The COVID-19 pandemic underlined an existing problem: elder Australians are among the most socially isolated in our community. Particularly during the pandemic, keeping physical distance is key. Technology exists to bring us together from afar, but none of it is designed with elder needs in mind.
Good tech can solve social problems, but so often our elders are left out of the design process. A lack of technological nous, as well as hand-eye and vision problems means most tech solutions just aren't suitable. Setting up one Zoom meeting requires dozens of individual steps. How might you design a tool to bring elders closer to their loved ones, and reduce isolation, while ensuring that the solution meets all the accessibility and social needs of someone who grew up in the time of telegrams and typewriters?
spur: worked with a group of approximately ten Australians over eighty, as well as elder care volunteers, to understand their routine social opportunities and how they like to communicate. Through a series of co-design sessions (with lots of tea and scones), the team scoped the groups needs and selected key components and design elements for a tech tool that would help bring friends and family closer together. The result is Dovetail: the first video chat app designed for and by elders, with opportunities for community involvement such as reading picture books to local schools via the app.
Australians over the age of 80 have the highest suicide rate of any age group in the country. This is driven in large part by increase of social isolation and loneliness, and a reduced place in society. Dovetail helps this through elder-designed tools for connection including connecting at the tap of a button with friends and families (and prompts for reduced memory). Dovetail also reaffirms elders as part of society through potential opportunities as using Dovetail to become remote storytellers at local schools. Dovetail brings elders back into the fold and reduces loneliness and social exclusion.
- Co-design process included working with affected elders for ideation and feedback, they were true co-designers of the solution
- Dovetail includes a range of design decisions that actually counteract common concepts of UI accessibility - e.g. the elders preferred drop shadows and white text on dark backgrounds for readability
- Every single action in Dovetail is co-signed - e.g. an icon is never used without explanatory language as to what it does
- Dovetail began as a project to allow volunteers to be able to reach elders but in the end reversed this objective to more readily allow elders to volunteer out - something all of them expressed a strong desire to do in order to once again be 'part of society'
- A number of additional tools within Dovetail include wellbeing check ins and safety mechanisms such as emergency alarms for close contacts