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Library of Wisdoms

Exploring personalization: The process of turning older adults’ unique daily life pleasures into personal design enhancing their empowerment and social engagement

Design Research
for healthy aging

Final Bachelor Project 

Marjolein den Haan - Wintermans (phd) & prof.dr. Yuan Lu; prof.dr. Matthias Rauterberg

Ontmoet & Groet Huys Eindhoven (community center for older adults)

Studio Silver

Saar, Johan and Alice
(pseudonyms of the participating 

in short

Design research challenge, approach, methods, results & contribution

The aging population is a still rising problem globally and in the Netherlands. As life expectancy rates increase, chances for valuable activities in the daily life of older adults may decrease due to changing personal circumstances. And so the chance for social engagement and empowerment which are important aspects of healthy aging. In order to address the uniqueness of this diverse target group it is important to focus on their actual needs, daily life pleasures, and bringing their voices to the center of participatory projects. 


For this study it was explored how the personal design process creates design that reinforces the daily pleasures of older adults. The proposed personal design process consisted of two phases, firstly creating a personal design in collaboration with two individual older adults (in this case: Saar and Johan), in 4 iterations, and secondly transferring one of the previous personal designs towards a new older adult (in this case: Alice), in 3 iterations. Therefore an iterative process consisting of 7 iterations and 7 participatory moments (workshops and studies) has been used, based upon existing literature. During this case study an explorative, qualitative and inductive approach was used through collaboration with three retired older adults and their surrounding social network, also called participatory design research. In the first phase, two personal designs were made, 1) Tiles by Saar, for Saar: a wall-based tangible wisdom sharing system to be placed in the community room of the Ontmoet & Groet Huys in Eindhoven. This concept addressed the fact she always puts herself on the second place, its great possibilities for taking away her insecurities and low self-esteem. This concept encouraged wisdom exchange in community setting through concepts of liking and inspiring. Secondly, 2) Control the News for Johan was designed: a concept that empowered him by controlling his audio information stream, audio books & audio plays; and enhanced his social engagement through a sharing function in the tangible platform. The personal design for Saar around sharing wisdoms was chosen by the third participant Alice to re-personalize towards her and ended up into the final personal design 'Library of Wisdoms'. A design that was personalized towards the wisdoms Alice wanted to share, and based on her formgiving preferences. A prototype of Library of Wisdoms was put into the community room of the Ontmoet & Groet Huys to evaluate whether a personal design, could be used, appealing and generalizable to a very diverse range of older adults present in this context. Could the personal design process not only empower the older adults whose daily pleasures were reinforced, but could also deliver empowering & socially engaging value for a more diverse group of older adults.

Main results of the study showed the importance of social engagement and empowerment of older adults within the reinforcement of daily pleasures. It became clear that the participatory moments enabled to reinforce these daily pleasures by creating opportunities for empowerment and social engagement, while engaging in the process and through personal designs made. Participants were empowered through delivered value from the personal design created and through the process of participation; resulting in personal insights, designer-participant bonding and pride. Moreover, participants were socially engaged through the creation of wisdoms and knowledge exchange and their role within the participatory process. Furthermore, those moments enabled the designer to deal with the uniqueness and diversity of the target group by creating empathy with the individual participants. This study was conducted with a small sample size (3 participants), therefore future research is suggested to look into dealing with high participant loads; the transferability of the personal design to maintain a personal touch alongside created value; the recruitment of participants; and the role of prototypes and aesthetics in the personal design process.



Why I loved this project?

Especially the intense collaboration with the three older adults, part of the Ontmoet & Groet Huys community was super valuable. Going through many workshops together, not only ended up into valuable personal design opportunities that could reinforce their daily pleasures, but also resulted into bonding between me and the participants. That was very special.
I learned a lot about their lives, they told me about their most memorable life experiences & lessons and even got invited at their homes. 

Furthermore, through all the personal design workshop in this project I got acquainted with co-design and many other UX research methods and tools in one semester.  Moreover, I realized through this project I had to step up my game and focus within my masters project on interactive tangible prototypes, that could give way more interesting user-related design insights.


During my fbp I have gone through the personal design process, a co-design process, with various participatory moments in different iterations of the process. Hereby I have gained lots of experience with co-design, learned to thoroughly prepare workshops and studies through protocols just as back-up plans and applied those when needed. While going through these various, tailored, participatory moments I have deepened my user research skills by gaining experience with various user evaluation methods fitting the participants, e.g. pleasures in life workshop, kick-off conversation, semi-structured interviews, observations and moodboard workshop. Through co-designing and being so highly involved with three participants I have definitely improved my communication skills. Expectations differed, misunderstandings happened and even one of my participants wanted to withdrawal because of high participant load, however I managed to solve these issues and create good participant-designer bonds. 


I have done lots of workshops and 2 user studies which I had voice recorded and transcribed, leading into huge transcriptions covering qualitative data out of sometimes 1-or 1,5 hour- lasting- conversations. In this way I learned to process huge amounts of data, analyze them and pick what’s most important for ideation, conceptualization or study results. Since lots of data sets were used to inspire ideation or conceptualization I learned to use thematic analysis methods that were more explorative than the one from Brown & Clarke. During my fbp I have really learned to translate these data sets into useful outcomes for the process, as concepts or personal aesthetics. In order to communicate results towards coaches I learned it was important to visualize those outcomes and support them with quotes from the transcripts. In this way I learned to effectively communicate my results.


What surprised me was that I have used my sketching skills out of the course Exploratory Sketching a lot to communicate my personal design concepts to e.g. Alice when she had to choose a concept preference or during the Midterm Demo Day to inform the coaches. Moreover I did my ideation mostly with mind mapping and quick sketches, however I have implemented my quick prototyping skill during the making of low-fidelity Wizard of Oz prototypes for the intermediate studies. In my opinion I could have used this skill a bit earlier in the project to ease giving input for the participants during the concept evaluation workshop for example. When making the moodboards for the moodboard workshop with Alice I could implement what I learned about creating styles through formgiving, coloring and materials. This by making 4 moodboards reflecting different styles based upon underlying moods and emotions and expressed by those components. When I had to translate the chosen moodboard into the final personal design I learned how to actually implement formgiving, coloring and materiality into a design vision and even into a prototype.


The chosen final design by Alice did not involve any electronics. This was overdue for its purpose and did not fit the capabilities of the participant. Although I could not implement the goal into this part of the fbp process I have learned to design its interactions as grabbing a copy, making a wisdom template, hanging wisdom on washing line but then without technology involved. Moreover, to compensate I therefore made the whole prototype myself, learned to create a prototype plan with all materials, sizes, components and lasercut drawings needed. This gave me the confidence I was able to work out my concepts and handle with the interactions into this prototyping process. Furthermore, for the intermediate study with Johan I had to make a Wizard of Oz prototype of the personal design concept made for him. Hereby I learned to create the best ways to fake the experience through prototyping the intended tactile interactions and audio feedback system (on Ipad). In this way I could still live up to my goal set and developed a sufficient base within this competency.


Regards design research processes, going through the personal design process; adapting it myself (adding studies and workshops) to be more applicable for the research scope; reflecting on it; defining my own methods within these participatory moments and switching between detailed work (co-design sessions) and helicopter view (paper writing, scoping, literature research) I learned to manage the design research process. Furthermore since some unexpected things happened as misunderstandings and withdrawal I learned to manage that as well and become a more flexible designer.


The personal design process within my fbp was a perfect way to improve my communication and cooperating skills. This through the high user involvement, close collaborations with participants. I learned to fit workshop content to their personal capabilities, fully empathize with them, sharing information, deal with difficult situations (withdrawal, differing expectations) and to cooperate with my client stichting Ontmoet & Groet Huys. By having close contact with the experts at the Ontmoet & Groet Huys I was able to use them as mediator between designer and participant, recruiting participants, help solving participant problems and managing to carry out a long-term in context study. Due to all those participatory workshops I learned to plan and organize them, taking the participant’s wishes into account. Learned to stick to my planning, reflect on it and adapt it when needed. Moreover, as said in the previous professional skill I learned to deal with unexpected events in my planning (no participation, different expectations of process or tasks, withdrawal, preparing back-up plans for during workshops, arranging new participants with client). During my fbp I reflected a lot on my process and on my personal design concepts and workshop approaches. I have learned to draw weekly processes to make it easy to reflect upon. Moreover, I reflected upon almost every participatory moment for myself and took these insights with me in the next sessions. What was important is that during this project I learned to reflect upon workshops, final outcomes and processes WITH the participants which gave me valuable insights for future projects. Finally, due to the workshops given by the squad on pitching and preparing for Demo Days I have learned how to use different media to present, to apply layers when presenting (3-30-300 method) and to use story blocks to prepare. 


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