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Web Posted on: August 4, 1998

Good practices of design for all in two case studies

Ad van Berlo
Glaukopis Consultancy Hoekseakker 3
5511 KW Knegsel
The Netherlands
Tel. +31 497 517894
fax + 31 497 518542
e-mail: vanberlo@dse.nl

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1. Introduction

In "All Inclusive", the newsletter of the INCLUDE project, Design for All is defined as the designing of products, services and systems that are flexible enough to be directly used, without assistive devices or modifications, by people within the widest range of abilities and circumstances as is commercially practical. Whereas the INCLUDE project is focusing on telematics equipment and services, here the Design for all principle is applied to the design personal care products.

Personal care belongs to the daily activities of a normal human being. Usually, the perso nal care activities are carried out in the bathroom. At older age some of the physical activities are more difficult to perform, because of decreasing sight, hearing, memory, balance coordination and strength in arms and legs. Just the bathroom is a place in the house of ageing people which is often felt dangerous at older age. It is not without reason: most of the accidents with older people, causing serious injuries, take place in the bath room. In the Netherlands, the number of falls among elderly with a fatal accident, equals the total number of deaths in the traffic with all ages. Particularly older women end up in a hospital with severe fractures, from which they sometimes do not recover anymore.

Many of the current bathroom products are obstacles for older people: high entrance into the shower, slippery floors, particularly if wet, very high entrance into the bath, etc.

This imbalance between bathroom environment and the physical performances of older people often causes dangerous situations. The bathroom should not become a barrier for for maintaining independence. Recently, some of the companies that design, manufacture and sell products for the bathroom on the normal consumer market, are becoming aware of the described problems. Since the 55-plus consumers are more and more willing to invest in comfort and luxury in the bathroom, also more attention to design for this group is given.

Here, two examples of good practice will be described. The first one concerns the invol vement of older people in finding the specifications for a new product line for the bathroom. The second example of good practice is the design and prototype testing of a so-called "water tap for everybody".

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2. A new product line for the bathroom

2.1 Materials and methods

The following procedure was agreed upon: first 8 elderly people were interviewed in- depth. These persons varied in age between 55 and 69 years old and varied in sex and income. Questions were asked about physical fitness, the history of the house in which they live, the history of the bathroom and many details about the different products in the bathroom and the different activities, such as washing, showering, bathing, personal care, toileting and washing the laundry. Also a typical 24 hour period of activities in the bath room was discussed. The whole interview lasted between 11/2 and 2 hours and was sum marised in 5 typed pages.
Then, based on the outcome of the summaries a designer started making drawings of new products for the bathroom. Of course, the history of the products of the company, its market segment and its tradition had also to be taken into account. When the designer had finished his drawings, the 8 interviewed persons were invited to evaluate these drawings. This was done in 3 groups of 2 and 3 persons, in order to have everybody's comments as much as possible.

2.2 Results of the in-depth interviews

a. Housing situation and personal health

The type of houses, where the interviewed persons are living, varied from the cheapest situation for rental housing to big landhouses. In the lower end the house belonged to a row of houses for senior persons. All of the interviewed persons have an active life style, despite some severe physical limitations. These were back pain, stiff knees and hips. Most of the people undertake some work in voluntary organisations, have some gardening and go often cycling or walking.

b. Status of the bathroom

De status of the bathrooms varied between more than 15 years unchanged to renewed a couple of years ago. All bathrooms have a shower, which varies from stand-alone to integrated in the bath. However, not all persons make use of the shower. A few persons wash themselves at the washbasin daily and take a bath weekly. All bathrooms have one or sometimes two washbasins. Not all bathrooms have a toilet. The number of handgrips is very limited and if present on the wrong place. There was no house where the bath room is positioned next to the sleeping room. In many cases there is a far distance be tween bathroom and sleeping room, even via the stairs.

c. Important issues for the bathroom

Almost all interviewed persons think that functionality and hygiene are most important aspects. The demand for hygiene means that all products, places and edges in the bath room must be easy to clean. Functionality is still more important than the esthetic factor. Some of the interviewed still have a very old bathroom, but are still satisfied with it as long as they do not need to move or they must adapt it to physical limitations. In some cases this gives dangerous situations: for instance, a women with balance coordination problems must climb in the bath, without any grip, and stands up in the bath to wash her hair. But for her time has not come yet to invest in improvements. For other persons the cost of renovation is a limiting factor. A bathroom may be beautiful, but there is simply no money for buying nice things. Remarkable is that most of the interviewed think that their bathroom is too small, despite the fact that the children have left the house.

d. Bath and shower

Most of the interviewed persons don't use the bath anymore. Those who do so, do that because of long history: saturday in bath and the rest of the week only using the washba sin. Just one person did so to enjoy and relax, particularly for his back problems. Other persons simply don't have a bath. At older age nobody would use the bath anymore, if one comes in the situation that it is really dangerous to climb in. Nobody feels attracted to sit under the shower.

e. Toilet

All interviewed persons go to the toilet at night. Few of them use the lights, because they can easily find their way. It is found very unpleasant though that one has to walk such a distance to the toilet. Two of the eight interviewed persons had an elevated toilet, but none of the other persons felt problems when standing up from the toilet.

f. Further bathroom tools

Support bars or handgrips along the walls would not be rejected. But one person only thinks about installing them if he really feels that it would be needed or if he moves to another house. Those who have already large support bars in their house (one because of the senior house, the other one because of the former disabled husband) are very satisfied with the presence of the bar and use it frequently.

Based on all comments, a number of new product ideas was abandoned, whereas new product ideas were generated. The reason for abandoning products was that none of the panel members would buy such a product, irrespective the price.

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3. Water tap for everybody

3.1 Materials and methods

Another company, that wanted to develop new generation of products which do not appeal to age or disability of the user, manufucturers and sells sanitary taps. After finishing several drawings and discussions with several older persons in homes for the elderly, two prototypes were made: one tap to be used in the kitchen and another tap to be used above the wash basin in the bathroom.
Both taps have been installed for three or more days in the private homes of 7 indepen dently living older persons. For this the old taps were temporarily removed. So, the prototype taps could be used in real day to day practice.

3.2 Results of the testing

The feedback of the 7 persons, both in writing and in a final workshop, has been unexpectedly useful. In the following, some of the remarks are listed:

  • the warm-cold indication should be much clearer;
  • the temperature is easier to regulate than in most other taps;
  • on the hole of the handles, always some water will remain, which will cause spots; suggestion: make the zero-position of the handle a little bit inclining which let flow away the water drops;
  • a zero-position indication would be useful;
  • the finger that lifts the handle slips away easily; therefore more directed force is required, which might be difficult for some persons; a solution would be a thicker brim or something similar.
  • a preventive measure against sudden opening of the hot water tap is recommended;
  • the fastening bolt of the closing ring under the wash basin should be placed on the other side of the tap in order to better resist the vertical forces.

The latter remark is typical for an older engineer. So, one of the main lessons from this project with elderly participation is that retired technologists add extra value to technical matters of a prototype. Some very useful suggestions were given, which will be followed up in the definitive design.

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4. Lessons learnt

In order to attain appropriate products and services for the elderly, it is of great importan ce that older consumers are asked to serve as critical users. If they are involved in the first stages of the design and distribution process, older people may express their needs and wishes as early as possible.

The premise is that, using this methodology, products can be developed which are not specifically aimed at elderly, but which take into account the needs of older people. Furthermore, the marketing of products with a great usability would not only please older consumers but would also be attractive to younger persons.

From the two case studies, described here, the author learnt the following lessons. First, older people may be a little reserved to take part in user panels in the beginning. Recruiting and selecting older persons takes also more time than might be expected. In some cases mobility problems and threshold fear are clearly present.

Also the type of product to be evaluated seems to influence the willingness to cooperate. The more a product is in the range of special aids for daily living, the more older persons seem to be reserved to cooperate. It seems that elderly are generally not willing to admit that some activities of daily life are becoming more difficult or even imposssible. They want to avoid any association with it.

In all cases a good and thorough explanation on the purpose of the study strongly enhances motivation to cooperate. Those, who decide to cooperate are in general positive on the usability study. They appreciate very much the fact that industry finally wants to listen to their needs and wishes.

Among companies, there is still a fear that involving older persons in the design process would deliver a product for the elderly with a clear stigma on it. However, frequently applying to the principle of "design for all" might take away all fears. Companies have admitted that elderly panels had great influence on the final product and that results have been achieved which would not have been without elderly participation.

In the various projects with elderly panels it appeared that the target group "elderly" is too large and too diverse for approaching as one whole entity. Age, gender, income and physical status strongly determine the wishes, needs and purchasing behaviour of elderly and does not deviate from younger groups. This has led to the fact that companies sometimes made choices themselves from the large number of recommendations.

For elderly participation, a carefully composed user group is necessary. It has been experienced that for well designed qualitative research a number of 8 to 12 perons will deliver sufficient information. The results of the various projects cannot simply be used by others. But the same methodologies can be used in any futural product design.

Finally, the most fascinating experience is achieved with older engineers, who have temporarily installed a prototype of a new product at home. They realise now, after retirement, by own experience how things might be designed better.

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