When you consider how product designers must think about the household and personal devices they develop for the aging market, you have to wonder who they’re designing them for. With their add-ons, built-ins and special features, it’s certainly not the caregivers and everyday users coping with Alzheimer’s disease.
Who do these designers really serve? What is their motivation? What is the effect of their products on those who use them? And whose worldview do we want guiding our designs?
As a product designer himself and caregiver to his mother with dementia, CogPro founder Peter Zimmer asked himself these questions, as he tried to address the difficulties his mother was having with her many appliances. His versions of a phone and radio restored her use of them, and for twenty months improved her quality of life, in her own home and in the months after her move to an assisted living facility.
Peter saw that the designers of today’s new devices frame their solutions to serve the priorities of caregivers rather than focusing on the experience of everyday users. His mother’s devices were a Nurse Ratched, making her life miserable, when what he really wanted for her was a Jeeves, quietly allowing things to work the way she expected.
Nurse Ratched is a character in Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. She’s the cold and heartless head nurse at a state mental institution, where she exercises tyrannical control over the patients in her care.
By contrast, Jeeves – the fictional creation of P.G. Wodehouse – is the highly competent valet to a fatuous young English gentleman, Bertie Wooster. Through his behind-the-scenes ingenuity, Jeeves is the all-purpose problem solver and sticky situation pre-emptor for the oblivious Bertie. Bertie’s profound unawareness is more than matched by Jeeves’ intuitive and realistic outlook.
Like so many of today’s personal devices, Nurse Ratched ignores what her charges actually want, understand or need, or what their previous lives were like. She imposes her order, requiring them to learn how to do things her way – or else. Her patients are always at risk of making a mistake, under penalty of denial or punishment for failure to conform.
In an Alzheimer’s context, screwing a plastic box over the thermostat to disallow access is a typical Nurse Ratched action. “Solutions” like this may offer more safety and fewer problems, but don’t actually make the experience of daily life better.
CogPro’s Jeeves appliances anticipate errors the inattentive or absent-minded user is likely to make.
Our devices prevent errors or reduce their effect through their embedded smarts, while the remote back-end system enables the caregiver to monitor usage, adjust the settings and respond to alerts. By retaining their familiar outward appearance and operation, the user still feels comfortable and in control, while the care-giver has the security of knowing Jeeves is really in charge.
Thermostats, phones, radios, microwaves and TVs — all these everyday household devices are ideal for a Jeeves makeover. Requiring only connections to electricity and telephone, CogPro is creating smart appliances with a Jeeves worldview to work in any old home.CogPro Home Page
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