We’ve started a project with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design about how assisted digital support can meet the needs of older people. Peter Ziegler is leading the project and is a specialist in design research in older people and technology. The concepts he develops will inform the wider work we are doing on assisted digital, including our work with the 25 exemplar services.
My name is Peter Ziegler. I am a design researcher from the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design (HHCD), part of the Royal College of Art, working with GDS on a project on assisted digital. As part of the project, I will design assisted digital interactions and interfaces to get digital by default services to the 18% of the population that are not online. I’ll do this through intensive research and testing with older people. By focusing on this group, I hope to develop design outputs that address the needs of a broad range of assisted digital users.
Where I come from
The Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design (HHCD) undertakes design research and projects with industry that contribute to improving people's lives. Our approach is inclusive and interdisciplinary, with our work organised in three research labs:
Age & Ability: design for a more inclusive society irrespective of age and ability
Health & Patient Safety: creating safer and better health services
Work & City: research into changing patterns of work and urban life
I work in the Age & Ability Research Lab at HHCD. A really important aspect of what we do in this lab is to consider people as equals in the design process, with an emphasis on working closely with diverse groups of older, younger and differently-abled people. My work over the past few years has focused on a rapidly ageing population, and I’ll be working in the spirit of the lab for my research with GDS.
What I’m doing on the assisted digital project
I’ve been working on the assisted digital project for a month so far, and have been conducting research with users at the Age UK Hackney computer centre. The centre’s users are aged between 50 and 64 and represent a range of ethnicities, income brackets and digital competencies. The centre specialises in two services:
providing computer and internet access to people who do not have it;
making classes and tutoring available to people on using computers and navigating the Internet.
My research has been a very fruitful introduction to the problems older people may face when accessing digital products and services. There have been two key early observations that keep coming up:
People who do not have much confidence in their digital skills are more comfortable conducting a one-way search query than a two-way personal information transaction. For example, people may very well be confident with searching the Internet for a shop’s location, but they would not feel comfortable going to that shop’s website to make a purchase to be delivered to their home.
Older people who do not have access to computers or who lack the skills to confidently navigate the Internet are concerned about where they will get help to access the services they need. As services are increasingly administered online, there is a requirement for assisted digital provision to be in place and be adequately publicised to ensure these people know where to go for help.
Next, I’ll be developing ideas and use cases that address the above observations and also tackle some of the more idiosyncratic issues raised through my research. I’ll communicate these ideas to users at a follow-up session at the Hackney computer centre, and use the feedback and discussion from this session to refine my ideas and develop them into final design concepts. In this way, I can make sure that the final concepts are created in collaboration with the people they’re being designed for. I'll be conducting the project in an agile way through this process of initial research, ideas generation, testing, and refinement, which I’ll repeat several times throughout the course of the project.
It’s a real honour to be part of such a transformative effort and new standard in the way that government presents itself to citizens. It’s enormously promising and hopefully a trend in how governments can use good design as a principle, going beyond design as process or methodology in the future. I must add that it’s a great opportunity to be able to use design to have such a direct impact on people’s lives.
Please feel free to comment below with any thoughts or curiosities about myself or the goals of this project.