AgeWise Connect: Designing for Older Adults

Project Problem

How might we address loneliness in retirement homes by simplifying the volunteer process with older adults on a digital platform?
Agewise connect mockup final

Project Overview

content_paste Responsibilities

For this project, I worked on a team with the following team members - Mikaela Delaney, Holly Marshall, Jaiden Armstrong, and Julia Correia.

This project was part of a collaboration between Sheridan College and industry partner, Red Thread Innovations (RTI), who selected our team as the winners of the program-wide competition. During the project, our team competed to solve a unique challenge that attempted to address issues in underserved markets.

Our team worked together to ideate, research, and refine our concept into a solution that we proposed to RTI during a final pitch.

schedule Constraints

The project was based around the concept of solving problems within underserved markets. Each team that participated in the project was given a specific market, we decided to focus on tackling "loneliness".

Our team was given a lot of freedom in what this solution could look like, which gave us the opportunity to design the project however we wanted, other than the guidelines that the solution had to be digital in some way. Aside from that, our main constraint within this project was the one semester timeframe we had to both ideate and present a proposal for this project.

group Users & Audience

For this project, our team decided to focus on the older adult population living in retirement homes and develop a solution that would help individuals living in these communities.

This led us to think about how we could make the process of volunteering in retirement homes easier and what barriers currently prevent users from helping in retirement homes.

For this reason, we have two demographics using the platform.
1. Older adults currently living in retirement homes
2. Volunteers looking to help in retirement homes

Because of the discrepancy between these two demographics, it was important to focus on making the solution as accessible as possible. This concern was one of the driving forces behind our research process.


Risks & Assumptions

The following is a list of assumptions that we addressed in our research. It was important for us to be aware of our bias when addressing the older adult demographic, as it's a vulnerable population whose needs must be considered.

Loneliness in older adults

Loneliness is a serious problem for older adults. Studies conducted by the World Health Organization have shown that it can shorten life expectancy, increasing the risk of premature death. It affects physical health by encouraging sedentary lifestyles and poor diets, leading to a higher risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. Loneliness also affects mental health by increasing the risk of disorders such as depression and anxiety. It can lead to feelings of isolation, boredom, and lack of purpose, ultimately resulting in a lower overall quality of life. That's why it's important to recognize the impact of loneliness on older adults and take steps to prevent it.

Statistics Canada predicts that by 2030, 22.5 percent of Canada's population will be 65 or older. The generation gap means that many of our current workers and loved ones will be retiring, leaving many jobs unfilled and more people in need of support. Our solution can help support the people we care about as they age, and our group believes it's an extremely important and worthwhile cause.

Barriers to volunteering

Volunteering is a noble activity that people do for a variety of reasons. Some people volunteer to reduce stress or to experience the rewarding feeling of compassion when helping others. However, despite the many benefits of volunteering, there are several barriers that often prevent people from participating. The first barrier is the time commitment required to volunteer, including the time it takes to commute to and from volunteer sites. In addition, some people may feel that they lack the skills or knowledge necessary to participate in volunteer activities. This may discourage them from volunteering in the first place. In addition, the process of volunteering can involve bureaucracy and interviews, creating further barriers for potential volunteers. Another significant barrier is the cost of volunteering, such as expenses related to transportation, such as gas money. Finally, people may have other priorities, such as caring for a child or a full-time job, that prevent them from committing to volunteering.

By addressing these barriers, we predict that more people would be willing to volunteer in retirement homes, resulting in less loneliness for the older adults who live there.

Meeting With Sheridan Centre for Elder Research

As part of this project, our team met with a representative from the Sheridan Center for Elder Research to gain insight into the needs of our target population. We gained several insights into the use of technology in retirement homes.

We received confirmation that tablet devices such as iPads are becoming more common within retirement homes, and that while some homes may not have good Wi-Fi, the pandemic has led to a surge in retirement homes investing in good Wi-Fi for their residents.

Our discussions centered around accessibility for older adults. In designing this application for them, we have to consider a number of unique challenges that designing for this demographic presents.

Overall, the representative from the Sheridan Center for Elder Research felt that our topic had the potential to become a useful tool that would benefit retirement homes and the older adult population.

User Journey & Wireframes

During this phase of the project we wanted to get a better idea of what the journey would be for users on this platform. To do this we worked together as a team to ideate on potential overflows and then refined our ideas into a single user flow. We later worked to establish wireframes for this product which we later used to develop into a prototype we could use to conduct simple user testing.
User flow for this project.
Each team member ideates multiple different potential solutions for what the user journey for an older adult using the platform looks like. After this phase we refined the results down into a single user flow which we based our wireframes on.
The final user flow we generated based on both different user groups of this application based off of our ideation experimentation.

Style Guide

Style guide for agewise connect.
Style guide for this project built to establish key aesthetic decisions for this project. We decided on a red/green color scheme to envoke feelings of comfort and cleanness.
Contrast check for our style guide.
Based on our research for this project, it was important for us to follow WCAG 2.0 accessibility guidelines that would improve the overall accessibility of our product, especially considering that this application would likely be used by older adults. For this reason, we included color contrast checks to ensure that our product style fit well within industry expectations.

User Testing & Feedback

User Testing Methodology

For user testing, we focused on gaining insights from the volunteer's perspective. Part of the project requirements was to test with another team within the class to get a fresh perspective on the product, and for our post-test questions we wanted to make sure that the overall flow of the prototype felt smooth, that there were no unnecessary jumps or hard to understand sections.

For the user test we had fellow IXD students as participants, we received feedback on color scheme, overall layout, as well as details like buttons and images. Terminology was a major concern that we wanted to address during testing, as we had become familiar with terminology associated with our topic. We felt it was important to have an outside perspective on what areas were overly complex in their wording.

We also wanted to see if any of our user testers had any experience volunteering or interacting with the elderly. This was important to us because at this stage of the project we wanted to look for insights that related to the topic of volunteering in retirement homes and getting perspectives of individuals who had gone through that process would have been helpful.

User Testing Learnings

Feedback From RTI Mentors

Part of this project was to incorporate regular feedback sessions with our partners at Red Thread Innovations (RTI).We received a lot of great feedback and concerns about our project that were important considerations as this project developed.

First, there was a concern about ensuring that the project was targeting the right audience. Originally, our target audience for this project was "older adults" in general. Based on RTI's suggestions, we refined our focus to emphasize "older adults in retirement homes." This was an important distinction for us to make because there is a wide variety of older adults with different physical and mental limitations, and by focusing specifically on nursing homes, we could better address a smaller subset of this population.

Another concern that RTI had was that this product might end up decreasing the number of in-person volunteers versus digital-only volunteers. This was a major concern that we worked to address. Basically, the goal of any product in this space should be to ultimately lead to in-person volunteers. We wanted our product to be an easily accessible space for volunteers to get comfortable talking to older adults and then transition to in-person volunteering. To facilitate this transition, we incorporated the newsletter into our product, which would encourage users to volunteer in person. Another potential solution to the in-person volunteer problem was to follow up with emails suggesting a visit to the actual retirement home.

Final Design & Reflection

One of the main benefits of working on this project as a group was that we were able to work together to improve the project based on our skill sets. This led to many brainstorming sessions where we bounced ideas off each other with potential solutions and considerations when designing this project. For example, at one point this project was going to be a built-in display that would be built in retirement communities. This raised concerns from some group members who suggested that the project would have a tremendous overhead for the communities that wanted to use our platform. This led us to include questions in our interview with the Sheridan Elder Research Care Center that would address the platform issue. This process of collaboration was essential to our success and ultimately led us to winning the RTI competition.

Additionally, this project was a great learning experience because it allowed us to design for older adults which none of our team members previously had any experience in. This underserved market caused us to rethink many of the design choices we would normally make and made us consider the importance of accessibility in design.
Ipad meetings section
The user on the explore meetings section of the application. This section allows users to select from various upcoming meetings.
The Availability selection menu allows volunteers the ability to select when they are available for volunteer sessions.
Ipad chat mockup
UI for in chat sessions during online conversations. It was important to consider design standards within the video calling space and incorporate them within the design so users had a native familiarity with using the software.
Based on the nature of this product it was essential for users to submit a background check during the account setup process. While this makes the volunteer process slightly more difficult - it is important to protect the vulnerable demographics in retirement homes. We worked to keep this additional paperwork as simplified as possible leading to as simple onboarding  for potential volunteers as possible.