Samsung sponsors Royal College of Arts to Design a Mobile Phone for the Elderly

There are some great points revealed in this presentation discussing the Helen Hamlen Centre’s project for Samsung Mobile by Adrian Westaway, founding member and Director of Vitamins, a multidisciplinary design and invention studio.

My Thoughts:

Positive move by Samsung

Great to see Samsung investing in this space but surprising it’s having so little knock on effect (eg. this project was in 2009 and last year Samsung was putting out some distasteful senior focused smartphone marketing campaigns) but they have obviously had other priorities (eg. they took out Nokia to become the world’s biggest handset manufacturer and ran head to head with Apple’s high-end-only strategy to become the world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer)

Challenge & misconceptions of senior mobile market

I think Adrian’s made a very good explanation of many of the key challenge and misconceptions surrounding marketing to seniors:

> Aging perceptions all too often include “Sadness, Depression, Poverty, Biege” and the Reality is all too often individuals who are “very active online, using social media, online dating (”

> Design for seniors is all too often focused on inability not disability

“We don’t want t design another special phone”

It appears the research has been based on some senior focused devices that aren’t actually representative of the UK senior mobile market eg. none of the devices that they analysed are commercially successful, stocked in major UK mobile retailers, etc.

I can appreciate that the job of analysing the market isn’t easy (it’s still an undeserved embryonic field) but I think the analysis would benefit greatly from an update eg. analysis of the very successful newer Doro EasyPhones that can be remotely programmed, have 100dB ringtones, etc, would be much more valuable than analysis of a device that was never even sold in the EU (the Jitterbug device pictured was actually part of a $100 recall in the USA – the only market it was ever sold in).

I think it would be very sensible for Samsung to build on this work with the RCA by updating the research replacing the Samsung Tocco Lite (that used the proprietary Samsung Handset Platform OS) with the Samsung Galaxy S3 running the Doro Experience (as this in my opinion is much more reflective of the future opportunity).

Don’t just redesign the flawed startup process, do away with it

This focus of the researchers reminded me of a service called “Airport Genie” that I noticed being advertised at the new Dublin Airport. To my mind the creation of this need has got to be the most compelling piece of evidence that you could find to prove that the designers of the Airport have categorically failed to serve passenger needs:

I think this research is similarly trying to redesign so many superfluous details that don’t need to exist. Why does a mobile for seniors require the customer to assemble it? Why is the mobile industry so content to provide unconnected solutions (Adrian points out that even Ikea offer a connected instruction solution for their flatpack furniture).

I think Apple’s integrated battery design and the future SimLess mobiles are really the way forward in terms of design for seniors and focusing on helping seniors to assemble these parts of their mobile is just unneccessary over compensation for glaringly obvious mobile design flaws.

Getting retailers to fully assemble mobiles they sell BEFORE the customer gets it and offering the Doro Experience UI on power-on startup would in my opinion be much more effective for Samsung than any amount of redesign.

The need to articulate the benefits of mobiles for seniors

A bit disappointed that Adrian didn’t talk more of the key value proposition that mobile offers to seniors as I find this is key to generating enthusiasm. Key benefits I would’ve mentioned would be the opportunity to be reachable, work whenever/wherever, lower total cost of ownership (comparable to subscription based landlines), convenience (eg. Hairdresser/Doctor/Taxi/MOT appointment reminders), fun (eg. text to TV competitions), etc.

Senior workshops

It would be fascinating to learn more about the “6 person 6 hour workshops” that the researchers hosted as I’ve noticed shorter larger group sessions being very successful in senior mobile adoption and that several communities have already started self organising their own impromptu events (eg. here in EU I met with a retailer who bulk sold Doro EasyPhones to members of the WI who had organised these events themselves).

Design starts before the box

I’m surprised that the starting point the researchers took was the unboxing process. Long before that we have the opportunity to drive customer expectations and desires. Apple’s a trailblazer that provides countless lessons on this eg. their TV commercials show you why you want to use their technology with obvious examples (Videophone = see your GrandChildren).

It’s not hard to see that we’re going to look back in only a few years at the current UK retail model and find it hilarious that the UK’s leading retailers stock their highstreet displays with plastic dummy models of mobile phones that don’t work!

“Simple Map worked best”

Some very interesting ideas are shared here, I particularly liked the London Transport map inspired designs:

…and the deck of cards design:

…with it’s business card dimensions so it can fit a wallet (for how long will we still need these hey?):

If you have to provide printed materials this has got to be a nice way to do it and I imagine mHealth app developers might start providing cards designed like these eg. in box with medication packaging, as part of the prescription process, etc.

The NFC application looks so neat it might even convince me that there’s a consumer opportunity for NFC

But I’m not sure that the disruption occurs until we realise the printed instruction manual for a mobile phone is merely evidence that you’ve failed to make your device usuable by it’s target audience (something that
DJ Patil refers to as the Zero Overhead Principle – where no feature should be tolerated in Enterprise software if it adds training costs to the user).

Fortunately the newest trillion $ industry doesn’t suffer fools lightly and if you need a book to help your customer assemble their phone in 2012 you’re not going to be making profits…

What do you think? Did you get any ideas watching the video? Do you want your next mobile packaged in a book?

HatTip: @Bart

About David Doherty
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