universal Design of Products and Services has more detailed information which includes guidelines on body size.

Note that some designs are potentially covered by the Australian Disability Discrimination Act.

Useability of small kitchen appliances

A busy array of small kitchen appliances and cooking utensils.

Meal preparation is something most of us do every day. It’s not until you can’t do it that you realise how much it impacts on wellbeing, independence and quality of life. 

Researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee worked with General Electric to develop an audit tool they can apply to the design of their small appliances. The tool can be used by engineers, retailers and individuals as well.

The title of the tool is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT). It includes 7 features: doors, lids, dials, on/off water reservoirs, buttons and “ready” indicators. Both physical and cognitive conditions were considered in the development of the tool.

The title of the article is Small Kitchen Appliance Accessibility and Universal Design Information Tool (SKA AUDIT).  

The Pain of Design

A work table is filled with paper and folders and a woman is cutting a piece of paper with scissors. It looks like a group of people are working on a design.

Arthritis is a common condition and is not often referred to as a disability. However, the pain of arthritis is disabling. So how to design out pain? Design Council ran a workshop with people with arthritis. They found that no-one was interested in special products, which are often stigmatising. So the principle of inclusive design became the top issue.

“Inclusive design is crucial. You have to step away from the idea that it’s “older people” having a problem and start looking at a universal problem and therefore a universal solution.”

They found the most important thing is that people want desirable, stylish, mainstream products that anyone would want to own. People don’t want medicalised, stigmatising equipment. Clearly, including the user-voice is the way to design for all rather than the mythical average. 

The article is titled, Ollie Phelan of Versus Arthritis writes about the importance of the end-user being at the heart of design, and can be accessed on the Medium.com website where there is more information.

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