Fellowship Update: Age-Inclusive Design
23 July 2014 - Ilyanna Kerr
Ilyanna Kerr is the Founder of See What I Mean, a communication tool for those living with dementia and their families.  As finalists of the Fellowship for Longer Lives programme in partnership with AXA and Swiss re Foundation, which supports business impacting the ageing population, Ilyanna shares her learning so far in creating products for the senior market.


It’s hard to believe that at this exact time last year we had just started See What I Mean – time has flown by! Even though it doesn’t feel that long, looking back we’ve come a long way from our very first shaky prototype on my laptop and a rather vague and long winded explanation of what we were going to achieve. Now, a year on and two months in to the Fellowship for Longer Lives it seems like the perfect time to reflect on the space we’ve been operating in with some general bits of advice and insights for anyone interested in or thinking of doing something in the same area.

1. Older Adults and New Technology

I thought a good start would be to debunk the common myth that older generations do not use or do not want to engage with technology……older people are not only the fastest growing proportion of the population they are also the fastest growing adopters of technology, despite being branded a generation of technophobes! Even though there are more ‘older adults’ than ever before engaging with tech there are still huge barriers that leave millions excluded. The most obvious being Internet access and the cost of devices. The less obvious but just as significant are those rooted in design.

2. Usability

If a product or service has poor usability its more likely to exclude older adults. It’s because this age group who have not grown up with technology are more likely to have trouble using a badly designed product than younger ‘digital natives’. This does not necessarily mean that products have to be designed differently with big buttons, large type etcit means they generally need to have good usability. If we aim to design products that can be used by people across the spectrum of age we are more likely to create better design.

3. Design Context

Design is not just about the way things look, its about how and what we choose to design and how well it caters for our ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ as we age. When designing for older adults it’s important not to look at this group as a set of people who have reached a specific age or to categorise them as simply having a set of cognitive or physical impairments. Aging is far more complex so it’s crucial to look at the wider context in which people live as they age; the shifts in economic and social circumstances and the effect this has on our engagement with technology. This is even more relevant when designing for dementia as the disease will affect each person in a unique way creating a diverse set of needs and wants that change as the disease progresses.

4. Design Approach

See What I Mean is a speech to image communication tool for people living with dementia.  At the moment we are co-designing our ipad app with Jewish Care through a two-stage pilot with them this summer. It’s been a fantastic opportunity for us to improve general usability, develop a care version of the app and measure impact.

Including older adults in the design process and considering them as equals within it may seem like a really obvious piece of advice but I think it’s worth reiterating. Embracing this approach is something we have found to be and continue to find, really valuable. Its helped us get on the right track to developing a valuable tool through gaining a better understanding of the ‘wants’ as well as the ‘needs’ of the people we are designing for. The process has also allowed us to see how See What I Mean can fit into larger systems that surround care as well as the smaller daily interactions that take place to better support people living with dementia, carers and family members.

5. Health Tech and Well Being

When we think of ‘health tech’ we often think of sensors and devices that track our vital signs and feedback to us about our physical health. That’s because these are the current solutions available to support our health, however research has shown that older people who have not grown up with technology are not interested in ‘wiring themselves up to collect lots of data and graphs’ – ( Ziegler 2013). So why are there so few solutions out there that go beyond the physical to support mental health and well being for older people? This could be for a number of reasons, could one of them be because the solutions that exist solve problems that are easier to identify than those to do with mental health or cognitive impairments?

I think now is a really important time to think of more solutions that can better support human interaction and emotional connection, a time for us to look to the future and think about our changing relationship with technology and its potential to support us in more holistic ways as we age.

If you would like to know when the See What I Mean Lite app will be available to download or if you want to be a part of the Beta test, sign up with your email on our website.



Many of the ideas above have been influenced and inspired by the research at the Age and Ability Lab at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and discussions and debates led by Aging 2.0 Thanks to Tim Jackson from Lean Investments for connecting us to Jewish Care.