Breaking the Taboo on Gesture Interfaces for the Elderly
By Alex 17-05-2022
with constant innovations in interface design, changing the way in which we interact and communicate with the products around us, we take a look at how the older generation is responding to the integration of gesture controls….
Remember the hype that surrounded the Wii back in 2006 when it first penetrated our homes with what felt like at the time, its revolutionary new method of interaction? Over Christmas the living room become an arm swinging fiasco with dads keen to flaunt their golf swings and kids exercising their right to cause havoc without the burdens of cables restricting their movement around the room. It really was a moment of technological exhilaration as it drew a line in the sand of past and present in terms of gaming, completely changing the way in which we could interact with our tv screens.
One surprise which may not have been expected though was the intrigue within the older generation of the family. The typical scene of grandparents ebbing in and out of sleep at the sight of endless digital gadgetry unravelled from their wrapping was challenged with this new white box sitting in the hand, but moving around on screen appeared to be something more human and ultimately more easier to relate to. Once the inevitable toing and froing of convincement was passed, an unexpected attraction developed between the two, with generational duels unfolding on the bowling alleys and tennis courts of the Nintendo digital world.
The Wii was developed following the success amongst the senior and family markets with the release of the DS game ‘brain age’, as through its mentally stimulating challenges to encourage brain activity, it proved popular with the more mature user looking for a different gaming challenge which would be of benefit. Whilst the Nintendo brand held onto its ethos and beliefs with simplistic gaming and a family orientated attitude to developing gaming solutions, the DS game led the way for the Wii to continue the company’s fortunes in targeting the senior market. Let’s not forget that the baby boomer population represented the largest generation supporting the economy, where in the US alone they accounted for 78 million individuals; a sum of great significance. Whilst they were not typically thrilled with the prospect of gaming, there was however an interest in preventing a decline in mental capabilities, leading to the success which the game had witnessed following its release.
The success of the Wii also came down to its use of technology, completely revolutionising how users interact with gaming. With Nintendo sticking to their belief in family orientated gaming, the move suited this in many ways, opening up participation by simplifying the experience. with its intuitive controls, no longer was there such a barrier between the screen and the user, attracting much attention from the older user who typically feels its too complicated to manage. From a design perspective, it had to take a different approach from the likes of the PlayStation and Xbox who’s focus was on epitomising technicality and gadgetry and focus on instilling values which reflect its approachability and simplicity.
The move towards physical movement and intuitive controls have had some unexpected benefits on top of its usability, with studies drawing upon the health-related impacts the Wii has had, especially within the elderly. Researchers at Elon University in North Carolina in 2010 recruited 11 healthy elderly subjects and 15 undergraduates to take part in a study to discover the health effects of using the Wii Fit over a period of time. After a number of sessions to test the user’s balance and agility, the older subject’s ‘Wii age’ scores lowered by about 8 years.
Whilst this area of research does require further investigation, there’s clearly some early indications of how freeing up the gaming control interface with a shift to intuitive movement can encourage a wider user base, especially amongst the senior generation. Surely the end goal of completely removing the use of peripheral controls altogether will open up the experience further, adding many benefits such as the ones being seen with the Wii in terms of health and fitness.
The Wii has attracted much attention for its successes in building strong foundations with a wider audience of users, drawing upon its strengths in intuitive controls and gaming experiences that appeal to the more mature player. It has however seen some competition from the likes of Microsoft with the Kinect device, especially within the healthcare field. Once attached to the Xbox, like the Wii with its controls and add-ons it completely transforms the gaming experience through its use of sensors to detect movement.
The beauty of the Kinect device is also its freedom of application, providing many opportunities to make use of its technology outside of gaming. It has arguably seen more success within the healthcare industry because of this, with research exploring its use in many areas such as monitoring movements in care homes for falls, to helping stroke patients regain movement. Whilst it may not have seen as much success with the gaming community as the Wii, its ability to function independent of the Xbox has proven to be a valuable asset.
As generations continue to grow up using these forms of interaction, gradually removing the barriers to interacting with technology, the experience will become increasing user-centred and naturally intuitive, with a direct link between man and machine. However there may always be a bit of catching up to do with technology innovating constantly to meet this end goal of a utopianesque experience. The move towards gesture interfaces is already providing us with early indications of the next shift in interaction. Partly influenced by the dominance of on-screen communication, we have become increasingly used to decision making through our hand gestures. Following the release of the Apple iPhone which although not the first touch screen smart phone, it revolutionised digital communication with its interface design.
Apple’s immediate success following the release of its touch screen products largely revolved around its pioneering introduction of these new interaction methods, providing a much richer experience for the user to engage with screen-based interface products. There appears to be no slow down in services turning to screens to communicate and interact with their customers and users, fuelling the continuation of our obsession in interacting through them, be it for shopping, keeping in touch with friends or running your business. With Apple’s success in providing an easy to use experience, it has seen similar successes as the Wii and Kinect with the senior market for the same reasons as we’ve mentioned. Its intuitiveness has removed some of the difficulties previously seen in technology, leading to those who’d class themselves as ‘technophobes’ to take another look.
As the senior generation continue to be persuaded and influenced by the changing nature of technology to attain a higher rate of inclusivity alongside an industry keen to shape our future interactions with products, the physical interface looks set to be gradually replaced in some areas of product communication with gesture-based methods.