Designing tech for 'seniors' should mean designing tech for everyone

A wide range of people—and ages—are lumped in together under the "senior" umbrella. Rather than focus on the "elder tech" market, an inclusive design approach makes better products and services for everyone.

'Tech for seniors' wrongly assumes they're a monolithic group.

Residents follow moves made by humanoid robot 'Pepper' during an afternoon exercise routine at Shin-tomi nursing home in Tokyo, Japan, February 2, 2018. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

For many people, new technology can be an overwhelming, ever-changing, amorphous thing. And for many older users, it can start to feel like digital products aren't designed for them.

Ian Hosking

Ian Hoskinga researcher in technology design for the elderly at the University of Cambridge, argues against lumping a wide range of people and ages under the "senior" umbrella.

"There are seniors who embrace technology, they love technology, they find it liberating. And there are those who are literally scared of it," Hosking told Spark host Nora Young.

These days, there seems to be no shortage of new technology being designed for older folks — from phones with big buttons and hearing aids that use GPS data, to "smart shoes" that will notify someone if you fall.

"We've seen attempts at the senior market come and go," said Hosking. "If you just lump people together, say over 50 or 60, it's not helpful from a marketing point of view."

To that end, Hosking said that tech companies need to think not only about the design of their products, but the design of the marketing and support as well. "We need to look at products in terms of their functions, but we also need to look at it as a journey of use. And you have to get people started the right way, and early success is critical."

Empathy is one of the key aspects of good design.- Ian Hosking

Rather than focus on the "elder tech" market, Hosking is a champion of inclusive design. "There will always be the need for specialist products and services and they are very, very important," he said. "But the more we can do in the mainstream, then the more accessible that becomes in terms of the availability of those products and services.

"It's not possible to make a single product useable by everyone, but you can certainly include a lot more within that process."