A Silver Field of Dreams

Las Vegas demographic dreaming. Today’s Silvers Summit at the International CES was an exercise in demographics — is it really fair to say that boomer and beyond is a market segment? Even to a novice, it must seem rather silly to clump everyone 45 and older as a buying segment.  Marty Cooper (whose tweets can be followed: @martymobile) wisely pointed out midday that demographics do not define a market.

The manual is the message. Marty, the super engineer who is credited with inventing mobile phones, also wisely noted that good technology products should be invisible and transparent. He likened a good technology product to a car’s transmission system — it is complicated, full of cooling, software, and fluid management systems, but few, if any of us, even know it is there when we drive our vehicle. (He also bemoaned the fact that most of today’s cell phone manuals weighed more than the phone itself.)

Young designers don't get older adults. And, while you are developing your boomer and beyond product, think about another Martyism – younger folks can design a product for older adults, but they can’t “think” like an older adult. My good friend, Bob, who is turning 90 this year, was bemoaning the same thing last week in a meeting where we all agreed that younger people speak a different language and he had a lot of trouble learning about technology from them. Note that Bob is an engineer and designed video technology products for much of his career.

Is chronic disease a design center? Mary Furlong mentioned the obvious: there is a high correlation between age and chronic disease. While this is a valid statement, this is a fact that many product inventors seem to over subscribe to. There are many healthy, well and vital older adults who vehemently resent being clumped into the chronic-diseased category — even if they have a chronic disease.

Crowd-sourcing a bus. The coolest potential app presented today was Tiramisu (tiramisutransit.com) brought to us by the folks at Carnegie Mellon’s QoLT Center. It is a crowd-sourced transit system that helps predict when the next bus arrives. It was universally designed, requires a smart phone and might be a vision of a car-free future. However, the reviews of the app state some of the obvious downfalls: it needs a lot of users to work well and it needs a fast GPS location finder to find you and the next bus that doesn’t suck your battery dry.

Speaking of batteries. Someone asked the question about how to optimize systems for older adults. My answer: find a way to get better batteries or a way to optimize battery life more effectively. Others mumbled about cloud computing and such, but honestly, if smart phones and smart untethered devices are going to be the core of our future healthcare and wellness platforms, we need better battery life. (Oops! I’ve fallen and my battery just died.)

Uh, design for over age 47.  Finally, here are a few of the statistics in the program for you to ponder. 55% of those 55-64 watch online videos. More alpha boomers (55-64) own an iPad or smartphone than any other age group. There are over 100 million Americans over age 47 (but, of course, that means there are over 200 million Americans 47 and under.) Design for all, anyone?

Simplicity in innovation

Boomers want products that are simple to operate, simple to set up and simple to maintain. This is why the iPad has become so popular among the alpha boomers. Medical alert systems have been used for over 30 years now. New products are coming out every year. The systems that are simple and effective are the ones that will survive in the market place.

Demographics

"There are many healthy, well and vital older adults who vehemently resent being clumped into the chronic-diseased category— even if they have a chronic disease."

So true! There is also a huge distinction between people who have chronic conditions and clear minds, and those who have healthy bodies and confused minds. Their needs are entirely different, especially when it comes to learning new technology. Seniors with memory impairment have lost a key part of their learning ability - short-term memory, which is the gateway to long-term memory and learning. They may require many repetitions of the simplest thing, such as where the power switch is, before they learn it. More designers and family caregivers need to consider the limited ability of people with early-stage Alzheimers and MCI to learn how to operate even simplified gadgets.

Merilee Griffin
Memo Touch, developer of the Memo

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