Design for age, design for all

The NYTimes has a story (For the Advanced in Age, Easy-to-Use Technology) about companies that are creating tools that are “helping those in their 60s maintain their youthful self-images.”

What is interesting is that these technologies are typically not directly aimed at the aging boomer market. As the article says:

The companies that are successfully marketing new technologies to older people are not those that have created high-tech ways for seniors to open jars. Rather, they are the ones that have learned to create products that span generations, providing style and utility to a range of age groups.

They examples the article lists include the Apple’s iPod and the Honda Element.

Consumers with less-nimble fingers find the large knobs in Honda’s boxy Element easy to manipulate. But Honda did not design them for the arthritis stricken, but for young people who drive while wearing ski gloves, said a Honda spokesman, Chris Martin. The Element’s design, aimed at younger people, inadvertently attracted consumers across age groups.

I find this idea of technologies designed for one group becoming attractive to other groups (with differing needs) quite interesting. It reminds me of how assistive technologies enter schools aimed at children with special needs but often get used by others. A good example is text to speech – useful for children with reading problems – being used by the general student, who may prefer listening to information rather than read it directly on screen.

This is part of a general idea that the affordances of technology can be leveraged by different groups for their own purposes – a repurposing of technology as it were. I have argued elsewhere (and infact made this point quite strongly during my recent presentation in India, see here) that it is this repurposing that lets generic technologies become educational technologies. I made a similar point in this posting as well.

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