Novelty in Youth, Functional Fun in Older Age
Product developers and designers have often neglected how product value changes with age. Novelty alone often makes a compelling case for younger users to adopt a new device. Younger buyers are likely to purchase a product because it is a ‘must have’ fashion statement and adoption of a new product is sometimes more important for what it ‘says about me’ than ‘what it does for me’.
Consider the personal digital assistant or PDA. In addition to their inherent usability issues, PDA adoption has had its greatest competition from a time tested favorite technology -- the moleskin notebook. An older adult who manages only 100 or so contacts and enjoys the other ‘scribbles’ they put in their 'paper-based handheld' is not likely to invest time or money in a PDA.
Likewise, travelers that frequent local and familiar roads – roads that they may have traveled for decades – are not candidates for in-vehicle navigation systems. Often, the reason older consumers do not adopt these technologies is not due to "techno-phobia" nor usability. Instead, the technologies have failed to provide compelling value to a more discriminating consumer.
But, there is more to the design experience than fashion and function. What about fun? Nintendo has proven that age is not a barrier to technology use and adoption. How? Designing devices to be usable, functional and fun are key ingredients to Nintendo's global success with Wii. The much heralded Wii Fit has shown remarkable older adult adoption across the world. New Age Concern in the UK, for example, has teamed with Sports Leaders UK to introduce older adults to Wii Fit in multiple community centers. The photo on the right shows the mayors of Peacehaven, Newhaven and Telscombe, UK in a Nintendo Wii Fit warm up session at a senior center.
- "It's the value stupid." Product development and design for an older consumer has focused primarily on the most basic needs of usability. Usability, universal or otherwise, is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of product purchase, adoption and use. The older buyer is the new alpha-consumer demanding a complete and integrated package of high usability, high fashion, high function, and ultimately - high value.
- Beige is not a color. Quite often the noble focus on usability has resulted in less than exciting products. Health-related devices and mobile phones, for example, often have easy-to-read easy-to-use interfaces but are typically packaged in basic beige or clinical blue with limited functionality. Designers must see universal design principles as a beginning, not an end. Exciting and delighting the customer is a requirement at all ages.
- Show me the fun. There is no physiological nor psychological reason why fun is not a design element for older adults. Rather than a problem of the user, it is instead the lack of imagination of designers, engineers and market researchers. Products such as Nintendo's Wii, even 'old fashioned' card games, show that older consumers must be made excited to buy, use and adopt.