Flow is a tablet-based web communication and social media app. It was developed for older adults to provide them with an individual-centered service in which they can control their individual stories and allow people in a specific group to see their stories. While there are many similar applications for interacting with others, Flow is unique in that it is a story-based application: Users can easily categorize and access their stories anytime. This is different from other social media such as Facebook, which is based on prompt newsfeed stories and does not categorize or retrieve stories as easily as Flow. Another unique feature of Flow is its membership features: Older adults may be particularly worried about security, and Flow offers several functions to help users protect their privacy.
The initial idea for Flow originated from a 2015 project for designing a memory improvement app. It included three different features: sound therapy, social communication, and a picture matching game (Jang, 2015). Feedback from several users indicated that the social communication part should be recreated as a new social platform application for older adults. The aim of this new app should be to provide older adults with a story-based communication tool to help them improve their remote communication capability. The features of the new app would include producing personal stories as a means to interactively communicate with others. This app should also take older adults’ physical decline into account, which included adding a voice recording feature. These ideas guided the creation of Flow V1.0, which was detailed in milestone #2.
1.2 Flow V1.0 User Study
The Flow V1.0 user study was conducted between August 2016 and November 2016. It used several different research methods: surveys, interviews, and observations to better understand older adults. The user study showed that design elements for older adults should be intuitive, quickly recognizable, and require minimal attention. Also, it delivered several recommendations on design elements such as structure, icons, and words. Following are the recommendations:
Structure: designs should have parallel menu structure with only one deep hierarchy for ease of use. Providing enough space in the design elements permits older adults to use a menu intuitively without requiring an unnecessary cognitive load. A shortcut with different menu hierarchies was problematic and participants were confused and struggled to understand the menu functions. As a result, the new design has simplified structure.
Word: To develop a service that is easily accessible to older adults, a common word used for easy approaches are recommended. For example, participants preferred the word “Back” instead of “Cancel.”
Icon: The icon shape was the first recognizable cue for older adults, and a word added to the icon provides confidence in their choice. Color is a secondary cue in recognizing the function of an element, but the color itself cannot describe the meaning of the icon for older adult users, so a recognizable shape would be the first priority condition for the icon.
A noticeable decline in one’s ability typically starts in the mid-forties (Hawthorn, 2000), but there are no specific age boundaries for dividing younger and older adults because each individual has a different rate of aging that can be categorized in terms of four dimensions: “chronological, biological, psychological, and social aging” (Phillips, Ajrouch, & Hillcoat-Nallétamby, 2010, p.12). Although most developed countries have used the chronological age of 65 or older as describing older adults, and no UN standard criterion existed, the UN has now agreed to describe persons of age 60 years or older as older adults because of shorter life expectancy in developing countries (Czaja & Lee, 2012; WHO, 2013). Therefore, the term older adults in this research will mean those in the age range 60 years and older. This description covers an enormous variety of biological and psychological conditions. For the purposes of this study, Flow’s users are older adults over 60 years old who would like to communicate with their old friends or family members.
1.4 Application design
The application interface was developed in prototype format to seek a possibility of interface design. It was based on web design guidelines for use in the tablet-based application for older adults. There were two designs, which were models to be compared in the user study, they were measured with task completion time and rates, as well as system usability scales.
The tablet interface design followed several web design guidelines (Agelight, 2001; Coyne & Nielsen, 2008; Hodes & Lindberg, 2002; Holt & Komlos-Weimer, 2001; Zhao, 2001) regarding font size, color combination, layout, icons, and sound. The prototype was developed on an Apple iPad 3rd generation with a 9.7-inch LED display and a screen interfaces with a 2048-by-1536-pixel resolution at 264 dpi. For easy recognition of differences in the menus, complementary color sets were set up in the application:
First design: Green for the Login, orange for My Story, and blue for Community Chats [Figure 1]. Second design: Light blue for the Login and settings, orange for My Story, green for My Friends, and blue for Community Chats [Figure 2].
[Figure 2. New Flow design color set]
A three-row grid was used to provide effective use of space and hierarchical structure in the vertical interface in both designs. Axure was used for prototyping the Flow application.
1.5 Structure Architectures
[Figure 3. Previous Information architecture] [Figure 4. New Information architecture]
In the first prototype, there were only two main menus, My Story and Community Chats [Figure 3]. However, My Friends, which was located in the My Story menu, was moved out from the My Story due to the complication of the searching menus. Most participants in the last user study suggested moving My Friends menu to the main menu. Therefore, the main menu was set up with My Story, My Friends, and Community Chats for the new main menu set [Figure 4].
2 User Study
The main goals of this study are (1) to modify prototype design with the previous user study for a rich, story-based, interactive, older-adult-friendly interface prototype based on a touch-based tablet application; and (2) to assess the new prototype design. The user study measured how new design is better than the previous design using several research methods. The data was collected through the system usability scale (SUS), task completion time, task completion rate, and the usability survey, along with observation, which was analyzed by watching the videos.
Three females and one male participants were recruited for the user study from retirement communities and churches, via flyers, word-of-mouth, and personal contacts. Most participants’ age was approximately 60. All participants had college degrees and were living with their spouse. They were meeting with their friends in person more than 8-9 times a week. Most participants have a better understanding and were more comfortable using a computer than a mobile phone or tablet [Figure 5].
2.2 Testing Environment and format
The user study was conducted in the community center, participant’s home, and a comfortable place. An iPad was provided to each participant for the study. Before starting the user study, participants had time to explore and learn specific functions of the application. Participation lasted for approximately 40 minutes. During the study, participants followed the study procedures listed below.
Preparation of the user study
- Practice time to learn functions of both applications (5min)
- Question and answer (5min)
- First study with prototype1 with the tasks (approximately 10 or 15min)
- Second study with prototype2 with the tasks (approximately 10 or 15min)
- Surveys (5min)
Five tasks were provided to participants and they were asked to complete tasks with both interface designs. If participants could not finish any task, they could skip it.
You are asked to complete the tasks in the below for both Interface designs. During the study, you cannot ask any question. Therefore, you should complete any question before starting the participation. If you cannot complete the tasks you can simply say you cannot complete and can move to the next task. It is not related to your capability of using electronic devices, thus please do not hesitate to say that you cannot complete that task.
- Upload one story to My Story.
- Leave a comment to one of your friend stories.
- Send a friend request after searching your friend name Susan Boil.
- Create a chat room and add your friends to the chat room for conversation.
- Log out your story
For the evaluation of the two designs, the study methods of the System Usability Scale (SUS), Task Completion Success rate, Task Completion Time on Tasks, Survey and Observation were used.
3-1 System Usability Scale (SUS)
The System Usability Scale (SUS) was developed by Jone Brooke in 1986 for quick and dirty methods to allow low cost assessments in industry. It has been tested for 30 years as a global assessment of systems’ usability. The scale was from 1 to 5.
The total scale was 100 and when a scale is over 52, it means the system is okay and fair to use. If the total scale is less than 38, it means that the system usability is poor. Although the new design has a better system usability compared to the previous design, it seems to be improved.
Brooke, J. (1996) SUS-A quick and dirty usability scale. Usability evaluation in industry, 189(194), 4-7.
[Table 1 – System Usability Scale (SUS)]
3-2 Task Completion Success Rate
The task completion success rate is a method to verify the functional possibility of the systems related to the tasks. Task 3 and task 5 of design 1 were not completed by at least one of the participants and task 1, 3, and 5 in design 2 were not completed by at least one of the participants. The error made in task 1 of design 2 was by the malfunction of the application, so the participant had to skip the task.
[Table 2 – Task completion rates]
The error made in task 5 of design 2 was unconsciously skipped by the participant. Because task 5 of design 1 was harder to find, he seemed to skip the task of design 2 thinking it was like design 1. Task 5 in design 1 was a problematic part. In the previous user study, no one could find the function of task 5 and it was same in the second user test.
3-3 Task Completion Time on Tasks in seconds
Most participants completed the five tasks quickly in design 2 compared with design 1. Sometimes, the reasons that it took time to complete the tasks came from the participants’ behavior when concentrating on typing their story or a comment. All participants said that there were no differences between the two designs; however, Task completion time shows that the new design makes it easier to complete the tasks.
[Table 3 – Task completion time]
3-4 Survey results
The survey was requested at the end of the participation to figure out each design element’s improvement such as design, color, text, structure, method of uploading pictures or videos, and method of recording a voice. Most participants noticed that there was not much difference between the previous design (Design 1) and the new design (Design 2). Two participants reported that structure of the interface design was improved in the new interface design. Most participants were unsatisfied with the structure of the application in the previous design as well as in the new design. Participant 3 seemed to be having trouble with both interface designs. According to the observation of participant 3, the participant’s problem came from the malfunctioning menus. As a prototype, most interactive functions have limitations. For example, when selecting the pictures for uploading a story, chosen images in the photo gallery could not be shown in the preview page because the prototype did not have a database to show the right images that the participants had chosen. Most participants could not understand that context and spent time to figure out those problems.
After completing the user test, most participants reported that they could not find that much difference between the two designs. It would be difficult for the participants to figure out the difference of two designs within a short time of practice. However, task completion time and rate confirmed that the new design is better than the previous design. Still, the new design needs to be improved. The important finding was that the same as in the previous research, participants reacted to the shapes of icons first rather than the words or the colors in the interface.
Although the prototype was interactive, limited functions made it complicated for participants to complete their tasks, which means that programmed prototype should make a better environment for the user study. Most participants really wanted to upload their picture with their voice recording on the application.
This study has only four participants who were highly educated, so this similar educational background cannot provide general statistics of older adult. Also, the prototype interface produced moments with insufficient interactions, which made participants take time to complete their tasks. Therefore, it might have affected the results of the research.
Results from this study recommend the development of a specific design methodology for future research involving the development of apps for older adults. Results also showed that for the usability test for older adults, fully functioning interaction with the prototype is necessary for the user study. Thus, this study suggests that a user interface that is programmed needs to be developed.
Agelight, L. (2001). Interface design guidelines for users of all ages, 1–17. Retrieved from http://www.agelight.com/webdocs/designguide.pdf
Brooke, J. (1996). SUS – A quick and dirty usability scale, 189(194), 4–7.
Coyne, K. P., & Nielsen, J. (2008). Web usability for senior citizens: design guidelines based on usability studies with people age 65 and older. Nielsen Norman Group.
Czaja, S. J., & Lee, C. C. (2012). Older adults and information technology. In Human–Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies, and Emerging Applications, Third Edition (pp. 825–840). CRC Press.
Hawthorn, D. (2000). Possible implications of aging for interface designers. Interacting with Computers, 12(5), 507–528.
Hodes, R. J., & Lindberg, D. A. B. (2002). Making your website senior friendly. National Institute on Aging and the National Library of Medicine.
Holt, B. J., & Komlos-Weimer, M. (2001). Older Adults and the World Wide Web: a Guide for Web Site Creators. Retrieved from www.spry.org
Jang, W. (2015). An ipad application prototype to enhance memory of older adults. In International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction (pp. 299–304).
Phillips, J. E., Ajrouch, K. J., & Hillcoat-Nallétamby, S. (2010). Key Concepts in Social Gerontology. SAGE Publications.
WHO. (2013). Definition of an older or elderly person: Proposed Working Definition of an Older Person in Africa for the MDS Project. World Health Organization. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/healthinfo/survey/ageingdefnolder/en/
Zhao, H. (2001). Universal usability web design guidelines for the elderly (age 65 and older). Universal Usability in Practice.