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A design for life

As the average age of the population goes up with people surviving many years more than their allegorical three score years and ten, the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of senile dementia will rise too. Many people can suffer symptoms for many years and yet live independent lives or at least with minimal care intervention, so it is critical for designers and manufacturers to take this into account if their products are to have usability in this group and help not hinder users.

old-woman-baking-cakes
Elderly cake baker image via Shutterstock

Adam Glasgow and Peter Higgins of Swinburne University of Technology, in Hawthorn, Australia recently offered seven general design points for appliances – ovens, washing machines, dishwashers etc – for older people with some form of dementia:

  • The use of spatial relationships in an appliance interface is not problematic
  • Make use of the lexical abilities of older persons
  • As older persons scan within a smaller useful field of view, and at a slower rate, than younger adults, interfaces that require monitoring across multiple objects confine them within limited field of view
  • Make graphical display and control objects distinctly different from each other and the background
  • To evoke an appropriate mental model of its operation, the characteristic features of graphical objects should reflect, where possible, equivalent objects in similar products
  • Make the objects in a display immediately accessible and limit information needed for the task at hand
  • Use perceptual training to ameliorate prolonged response times for comprehending complex interfaces, e.g., deciphering integrated features

They add that for appliances with several functions, the information display should adapt to the specific and immediate needs of the user to avoid distractions. The ultimate aim of this new approach to appliance design would be to extend the person’s independence at home and maintain or even restore their self-efficacy.

Research Blogging IconGlasgow A. (2013). The use of domestic appliances by cognitively impaired users, Int. J. Cognitive Performance Support, 1 (1) 40-53. DOI:

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