Chaiwoo Lee is a Research Scientist at the MIT AgeLab, a research program dedicated to inventing new ideas and creatively translating technologies into practical solutions that improve the quality of life of older adults and those who care for them.
Chaiwoo’s research focuses on understanding acceptance and use of technologies across generations, and looks into people’s perceptions, attitudes and experiences with new devices and services. Her recent studies explored a variety of technology domains such as the smart home, vehicle automation, sharing economy services, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotics and more. Across different application domains, her research seeks to deeply understand user behaviors and decisions, to discuss issues around societal impacts, and to find implications for human-centered design of future products and services. Chaiwoo received her Ph.D. in Engineering Systems from MIT, and her M.S. and B.S. in Industrial Engineering from Seoul National University.
The global population is aging rapidly, and China is far from being an exception. The Population Research Bureau stated in 2020 that China is experiencing population aging at the greatest scale in the world, and the United Nations estimated that the proportion of those aged 65 and older will make up about 26% of the population in year 2020 which is significantly larger than 12% in 2020. And the aging of the population is more than just a change in numbers. It is a significant and impactful trend that will challenge how we approach the design, development and delivery of various products and services.
As we age, we are more likely to experience limitations in physical and cognitive capabilities. These challenges that are increasingly common with older age often interfere with basic and instrumental activities of daily living, and in many cases cause older adults to become more reliant and dependent on help from others.
Aging also often comes with changes in social connections and dynamics. Although changes in work status and social activities can happen at any age, older adults are relatively more likely to experience challenges to engaging in social interactions and relationships than younger people due to a higher likelihood of being retired or unable to work, belonging in less social groups, and being limited in mobility.
To overcome these challenges and limitations that are associated with one’s age, technology-enabled products and services are increasingly gaining attention and interest. Numerous new devices and services targeted for the older population are continuing to enter the market. However, the adoption and utilization of these products and services are usually very low despite the benefits and values they claim to have. And as suggested by existing research, this adoption gap is not necessarily due to poor performance or prohibitive costs, but really because many were designed with insufficient, incorrect, and often stereotyped understanding of what the target users need, want and desire.
A lot of products and services targeted for older adults and their caregivers are centered around medical, health and safety needs. Among many physical products and applications designed for older adults, it’s very obvious to see that the design goals were really set around making things for people who can’t see or hear well. Furthermore, images and messages for such products and services, even very new and recent ones, often portray its older target users as people who are sick, frail and helpless. While it’s true that older adults are more likely to have needs that fit these descriptions, a lot of these assumptions are largely incomplete, and even downright incorrect in more cases than we’d expect.
Many industries’ and the general public’s descriptions of the older population are mostly built around stereotypes and assumptions, and are based on observations from previous generations. However, today’s older adults are healthier than their parents and grandparents, more experienced with new technologies, more highly educated in many parts of the world, and also hold a lot more wealth than younger generations. Older adults today form a group of consumers and users who have high expectations and demands for products and services to support an independent and active lifestyle that go far beyond fall detection and medication management.
Aging is a lifelong process. One doesn’t wake up on their 65th birthday and suddenly only care about health and safety. One doesn’t celebrate retirement and think that they won’t have desires for products that are aesthetically pleasing or experiences that are fun and novel anymore. The criteria that a user has for adopting a product or a service and evaluating its design are reflections and representations of lifelong experiences, and not merely determined by their age as a number. With today’s older generations, and even more with future generations, we should expect to see older consumers and users that won’t settle for something that’s ugly and beige, but those who will continue to demand designs that are not only universally usable and accessible but also universally attractive.
This presentation will also give examples of how the MIT AgeLab conducts interdisciplinary research and develops user-centered design implications and guidelines to inform practitioners working with a broad age spectrum in mind. While aging research and design for older users are often mistaken to be centered around medicine, projects conducted by the MIT AgeLab, as well as some other research organizations, look at other aspects of life that are also important in determining the quality of one’s life, including informal family care, transportation and mobility, housing and community, financial management and planning, and more. Also important to note is that technological advances and trends cut across these domains; and that design considerations and implications apply at various layers and stages from ideation, strategy development, and system-level design to the detailed design of interfaces and interactions. Examples of the MIT AgeLab’s study referenced in this speech will include such perspectives.
1、Learn more about the needs and expectations of the older population, a group that is large and significant but often neglected in the design process.
2、Develop ideas around combining approaches and perspectives from multiple related disciplines to apply to product and service design.
3、Discuss how design improvements and innovations can help remove barriers to older adults’ successful use of new technology-enabled products.