Hackathon Diaries: Elderly

London Design Jam

My second hackathon in as many months (first one here), this one for the elderly.

The Brief

Social isolation and loneliness among the elderly (especially those 75+) are serious problems as Britain's population life expectancy increases. These post significant health risks and can lead to depression.

Our challenge was to connect elderly with learners abroad, who needed practice with their written and oral English.

What We Did

A one day hackathon at Google Campus, organised between the London Design Jam and Jam Conference team - we had developers, students, designers and entrepreneurs, in 5 teams of 4 to 5.

The whole day was strictly time boxed - from understanding the problem, brainstorming, prototyping, usability testing (with elderly Skype users) to presenting to the audience.

The idea we came up with was 'Gen-connect', an video chat website for retired people to connect with English language learners abroad. Elderly users would set up a profile, state their job experience and interests. A common interests algorithm would match them with English learners who post questions they need help with. Once matched, users can interact and build relationship with each other using messaging or video call.

We developed a paper prototype for testing, which was later mocked up in Invision.

Someone who is lonely probably also finds it hard to reach out. There is a stigma surrounding loneliness, and older people tend not to ask for help because they have too much pride. This is a similar situation learners abroad face. They are keen to practice their English, but are afraid or embarrassed of being mocked for making mistakes. The conversational video chat format makes learning less intimidating, and they get to benefit from the rich tapestry of relevant life experience (e.g. jobs) the retired have.

What We Learned

Make your USP clear when presenting your product - so for our team, it wasn't clear that the learner questions posted after setting up a profile were based on the senior's areas of interest and ex jobs.

By running through the prototype in our presentation, you might discover find blind spots that testers/the audience ignore completely. They might have questions on what things mean and why they're needed - in our case, the audience was unclear why the senior's age was needed to set up an account and why a rating request was made after the end of a video chat.

Take note of these feedback/questions, so you can decide whether or not the step/feature is critical to the user, and what changes need to be made to the prototype.

Old people aren't all the same - there are nuances and segments within the 'elderly' demographic, who have varying technical abilities and user needs. Keep that in mind when designing your solution.

Ideas We Liked

Here are some features I took interest in from other teams:

  • A built-in timer with the video chat (e.g. 10 mins) to limit awkwardness or overrunning conversations
  • The multiple criteria rating after chats - e.g. how useful, how easy to use, how enjoyable?
  • Who's available to chat (number of online per interest/topic)?
  • A clear chat calendar scheduling function
  • AI chat topic suggestions
  • VR headsets for students to dynamically show elderly their environments
  • A simple, easy to filter profile for users - both seniors and learners
  • Skype meets audio books - combining storytelling with video chat to enhance learning experience and improve literacy skills
  • Use familiar metaphors - e.g. a red telephone icon is more recognisable to users to end a chat, compared to a cross icon

Overall Thoughts

Time-boxing during any design 'sprint' or hackathon is good. I got more done in one day than I did during the two day XD x RCN hackathon. Granted, after my first experience I'd learned to make quicker decisions and work smarter.

I am in love with agile research and quick ideation techniques - e.g. 'Amazing Eight' (Eight ideas in eight mins), grading ideas on an Effort Impact matrix, dot voting and keeping ideas tight, clear and visual on drawn post-its.

Immediately after usability testing, there was a 'check in' with all the teams together. It was an effective way to summarise key insights we'd gathered from the testing and share interesting findings.

Our talented team member Daniel Tuitt used a storyboarding software Storyboard to create a cartoon strip of a user journey. It's awesome.

Our audience (all the teams, instead of judges) were very acute in their questions. That really helps. It's a shame there was no feedback gathering documentation from attendees.

Have you been to a hackathon? What did you learn from it? Tweet your thoughts to me @ChristinaLai1