For the past 16 years, the population of the U.S. has been dominated by older adults, and this trend is expected to continue in the years to come. It is estimated that by 2030, senior citizens will represent 20 percent of the population (72 million people). Many designers are looking for ways to overcome the challenges associated with adapting environments for this group, and most of the solutions involve incorporating health-related technologies. The crucial factor in this undertaking is gauging the extent to which technology can and will be used by older generations. Installed or not, unused technology is useless, and the best way to avoid extraneous tech is to turn to research.
The Technology Acceptance Model (TAM), a theoretical model first developed in the late 80’s and revised by countless researchers since may be helpful in guiding research to find out which new technologies are likely to be used by the older generation. Essentially, this model guides researchers’ survey or interview questions and focuses on how someone’s perceptions of a new technology’s usefulness, ease of use, and affordability affect what they think of the technology and how they will actually use it.
To better understand this research framework, let’s apply this to a novice player’s perceptions on three mobile phone games (Solitaire, Candy Crush, and Catan) and take a closer look at the three components that affect his or her attitude and actual use of a new technology.
When comparing the three, we see that Solitaire and Candy Crush are both easy to use and affordable, unlike Catan. So, from this overview of the three games, a novice would likely be as inclined to play Solitaire as they would play Candy Crush. Regarded as more difficult and less affordable, a novice would be unlikely to use the Catan game.
This brief example demonstrates the usefulness of studying the intended users and their acceptance of a new product before it becomes available. The framework suggests that the potential benefits of a new product on the market don’t matter as much as the intended user’s perceptions of how attainable and useable it would be for them.
Given the growing interest in aging in place, more seniors are likely to be receptive to supportive methods of living a healthy and active lifestyle at home. Researchers at Virginia Tech proposed a study, which was awarded the 2017 ASID Foundation Transform Grant A, on seniors’ perceptions of how they might use assistive technologies and interior elements that promote healthier and more active lifestyles. By adding “perceived affordability” in the adapted TAM model described above, their primary research will focus on which assistive technologies might best be suited to low-income seniors. A later phase will involve the creation of a mock-up home environment for further state-wide data collection and community education about healthy behaviors at home. Set for completion in spring 2018, this research constitutes an initial step toward the creation of design guidelines, providing practitioners with the tools to support active and healthy lifestyles through interior design.
By way of research, it is possible to learn how potential users perceive new technologies which can be instrumental in ensuring their adoption and reflect the success of the environment in which they are placed. Consider asking your clients how they envision themselves using the new technologies, how easy it would be to learn to use them, and whether they think they are affordable. Determining the best option is anchored in choosing the product that aligns best with the clients’ vision.
About the Author
Amira Samiy is pursuing her B.S. in Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University and is currently interning at the American Society of Interior Designers with a focus on research. She is a strong proponent of human-centered design achieved through research, and her interests lie in health and well-being and sustainability, two areas of design she hopes to contribute to by investigating the social world. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.