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The design of home appliances for young and old

Author: Freudenthal, A.
Year: 1999
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Is daily-life equipment sufficiently adapted to use by the elderly? Or are product developers biased towards young, healthy males with technical skills and insight? When designing products to he handled at home or in a professional situation or in the public domain, designers ought to base their choices of technical properties on the capacities, habits and preferences of the user group. Although there is a continuing increase in the grey sector of society, design-relevant data on elderly users are almost nonexistent. This hook attempts to narrow this gap in gerontechnology: product design for the elderly.

Two classes of products that tend to cause major problems in use are consumer electronics and household appliances and their accompanying manuals. Most senior citizens cannot or will not program the channels of their TV or set the clock of the microwave oven. If such products would be designed in a way that takes into account the diminishing human capacities of the elderly, younger users would benefit as well; ease of use could be improved in new product design. Transgenerational design guidelines are needed for this purpose. A set of about one hundred new guidelines for product development and the design of product manuals is presented in this volume, the second of this series. In this volume methodological issues of user-centered design are tackled and essential product properties are described, matching users' strategics for product use and cognitive aspects, such as learning, and aspects of perception, for three age groups (the elderly, adults and teen-agers). Relating backgrounds, including ageing human capacities and changes in design methodology, are obtained from empirical research and supported by a literature survey. The guidelines and their backgrounds indicate how user problems encountered with many of the current home appliances come about, e.g., which current product details do not match psychological characteristics, and how problems can be avoided in new designs.

The guidelines are established on the basis of' results of observation studies. Subjects from three cohorts used a range of apparatus, such as washers, microwave ovens, audio equipment, and a TV-VCR combination. The guidelines were generated in various steps in which they were also tested as hypotheses. 'li) guarantee that the guidelines can be used for actual innovation projects, they need to go beyond ergonomic requirements for the elderly. True transgenerational design guidelines must also take into account the wishes and needs of other groups of consumers in the target group, such as the voting. This means that specifications on possible differences between age groups in learning to use a product, strategies of use of the product and, for that matter, preferences for functionality or aesthetics are included in the research target and indicated in the list of guidelines. Testing of the guidelines during actual innovation projects in industry was performed to evaluate and improve the guidelines.

Product developers and innovation managers are invited to implement the checklist of guidelines, to initiate or enhance their user-centered design work.


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