Rethinking our users
As an attempt to help students expand their notion of the users they must accommodate with design, the midterm and final projects became simulated aging experiences (Table 2). Class projects emphasized simulations of the functional limitations of elders aged 80+ years to evaluate the design implication of anthropometric, cognitive / psychosocial, physical / motor coordination, visual, hearing and kinesthetic dimensions.
Some students tried creative approaches such as restricting joints with bandages to simulate arthritis; adding bulky layers to simulate obesity; developing contraptions that limited their peripheral field of view.
The aim of this simulation was to help the students develop a visceral response through direct experiences that resemble those of elders. The hope was that this sense memory would continue to stay with them over their career and enable them to continue to expand their understanding of the broad range of user considerations.
This approach is not new. Healthcare professionals have often described the use of simulated aging as a learning tool, particularly in geriatrics (e.g., Henry et al, 2007; Lorraine et al, 1998; Marte, 1988; Pacala et al, 2006; Robinson & Rosher, 2001; Wood, 2002). Lorraine et al (1998) simulated specific diagnosed disabilities.
Wood (2002) described its objectives as follows:
The aging simulation exercise individualizes the effects of physiological aging by forcing students to experience functional losses. By doing so, it brings home the meaning of functional impairments to healthy, young undergraduate students in a much more effective way.
Figure 7 Raj Rihal evaluates entry into different vehicles while restricting his range of motion by strapping a metal bar to his back to simulate physical restrictions associated with back injuries.
(Raj Rihal, Nina Hermsdorf & Ruth Fang)
Some lessons learned include:
Students evaluated a broad range of products and environments, including Laundromats, grocery stores, subways, malls, movie theaters, bus terminals and other environments.
Many students became enthusiastic over the projects. Repeatedly they told me that it permanently changed their understanding of design implications for this particularly vulnerable group of users.
Invariably there were surprising and insightful discoveries. An important surprise for students was the impact of the combination of factors. It is one thing to recognize individual factors, quite another to simultaneously experience synergistic limitations in vision, hearing, mobility, and kinesthetic awareness.
It was of course necessary to remind the class that they were not truly walking in the shoes of elders. Some student approaches, such as wearing their grandparent’s glasses for a day were sadly off the mark, since these visual changes did not in anyway reflect actual visional changes that accompany aging. It is very difficult to truly simulate symptoms such as rheumatoid arthritis. Over time, elders also develop coping mechanisms that enable them to manage in new ways. Even so, the simulations will hopefully help them to expand and supplement their design perspectives as they proceed in their career.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rani Lueder, MSIE, CPE is President of Humanics Ergonomics Inc. an ergonomics consulting firm in Austin, Texas she established in 1982. She has consulted, performed research and served as an expert witness in occupational ergonomics, posture and the design and evaluation of products and places for adults, children and people with disabilities for more than two and a half decades. She recently edited her third book "Ergonomics for children: Designing products and places for toddlers to teens” (2008; Taylor and Francis, London and New York). Her website www.humanics-es.com contains extensive content in ergonomics.
My thanks to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and my talented students for providing me with the opportunity to learn from them. There is insufficient space to describe the many other teams’ interesting efforts.
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