Approaches to designing for older adults' intuitive interaction with complex devices

Gudur, Raghavendra Reddy (2012) Approaches to designing for older adults' intuitive interaction with complex devices. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Many older people have difficulties using modern consumer products due to increased product complexity both in terms of functionality and interface design. Previous research has shown that older people have more difficulty in using complex devices intuitively when compared to the younger. Furthermore, increased life expectancy and a falling birth rate have been catalysts for changes in world demographics over the past two decades. This trend also suggests a proportional increase of older people in the work-force. This realisation has led to research on the effective use of technology by older populations in an effort to engage them more productively and to assist them in leading independent lives. Ironically, not enough attention has been paid to the development of interaction design strategies that would actually enable older users to better exploit new technologies.

Previous research suggests that if products are designed to reflect people's prior knowledge, they will appear intuitive to use. Since intuitive interfaces utilise domain-specific prior knowledge of users, they require minimal learning for effective interaction. However, older people are very diverse in their capabilities and domain-specific prior knowledge. In addition, ageing also slows down the process of acquiring new knowledge. Keeping these suggestions and limitations in view, the aim of this study was set to investigate possible approaches to developing interfaces that facilitate their intuitive use by older people.

In this quest to develop intuitive interfaces for older people, two experiments were conducted that systematically investigated redundancy (the use of both text and icons) in interface design, complexity of interface structure (nested versus flat), and personal user factors such as cognitive abilities, perceived self-efficacy and technology anxiety. All of these factors could interfere with intuitive use. The results from the first experiment suggest that, contrary to what was hypothesised, older people (65+ years) completed the tasks on the text only based interface design faster than on the redundant interface design. The outcome of the second experiment showed that, as expected, older people took more time on a nested interface. However, they did not make significantly more errors compared with younger age groups. Contrary to what was expected, older age groups also did better under anxious conditions.

The findings of this study also suggest that older age groups are more heterogeneous in their capabilities and their intuitive use of contemporary technological devices is mediated more by domain-specific technology prior knowledge and by their cognitive abilities, than chronological age. This makes it extremely difficult to develop product interfaces that are entirely intuitive to use. However, by keeping in view the cognitive limitations of older people when interfaces are developed, and using simple text-based interfaces with flat interface structure, would help them intuitively learn and use complex technological products successfully during early encounter with a product. These findings indicate that it might be more pragmatic if interfaces are designed for intuitive learning rather than for intuitive use.

Based on this research and the existing literature, a model for adaptable interface design as a strategy for developing intuitively learnable product interfaces was proposed. An adaptable interface can initially use a simple text only interface to help older users to learn and successfully use the new system. Over time, this can be progressively changed to a symbols-based nested interface for more efficient and intuitive use.

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ID Code: 58070
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Blackler, Alethea L., Popovic, Vesna, & Mahar, Douglas P.
Keywords: intuitive interaction, intuitive use, prior experience, prior knowledge, older adults, cognitive ageing, interaction design, usability, industrial design, product design
Divisions: Current > Schools > School of Design
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Creative Industries Faculty
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 11 Mar 2013 00:32
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 05:32

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