Nokia Transitions: Communication, ageing and independent living

Design research conducted for Nokia on internet-based services for older people. London, UK

The Transitions project in partnership with the Design Research and Foresight team at Nokia explored communications needs around key points of transition in the lives of older people. Carried out at the Helen Hamlyn Research Centre, the study discovered that disruption, displacement and dependency – more typically associated with younger people – were also features of later life, requiring new service design models to address the emotional and psychological needs of older people.

Two services from the project are shown below.

Postcode allows a user to see what’s happening in their immediate area. Equivalent to a radio broadcast and a message board in one web application, users in the local community upload activities, events, outings, and interests which can be subscribed to or browsed through. For example, in an assisted living complex, a user could see that several people who live in the same building are sharing a ride to the supermarket, and could join them. Postcode encourages community cohesion and creates opportunities to network.

Reach allows users to build a primary circle of contacts among family and friends for support in periods of emotional dependency, e.g. slowly losing a family member to illness. In the future, with one touch, they will be able to send out a ‘ping’ to these contacts, letting them know of their need for support, whether on a subtle level — a friendly ear or a visit from relatives — or in case of emergency.

Research was undertaken with older people, aged 62 to 83, from varied backgrounds in the Greater London area. The participants were interviewed, shadowed and brought together in a group forum to discuss responses to a research probe, all to build up a picture of communication practice as older people travel, learn, socialise and manage their health.

The study revealed just how much older people prize their independence and mobility – and how that can be hindered by disconnects in communication. When people downsize from a family house to a smaller dwelling, retire from fulltime work or become dependent following a stroke or fall, these are the ‘tipping points’ that require exceptional communication support, whether such events are expected or unforeseen. An opportunity was identified for Nokia to respond to such needs through a set of internet services branded Nokia Transitions.

Six scenarios based on these transition states were created to explore design interventions, and these led to new internet-based service ideas for each area.

The services were specifically intended to support the emotional and psychological aspirations of older people and address not only key transition periods, but also the varying scales of communication between people, i.e. communication between family and friends on a small scale, and communication city- or community-wide on a larger scale.

At the heart of the proposed system is an online contacts database that enables individuals to input personal contacts and subscribe to relevant interests. The interface is organised as a series of ‘support circles’ corresponding to the varying scales of communication.

Concepts created included web-based services enabling people to keep in touch with old friends and contacts as well as create ties in their new community, an online family ‘scrapbook’, pairing of the newly retired with entrepreneurs in need, as well as a one-touch alert service for family and friends to be in contact with each other during times of need.

The research summary and concepts are published fully in ‘Transitions: Communication, ageing and independent living’. Download Adobe PDF (1.2Mb).