The Wall

Slow progress today – the ball is definitely rolling though.Beth and I went to the QMB to speak to some older folks about the possibility of holding a focus group next Tuesday when there are people in the drop in session. I was surprised that they were quite receptive to our offer – they come to these sessions to socialise and get some fairly unobtrusive help with IT, so I worried that they wouldn’t be too bothered to be sidetracked for half an hour or so.I got chatting to a nice man named B.D. He told me that he would want to use services such as these to conduct his shopping but he simply can’t. Another woman we spoke to didn’t seem keen to talk to us, saying, “why should I help? I don’t use it?” Obviously that is even more beneficial for us, but to our subjects its maybe not too clear what we’re doing, or what their involvement is. That’s not a problem however – these issues will sort themselves out in due course.So that’s that done. With a bit more time before next Tuesday, we can refine the focus group and get writing the report a bit more in advance. Now for the fun stuff. Today I assembled my wall and began analysing the key themes from it. A lot of what I extracted was quite specific information on how to design inclusively, so I was more concerned with analysing the information that could lead to some definitive insights around loneliness and the mental health of the elderly. For those that aren’t sure what I’m actually doing, I’m investigating how tangible technologies can be used to connect older adults to the digital world, developing almost a handle into the intangible. This collides with my interest in loneliness and social isolation, and possibly how digital technologies can assist people in taking control of their social and mental health problems. A few things that I found out were that older adults absolutely love gaming. My aunt used to send me invites to FarmVille on a daily basis. My Dad’s side of the family arguably loved the Nintendo Wii more than I did when I got it. And it turns out that my family aren’t the only ones. Around 1/4 of older adults play video games in some form of another, whether that be on computer, iPad, or phone. Gaming is a social experience, and it is the fastest growing entertainment sector. Once simple side-scrollers for kids, blockbuster releases like Call of Duty and FIFA are arguably more hotly anticipated each year than cultural phenomena such as Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. I don’t really know why, but I linked the ideas of gaming and socialisation and my own previous experiences with building and maintaining virtual relationships with the problem that I’m looking at – especially in regard to it’s current pertinence with older people. Also interesting and totally sad is the research I’ve done into loneliness itself. Never before have I come so close to tears doing research – there is so many harrowing and heartwarming videos online of older adults who have loved and lost, some struggling, some overcoming. Reading up on facts is one thing, but actually seeing these people discuss their issues, seeing them so visibly upset almost brings a tear to your eye.Once all of my research was arranged, I split the wall up into 4 themes – “Social Isolation and Loneliness”, “Digital Inclusivity”, “Tangible User Interfaces” and “Gaming” – and jotted down key points on sticky notes and compiled them together. From there, I split them up into ideas, eliminating but obviously saving stickies for later that I thought were more secondary sources of information (facts and stuff). From these curated key points, I began to construct 5 key insights and consequent challenges, which go a little something like this. – There is a disparity in the online identities between young and old. How can a product be designed in order for it to be a level playing field of interest? – Gaming and Digital Technologies need to have some semblance in the real world. Just like it’s unhealthy for young people to be holed up playing video games 24/7, it is unhealthy for older generations too. The activity of social play needs to meet real life action. – Tangible Interfaces and Digital Technologies, especially when gamified, are a focal point for conversation starting and create a basis for storytelling. How can these technologies act as a gateway out of social isolation by helping people express themselves? – Tangible Interfaces can act as a reminder and connection to our friends and family. How can Tangible Interfaces act as a method of awareness for the needs of our loved ones? – Gaming can be used as a vehicle for expressive communication, especially when words can sometimes fail. This can be vital for older adults, who may still maintain a stigma around opening up and talking about their mental health.These are pretty cool challenges, and it is important that I decide cleverly what my next moves are. I want to sit down with some older people and discuss their experiences with loneliness – this however, may be quite difficult to do. Preferably, I would break the research into 3 segments – getting to know my users properly, then responding to their issues with simple ideas and prototypes, and then testing a fully formed prototype with them later on. My job now is to go seek them out, and find out who those users are!

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