The proportion of older people in the developed world is rapidly increasing and it is imperative to consider how technology design can meet the needs and wants of this important user group.
Older people currently control a large proportion of the wealth in the UK and many have a substantial disposable income. There is also no evidence that they are particularly averse to using new technologies, if those technologies are appropriately designed and introduced. In addition, the increasing proportion of older people will lead to a significant increase in the numbers needing support for daily activities and in those needing long term care. Technology presents one important avenue for providing such support but only if it meets actual needs in appropriate ways and can be used effectively.
These reasons provide strong imperatives for investigating human-computer interaction as it relates to the older population and provided the motivation for the workshop on HCI and the Older Population at HCI 2004. This attracted 24 participants, from as far afield as the US, Japan and Finland and from a mix of different backgrounds - universities, research institutes, industry and the older population.
The workshop followed a varied programme, with talks on topics as diverse as game design, navigation, support for social interaction, information access and the use of theatre to demonstrate product ideas. Others had the opportunity to present their work through posters and the occasional demo.
Posters also helped to present several key issues in the area and provided the opportunity for participants to respond to them individually before breaking up into smaller discussion groups (and taking advantage of the September sunshine). These groups looked at three topics in more detail: ethical issues, research methods and the characteristics of suitable technology. Interesting (and occasionally heated) discussions gave rise to some solutions and suggestions for the way forward.
Invited talks and videos helped the participants to gain a better rounded view of the area. Andrew Monk, from the Centre for Usable Home Technology at York University, raised the issues of dependability, sociability and enjoyment in the use and design of technology. Isobel Lindsay and Wilfred Lakie, both members of the older population, helped us to understand the user's point of view as they described their experiences of technology and what they want from computers. Further insight into the user experience was provided by a series of videos, produced by the Utopia project. These videos used professional actors to portray, through scripted interactions, an amalgamation of many older people's experiences with computers.
The day seemed to be a great success, with attendees commenting on how enjoyable and interesting they had found it. It was felt that future similar workshops would help to consolidate this research community and we also hope to produce a journal special issue resulting from the workshop.
If you would like to find out more, read the proceedings or see some of the outcomes of discussions, please visit the workshop's website at http://www.dcs.gla.ac.uk/utopia/workshop/hciworkshop04.html.
University of Glasgow