Category Archives: accessibility

Book: Designing for Older Adults, 2nd edition

Things are quiet on the blog because Anne and I are recovering from the end of the Spring semester and we are furiously finishing our book (tentatively titled, “Designing Displays for Older Adults‘).  It will be one in a series of books in the Human Factors & Aging Series from CRC Press that will be “primers on designing for older adults.”  More details on our book later including a give-a-way!

9781420080551The first book in the Series is the second edition of Designing for Older Adults:  Principles and Creative Human Factors Approaches by Arthur Fisk, Wendy Rogers, Neil Charness, Sara Czaja, and Joseph Sharit.  The book is written in an accessible style and provides guidelines on a wide variety of topics relevant to anyone designing products or systems for use by older adults.

To read a few pages and purchase the book, visit

Danger at the Dining Hall!

I eat at a dining hall about twice per week, and getting tea is nerve-wracking. The hot water nozzle is above my head and when using an opaque coffee cup or mug, you cannot see the level of the water.  I’m constantly checking to see how full it is so boiling water doesn’t overflow onto my hand.


I’ve examined the machine and it looks as though it is designed to have this water dispenser on top, just as shown. I can’t understand why this would be…  I’m willing to bet the only reason no one has been injured is:

1. Hardly anyone drinks tea in the dining hall.

2. It’s so obviously unsafe and difficult to use that everyone checks every couple of seconds to see how full their cup is.

Thanks to Dana Kotter-Gruhn for posing for this illustration.

Dashboards meet the 21st century

Reader Darin Ellis sends along this news item from MSNBC about the future of car dashboards (hint: analog is out, glass screens are in).  There is a great quote in the article from the visualization designer of Chrysler:

A lot of usability studies need to be done. Designing these is not a no-brainer.

In addition to this article, here are some other related items that have cross my blog reader.  The embedded video is from a CrunchGear review of the new Ford Fusion (referenced in the MSNBC article).  Check out the dual LCD displays surrounding the center analog speedometer.

The final item is the interior of the new electric sports car Tesla Model S.  The center stack is replaced with a 17 inch touch screen.

“Internet radio so simple that even an old, stupid idiot can use it”

The title of this post is a tongue-in-cheek quote from a post about a new internet radio, called Ira, that seems to be designed with older users in mind.  The primary design feature seems to be its simplicity.

In fact, so simple is the Ira that it apparently needs no instructions. The site is empty of any kind of technical information. We guess that the kind of moron who would buy it is the kind of moron who probably couldn’t work out how to get to a website and read it anyway.

The simplicity, however, seems to be deceiving as the following graphic shows:

ira_whatyouneedThis situation reminds me of the Ergonomics in Design article from a few years back looking at blood glucose meters (BGM) for diabetics.  In their paper titled, “Analysis of a ‘simple’ medical device”, Rogers et al. discovered that a BGM that was marketed “as easy as 1, 2, 3” actually took 52 steps, not 3.

The short paper is located here.

In 2019 I will be 44…

Here is a neat vision of what 2019 will be like courtesy Microsoft Office Labs.  This concept video was produced by Microsoft and shown at the Wharton Business Technology Conference.  Two things that caught my attention were the prodigious use of touch interface and gestures (which I am not crazy about; my finger/hands get tired using my iPod touch to make exaggerated moves), and the importance of information visualization.

Data is being displayed and interacted with in creative ways in the following examples.  Video is after the images below:

Home energy monitor

Touch interface on a plane; viewing dynamic tables

Personalized User Interfaces

Researchers at the University of Washington have created a system that can tailor a user interface to the motor and visual abilities of the user.  After a short assessment, the system presents a user interface with presets for the user based on the assessment.  I remember reading about adaptive interfaces quite a long time ago.  Could something similar be built to accommodate age-related cognitive differences?  Perhaps a spatial abilities assessment could be given to change the structure of the user interface to make it easier to use?

[from Slashdot via The Future of Things]

Digital TV Transition will be rocky for some

By February 2009, all over-the-air television broadcasts in the United States will be digital.  There are good reasons for the switch such as better use of bandwidth.  However, people who still use rabbit ear antennas for TV reception will need a new digital converter box which is not a simple undertaking.  While this video is obviously tongue-in-cheek, the switch-over will not be easy for many.  As the video illustrates, it is not clear how to get an antenna, and afterward, how to install it.

Hospital Bracelets Face Hurdles as They Fix Hazard –

New York’s 11 public hospitals are at the forefront of a national movement to standardize color coding of hospital wristbands to designate patient conditions, in which purple — the color of amethyst — means “Do Not Resuscitate.” Red, or ruby, indicates allergies, while yellow — call it amber — marks someone at risk for falling.

The goal is to prevent potentially dangerous mistakes, like giving the wrong food to an allergic child, or allowing a patient with balance problems to walk unescorted down a freshly waxed hallway. The drive was spurred, in part, by a notorious 2005 Pennsylvania case in which a patient nearly died because a nurse used a yellow band thinking it meant “restricted extremity” (don’t draw blood from that arm), as it did at another hospital where the nurse sometimes worked, when at this hospital it meant D.N.R.

Hospital Bracelets Face Hurdles as They Fix Hazard –

Pew Internet: Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services

A new Pew report examines the usage of cloud computing applications and services which is a topic I’ve been interested in recently.  Something noteworthy was that, as we suspected, older adults don’t appreciate the benefits of cloud computing compared to other age groups:

Older adults’ are seemingly the ones who could benefit most from cloud computing.  Keeping mail or other information in the cloud means that the user doesn’t have to configure their mail client, maintain their computer, etc.

Pew Internet: Use of Cloud Computing Applications and Services

On a semi-related note, here is a slightly long video description of cloud computing:

Tag-based interfaces and Aging

I was recently interviewed by our campus news service about receiving a Google Research Award to study information retrieval and aging. The research involves designing information retrieval interfaces around the capabilities and limitations of older adults (those age 60 and above). Here is a snippet from the press release:

Richard Pak, an assistant professor of psychology, has received a $50,000 gift from Google to study how older adults navigate the Web and what Web site design features make searches easier. The grant will fund an extension of his research on aging and technology.

“The findings are that when you take a Web site and organize it hierarchically — like how you might organize your documents on your computer with folders within folders — older adults are much slower and make more errors when they are searching for information compared to younger adults,” Pak said. “We think that this is the case because the situation does not allow older adults to use their greater knowledge toward the situation. However, when you take that same Web site and organize it around keywords or concepts instead of folders, older adults are able to bring their wealth of general knowledge to the situation and perform almost equivalently to younger adults in the task.”

That is, older adults seem to perform better using so-called “tag-based sites,” which are Web sites that organize their information around frequently used keywords. Pak said that while tag-based sites are still relatively new, several popular sites use tags. These include,, and the photo sharing Web site

The recently published paper, “Designing an information search interface for younger and older adults” appears in the latest issue of the journal Human Factors.