It is known that, during normal aging, there is a decline in sensory, motor and cognitive abilities. Several everyday objects, from television remote controls to mobile phones, are designed for the personas of twenty-three-year-old Jane or John Doe, and fail to accommodate the needs of the elderly or the disabled. In this installation, I attempt to demonstrate the impact of age related vision and hearing losses.
My grandmother, who is now over ninety years old, is fond of reading. On warm afternoons, you would find her sitting in the garden and reading the newspaper or a regional magazine. In addition to wearing glasses, to accommodate for her loss of vision, she uses a hand held flashlight to better see the otherwise illegible text and graphics.
The recommended approach of interaction design process was followed to create this installation. The initial design inspiration was a quote by W.B. Yeats “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” Based on this notion of senses growing sharper, and design focused on portraying the limitations of our senses through an interactive painting, using infrared and thermo-chromatic materials, but as the idea developed, it was less about our senses evolving further and mostly accommodating for the deterioration of our senses, or design obstacles, that made the sensory experience less accessible. This coupled with previous observations on how my grandmother accommodated for her loss of vision and hearing, formed the story behind the two panels.
Paper prototypes were made of both panels and tested with co-scholars. Panel1 interaction was well received, however, it seemed to lack a purpose or end result. Based on this observation, the design now suggests viewers to count the number of butterflies, or spot the biggest and smallest of the butterflies. The main feedback for panel 2 was that users may not be spontaneous in conversing with the old woman in the panel. This coupled with hardware limitation of sound sensor fidelity, led to further iterations of the design to incorporate the bee metaphor. The sound sensor only recorded a change when air was blown into the microphone and the interaction had to be modified from speech to blowing on the panel.
A key take-away from this design process is the work-around or spontaneous modification of the design, based on observations and hardware limitations, and yet convey the intended concept and message.
Analogous to juggling, which requires a well-synchronized physical interaction, viewers interacting with panel 1 were seen carefully coordinating their head and hand movement to illuminate regions of the panel to not obstruct their line of sight. When viewers were asked to count the number of butterflies or spot the largest butterfly, it took longer than it would have, if the entire picture was visible. For the second panel, some users quit blowing at the bee after one or two attempts, but those who tried multiple times and finally succeeded, were delighted, when the old woman’s ear scaled up in size. This also elicit's the frustration in having a conversation with someone who is hearing impaired.