Keep on Using IT: Gracefully Adaptive User Interfaces for Digital Seniors
Almost 35 years has passed since the introduction of the Personal Computer. This means that there is today a constantly growing group of digital seniors, i.e., older persons who have been actively using computers for a long time. As an effect of this it is time to start investigating how to support this group’s ability to continue using information and communication technology (ICT) as they grow older and might experience a loss of cognitive and physical capabilities. The basis of the Keep on Using IT project is the idea that digital seniors use of ICT can be supported by building systems that become easier to user over time. Therefore, the aim of the Keep on Using IT project is to develop and test gracefully adaptive user interfaces, by which we mean systems that can adapt and simplify themselves according to the user in order to let digital seniors continue to use ICT to carry out the tasks they are used to. The project involves four main phases (i) studies of the needs and habits of digital seniors (ii) development of a user model that describes the user group and can be used to adapt applications to fit the characteristics of the user (iii) development of prototypes that can be used to test the concept with real users (iv) evaluation and development of guidelines and design patterns.
We argue that we need a shift of focus when it comes to information and communication technology (ICT) for older users. Previous work has to a large extent focused on how to introduce ICT to older users who are new to technology, and how to design systems specifically for the older part of the population. Instead, our project focuses on how to design ICT which adapts to the needs of digital seniors, i.e. older long-time users. With a few exceptions, (e.g., Quan-Haase, Martin et al. 2016), this topic has not been explored much earlier, despite the fact that over time, the digital senior will represent the typical older ICT user to design for.
We introduce the idea of gracefully adaptive user interfaces, a new approach to how to design ICT for digital seniors. By a gracefully adaptive user interface we mean a system that can be gradually simplified and adjusted to fit the needs of users with compromised cognitive and physical abilities. In this way, users will be able to continue to perform the tasks they are used to in a way they can handle despite any possible age- or health-related loss of capability. The approach is feasible due to the flexibility that can be built into information technology. Contrary to a physical product, a software system does not need to be static or designed for one type of user only, but can adapt over time and adapt to the individual specific needs of various kinds of users. These interfaces will be developed and evaluated in collaboration with digital seniors, during an iterative design process.