This article originally appears in Design for All Institute of India October 2016: Vol-11 No-9.
by Elnaz Davoudi | UX Designer
San Francisco State University
Holistic Approach to Research & Design Aging in place is a complicated subject that involves many interrelated factors. Studying any of these factors as a solo lead can be misleading to the researcher. Instead the designer studies ‘aging in place’ as a whole system. By applying the proposed holistic model to the design process, the designer intends to grasp the bigger picture and use this knowledge to enhance users’ experience through designing a product, service or product-service system. This approach to design will include the elderly as well as the younger users in the design process through a top-down design process. This trans-generational approach to the design process prevents segregating the elderly users from their younger counterparts to avoid stigmatization.
Paradigms for designing the ethnographic research structure.
This research has been conducted by a critical, interpretive and social network paradigm.
The critical paradigm
The critical paradigm helps the researcher to use the tools of research to discover inequities and find ways to bring about change in the inequitable actions and policies of the dominant social mindset (LeCompte & Schensul, Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research, 1999). For many years, elderly users were mostly excluded in design target groups. Currently, most of the products and services have been designed with the young generation in mind. This exclusion leaves the elders unable of using certain products or services while they could well take advantage of them if designed with the elder users in mind. For many years elders have adapted to this lifestyle, simply accepting it as ‘how life is’, putting the blame on the natural process of aging. This researcher however, does not find this exclusion to be unfair. The goal of this research is to advocate the participants, call attention to their needs and assist them to have access to their equal rights. Therefore, the research will employ a critical paradigm in designing the research plan.
The interpretive paradigm
This research applies a holistic view to the process. The interpretive paradigm of this research requires observing the participants in the context, as this researcher believes meaning can only be created through studying the participants’ interaction with the setting. What people know to be true about the world is fabricated by how people interact with one another in specific social settings over time (LeCompte & Schensul, Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research, 1999). Therefore culture is a relative matter and is created in a process of people’s socially based interpretations of what they do. What seems to be true at one time is not necessarily the absolute reality but the mindset of people as to what is right at that moment. The interpretive paradigm of this research challenges the current approaches to the problem. Interpretive paradigm requires the researcher to participate in the lives of the research participants to observe their interaction with setting and extracting the essence of what is really happening (LeCompte & Schensul, Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research, 1999).
The social network paradigm
The social network theory paradigm is different from what people know as social network these days. The social network paradigm is a model for analyzing social relationships developed in social anthropology (Pattison, 1981) (LeCompte & Schensul, Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research, 1999). This research provides a view of community that is composed of essentially related individuals. The research does not view the participants as isolated subjects of research but attempts to look at the elders from a broader perspective and study them in relation to the society. The social network paradigm of this research allows the researcher to understand the relationships and association among elders and the society; and study what might influence the development of their social networks (LeCompte & Schensul, Designing and Conducting Ethnographic Research, 1999).
Design of research Structure
Based on the nature of this study and the research paradigms, the researcher chose to employ qualitative methods to develop a data collection plan, design appropriate data collection methods and establish analytic procedures to interpret the data.
In this project while the research phase is specific to elder subjects over 65, the design target group is aimed to be as inclusive as possible. The research target group of this project are the elderly, who in United States fall into the category of are people 65 years old and. The goal of the project was to study minimum of 10 elders, preferably with various ethnic backgrounds. Over the course of study the researcher attempted to cover all the three sub-categories known as “young old”, “old” and “Oldest old”. Due to social considerations the researcher did not require the participants to disclose their exact ages however asked them to confirm if they fall into the defined age category. With the exception of 5 participants of those who attended group sessions, they all confirmed to be 65+. Based on the qualitative nature of this research, the researcher collected the data from the five but made sure that they do not play a major role in the final analysis. It is noteworthy that the data collected from the five was parallel to the rest. Data Collection Fieldwork for this study was carried out from March 2012 to March 2013. The study was geared towards cooking experience and aging in place, however over the course of study and after analyzing the gathered data, the research shifted towards the relation of aging in place and shopping in September 2012. During the fist course of ethnographic research, ‘ group interviews’, ‘individual interviews’ and ‘immersive observations’ were the dominant methodological procedure. The second phase of the research was mostly focused on ‘immersive observations’, ‘experience mapping session’ and ‘shadowing’.
The group interviews took place in Alma Via Assisted Living Center of San Francisco. Visits were scheduled biweekly in 5 sessions. The original group was consisted of 4 female and 1 male participants, however at times a few other interested seniors would join the group, too. Each session was followed by a routine of brief explanation of the purpose of research, the significance of their participation and a review of the previous session, followed by informal in-depth conversations around the main themes of the research including; seniors’ needs and wishes, obstacles of aging in place, feelings about aging in assisted living, reasons for their relocation, and individual personal stories. The average time of each interview was one hour. The main obstacles of the group interviews were some participants’ degenerative diseases. Hearing impairment made it hard for two of the participants to follow. The researcher would speak up but often the participants could not hear other participants. One participant was dealing with dementia and would not fully remember the previous conversations.
Individual Ethnographic Interviews
The individual interviews were conducted to gain in-depth information about elders’ needs and wishes in regards to aging in place. The choice of individual interviews was to provide a less stressful environment of elderly interviewees, so that they can safely share the experiences and reply to the questions. Total of 5 elders were individually interviewed, two of who were living independently. The other 3 were residents of Alma Via Assisted Living. Interviewing these two groups helped the researcher to have a better understanding of how it feels to move to an eldercare. It also helped the researcher to compare the data collected from those who lived in their houses to the residents of eldercare and draw further conclusions. All interviews took place in the interviewees living place and when other residents of the place were present. Besides on spot notes, interviews were audio or video recorded depending on the permission of the participants.
Immersive observations were conducted to study the subject of the research and the participant in the context. The researcher conducted the total of 5 observations session; one with two residents of Alma Via and 4 with elders who lived independently. In the first phase of research 3 immersive observation sessions were directed when participants would prepare, cook and clean up and make comments on the process. In the second phase 2 observations were made with 3 elderly when participants were shopping. The participants showed and explained day daily style of shopping. The immersive observations let the researcher to see the situations as they happened. It also helped the researcher to observe participants interaction with other people. Observations were a great resource for comparing what people say they do, need or wish and what happens in reality. The data was collected by means of audio or video recorder. Additionally, some on spot notes and photos were taken.
In the shadowing method the researcher discreetly studied 7 seniors while shopping. Shadowing method was chosen to study the users in the context of use and in their most natural manner. Notion of being observed may have an impact on the research participants. Shadowing the elders without their knowledge allowed the researcher to truly study the subjects’ shopping behavior and interactions with others in its outmost natural setting. The most important obstacle in shadowing was devising a plan to study the subjects with out arousing any suspicions. After a few unsuccessful tries of simply following or video recording with a cell phone camera the researcher decided to use a discreet 360 camera that would sit on a cell phone. The video from the 7 subjects provides a holistic view of shopping experience including the relation of subject to surrounding environment, other people and staff. The collected data from this method was a great resource for comparing the findings of other methods to what actually happens in the store.
Experience Mapping Focus Group
The experience mapping session was held with 6 senior participants in less than 3 hours. The structure of this self-designed technique is very similar to focus group with one exception that the moderator does not ask questions or in other words interview the group. Instead the researcher uses pictures to stimulate the participants and allows them to share what counts the most to them. The advantage of experience mapping is that the moderator does not conduct the subject of conversation by posing questions; the participants conduct the session very naturally. The researcher’s role is more of an observer than a moderator. Image 16- Experience mapping session. In order to gradually prepare the participants for the session the session plan was designed into 6 activities. The activities are as follows.
Activity 1: Stimulation
In the stimulation phase the participants were asked to look at 85 pictures posted on the board. The pictures were about shopping and included different parts of the shopping experience. A large group pictures were deliberately chosen based on the data gathered from previous methods. The objective of this technique was to stimulate the participants and drag their attention into shopping experience. Some shopping related cartoons were also included in the pictures to break the ice and put the participants into a relaxed and informal mode.
Activity 2: Mapping
In this phase the participants were asked to choose the pictures that reminded them of positive or negative experiences they have had while shopping and write a short note about the experience on a post-it. They were then asked to post the notes onto the board. The board consisted two separate parts. The top part of representative of positive experiences and the bottom represented negative experience. Some participants posted some picture in the borderline to represent neutral experiences.
Activity 3: Reflection
In this phase each participant was asked to stand in front of the map and explain the reason she/he had used the pictures. They each showed the audience the pictures they chose and shared their insight with other participants.
Activity 4: Discussion
Reflection activity was devised to create discussion among the participants. Numerous times what one participant had to say triggered others to share more similar or different experiences. A large part of the collected data was derived from these discussions.
Activity 5: Ideation
The participants were also asked to think of creative solutions to address the problems they had found. The researcher explained that the ideas do not need to be feasible or realistic. Participants would largely build new ideas on other participants’ ideas. The ideation phase was very much similar to a casual brainstorming session.
Activity 6: Creation
In this part the researcher provided the group with different stationary and modeling material and asked each to choose one idea they like the best and make a prototype. The researcher who had made a very poorly-made prototype of a shopping cart before exhibited her idea of the next shopping cart and asked the participants to make a prototype without being concerned about the aesthetics of it. The shopping cart was made specifically to show the participants how easy it was to make a prototype and make them feel comfortable in making their prototype. Despite all these actions the participants seemed very reluctant to the idea of making a prototype and discreetly refused to do so by changing the topic for a few times. The researcher respected their hint and did not insist on performing this last step. Data Analysis Data analysis allows the researcher to discover patterns and themes that can be associated to other patterns and themes in the research (LeCompte & Schensul, Analyzing and interpreting ethnographic data, 1999). Data analysis is a critical step to the final interpretation. In this project the data analysis happened in 5 levels.
•Fine tuning results
Inscription is a form of in-the-field analysis that is consisted of words or phrases that highlight the significant point of the data for further investigation (LeCompte & Schensul, Analyzing and interpreting ethnographic data, 1999). The researcher used inscriptions as mental notes that capture the moment until she found time to write down the descriptive data.
Descriptions are comprehensive notes on events, behaviors, conversations and activities that assist the researcher to create a portrayal of the participant and provide a coherent representation of the observed culture. Descriptions usually become more focused and objective as the research advances (LeCompte & Schensul, Analyzing and interpreting ethnographic data, 1999). Shortly after each ethnographic research session, the researcher documented a preliminary analysis that included initial interpretation of the data and the researcher’s insights.
Since most of this ethnographic research was recorded by audio or video the researcher had the advantage to capture all the details. The important parts of the files thereafter where transcribed for later use. Transcription also included documenting non-verbal data.
The volume of data in ethnographic data can be overwhelming at times, making it very hard to conclude. Coding helps the researcher to categorize and condense the data to the point that ideas, themes, patterns and structures become apparent (LeCompte & Schensul, Analyzing and interpreting ethnographic data, 1999). To this end the researcher read through all the notes and assigned categories and themes, looking for certain patterns, behaviors, ideas or categories that occur repeatedly in the data. She used descriptive words to represent each category and studied the relative frequency of each category.
In this part of analysis the researcher looked for coherent relationships among the most repeated patterns and themes. As the outline and contents of the analyzed data became more distinct, a clear portrait of the subject of study appeared. A quick review of the theoretical research paradigms and the research questions plus the collected quotes and data, assisted the researcher to see the bigger picture and create a conceptual framework of what was discovered.
The fine-tuned results
In many ways findings of this research is a confirmation to the existing literature. Most of the physical needs that the elderly are facing today and their aspires have been mentioned in some studies as old as 40 years. What stands out in this study is its social approach to the shopping experience and aging in place. In this project the researcher does not consider elders as isolated individuals but as part of a social network and rigorously attempts to capture the emotional and social aspects of shopping. Based on the analysis of the empirical data gathered, the researcher identified two main categories;
•Physical needs and wishes
•Social and emotional needs and wishes
Physical needs and wishes
Choice of store and timing:
Findings exhibit that most elders prefer to shop at one or two specific local store. They usually try to avoid shopping in weekends and the busy hours. Instead they mostly preferred to shop on weekday mornings when most people are at work. They showed interest in shopping at a store that has a good balance between quality and price. This was also seen in the literature. A group of elders preferred the stores that were relatively small but had a wide array of items. They found some stores to be too large with too many choices. These participants exhibited interest in shopping at a store with fewer, but better choices.
Carts and baskets:
Several comments regarded shopping carts and baskets. Some elders found the majority of shopping carts to be too deep; requiring them to bend and stretch to reach the products. This issue was consistent with the data from shadowing method. Some found the carts to be too large and hard to handle. The videos from shadowing confirm this statement; especially in the cases where there were pillars in between the aisles some difficulty and slight hitting incidents were observed. Most of the elders stated a better experience with smaller carts especially since they did not buy a lot each time, due to smaller households. Elders’ choice of using a basket or cart was very different. Some preferred carts because they could lean on them and use them as an assistive instrument. One woman specified, “I will always use the cart, even if I want to buy very few items, because I can lean on it, specially in the long check outlines. They should think of a bar or something for the customers to lean on.” On the other hand some preferred baskets because they were not interested in pushing the carts around the store when they had little to buy or as one participant puts it used it as a scale for how much they should shop. “I used to take the carts but then I would get out of the store and not know how to take it home. So now I will always take the baskets. As soon as the basket gets heavy enough I know that I should finish shopping.” Some participants used their own personal cart to carry the shopping bags from store to home. Some suggested having a shopping cart that could be carried from home to store, used in the store and carried back home; in order to save the bending and stretching to take out the items and put into their personal carts. In general a considerable amount of data regards shopping carts and baskets. There seems to be a great potential for re-designing these products to provide elders with a better shopping experience.
Another frequent complaint was about packaging. Many participants asserted that the portions of the packaged food were too large for them. They were not content about having to buy more than they need. To avoid waste each had come up with their personal style of maintaining or using the food. The most common approach was to divide the food into smaller portions and freezing it. The issue of large packages was even more evident when it came to foods like meat. The participants expressed a negative feeling towards letting the complete package taw in order to be able to divide it into smaller portions, and freezing it again. The proposed solution was to freeze pieces of meat individually. A remarkable group of the participants declared that a large group of packages are hard to open. Frequent examples of this issue were resalable plastic bags, jars and packages similar to chips bags.
Labeling was another significant issue of old adults. Most of the participants found the print on the labels to be too small. Some participants revealed that they do not read the labels in the store for that matter. While a participant minimizes the gravity of this issue by saying, “I do not need to read the label. I know all the information by heart”; others mainly agreed that they are interested in reading the labels but as one participants puts it are, “embarrassed to take out my glasses to read a label and no matter how far I take the package from my eyes, there is no way I can see”. The issue of labeling has been mentioned in the literature many times from 1970’s to present. According to some participants, not all the information on the price tags is legible for elder customers. They desired a price tag that specifically notes the unit price with large fonts, so that they can compare items together.
A significant number of the participants expressed negative feelings about standing in line. They demanded a place to lean on when standing in line. Most of the participants stated that they usually use the express line, where people have fewer items. Some participants would plan their shopping schedule around the hours when they knew the lines would be short. One participant says, “I usually avoid weekends. If I go shopping and seethe lines are crowded I will try to finish shopping as fast as I can so that I can still wait in the lines. I have had some cases when I just left the store because I did not want to stand in long lines for buying a few things. Even the express lines are as fast as they should be.” Most of the elders had similar reactions towards using self-checkout lines. Most of the research participants preferred to stand in conventional lines rather than using the self-checkout lines. With the exceptions of a two who said they use the service when they are in a rush because the waiting time is shorter; elders did not find the machines to be faster then regular lines. Some mentioned that the lines look shorter but the time it takes people to figure out how to use the machines outweighs the regular line. Many reported to have been very confused by the instructions of using the machine. Most of those who had tried the self-checkout service mentioned being confused to the point that the intervention of a staff was necessary. Some people stated that they simply enjoy the short conversations with the cashiers; something they could not find in the machines.
Shelves and Location of Products:
Difficulty in reaching the top and bottom shelves was also a noticeable complaint. Similar to the issue of carts, some research participants found it hard to bend or stretch to reach these shelves. One participant also commented on the relation of the weight of the items in the store to the shelves where they are located. She elaborates, “I do not feel safe when I want to take a heavy package from the tops shelves. The heavy items should be located on the mid-shelves, easily within the reach of customers. They should be where you have the most control.” Size and layout of the store:As noted in the beginning of this part, some participants found some large stores to be too large for the elder customers. They pinpointed the extensive amount of energy one should put into finding all the items on the list from different parts of the store. They criticized having too many choices for each item; instead they desired fewer choices with better quality and fair pricing. One major complaint of the participants was about regular changing of the location of items. Parallel to literature, elderly customers found this relocating to be confusing and waste of their time and energy. Some said they had sometimes encountered new items that were better what they were used to, because of this relocation but most of them also mentioned that they would rather know about a new product through tasting than extra trip around the store. Social and emotional needs and wishes While one would imagine shopping experience to be more of a physical act, social and emotional aspects of shopping frequently came up in this ethnographic research. The research revealed some usually ignored inner emotions about social life that will be elaborated here.
Based on the common themes found while data analysis the researcher presents following categories:
Nostalgia was a very strong theme of the research. Often time elders were talking about enjoyable memories of the past and drew comparisons with the existing situation. The need was sometimes expressed in more subtle way. “We had a personal relationship (with the seller) who had good information (about the food being sold). We had high quality food”. Sometimes there were direct references. “Our age group are trying to pull back in time to what we grew up with”. Having personal relationship with the seller was one of the main nostalgic themes that came up frequently. Social Interaction: The results disclosed a strong sense of desire for social interaction. Shopping experience in United States was often compared to the same experience in other countries, pinpointing the absence or scarcity of social interaction and leisure activities incorporated with shopping. “In Europe the social aspects and leisure aspects are much more integrated with shopping experience” or “Design should lend itself to create an environment where you want to sit and have fun” and “I like to go to a shopping center were I can sit and sip on my coffee while looking at people running around” or “In Europe you see so many people sitting and having meals together right in the middle of malls. The restaurants and coffee shops are woven into the structure of malls”. The research participants clearly wanted a social and fun shopping environment. In some occasions the participant regarded shopping experience as a way to manage loneliness. “People who come into a new city, they don’t know anybody. Sometimes it is very hard to meet people” and “it is also part of the routine that you have. No matter what, you will go to store every week”. In several occasion stores were mentioned to be a great place to meet new people. The participants showed plenty of desire for having personal relationship with people working at the store. They wanted to have a relationship based on familiarity and trust. They liked to personally know the seller they buy from and wanted him to know them personally and be familiar with their preferences. “Old days you used to have your butcher and they knew you for years” or “He (a seller in the past) knew our preferences. We did not have to tell them what we wanted. He already knew”. One of the participants in the experience mapping sessions puts a lot of emphasis on personal face-to-face relationship when she is talking about her idea of a new way of delivering food to elders, “This way you go to the chef. You look him in the eye” or “the (the chefs) get to know the customers so much that because they know the person they decide to put more carrots and less spice (in the package)”. Similar to what literature suggests the senior participants enjoyed special treatments. One good example of this is when one the participants explains how their butcher from old days would try to please them based on their personal relationship saying, “There is nothing (desired meat) here but let me see. I have something down here”. Trust and advice are also two prominent factors observed in the ethnographic research. Looking for advice, may it be on cooking; finding the right item or best quality food was one of the recurrent topics. “I would ask the guy (grocery seller) to give me the sweet ones (watermelons)”. Trust and advice were used hand in hand. There seemed to be a relationship between how much the customers knew the seller personally and how much they trusted them and took their word. “He (the seller in the fish market) would provide recipes as to how to cook the seasonal fish”.
Another recurrent element that could be extracted from the ethnographic research was an inner demand for respect. Concept of respect was used many times in the conversations. “Once I was so tired and the checkout line was so long. The young lady in front of me noticed. She offered me to go first. She said she was in no rush. I liked her attitude very much. I wish all young people were like her”. Another time a lady says very unexpectedly her experience of pleasant respect she and her husband received from a younger man. She explains how a Japanese young man on an international flight automatically took their carry-ons from them and fit it in the over-head bin. She then continues, “Wow! Can you imagine that?! I had lived here for so many years I forgot what it means to be respected back there (Asia)”. The concept of respect was one of the prominent elements of the ethnographic findings. Seniors never stated to need to be respected but they viewed it as a very pleasant experience.
Almost all the participants has consensus on the importance of generational integration. Some would express their feelings towards segregation very calmly, some very strongly. “I do not like to only talk to old people. Old people keep talking about their pains and medication. I would rather hang out with young people” versus “I hate the idea of segregating the aging population (at the self-check out line) intentionally. I would rather see an intergenerational force to the system to enhance integration.” Although the tones might be different the concept remains the same. Longing for an integrated society was expressed in many different ways. One interesting example of these comments is when one of the participant’s comments on the small cars designed for the children to play with while parents are shopping. “I don’t like those cars. I believe kids should be closer to their guardians… not separated from the experience of shopping.”
The main motivation of the study was to study the issue of aging and forced relocation. Based on the general purpose of the research, the study persisted in investigation on how to redesign the shopping experience in order to facilitate aging in place. The questions and sub-questions were defined. Existing literature was studied to learn the current knowledge of the matter. Qualitative research methodology was chosen based on the nature of the research. Three paradigms were chosen as guideline to the researcher. The paradigms include inclusive or ‘critical paradigm’ that investigates inequities and advocates design for aging to as a right not a privilege, this paradigm; holistic or ‘interpretive paradigm’ which encourages the researcher to look at the bigger picture and study the research participants in the context of their environment plus ‘social system paradigm’ that considers the research participants as part of the society not as isolated individuals. Several methods were employed such as group and individual in-depth interviews, immersive observations, shadowing and Experience mapping session. By means of these methods it was conceived that elderly face several physical challenges while shopping. These challenges are mostly due to their physical decline, are mainly coherent with the existing literature most of which have not been responded for many years. The main areas of concern were the large size of food packages, standing in long checkout lines, reading the labels, using the carts and baskets, size and layout of stores, shelves and location of products. The study showed a very social aspect to shopping experience. Participants found shopping to be an experience than can be fun and social. The nostalgia from old ages and existing cultures around the world were two main sources of comparison for the elders. Elders showed to be very perceptive of personal social interactions of them as customers with the seller or store staff. They desired to personally know the staff and be known by them. They liked the staff to remember them and their preferences. They looked for a personal relationship with the staff; one that helps building trust in both parties. They also liked to make conversations and take advice from them on which food to buy or how to cook a special dish with the food and more. Talking of advice was always hand in hand with ‘trust’. Findings showed that the seniors associated the personal familiarity with the seller and making regular conversations with him to sense of trust towards the seller. The general view of shopping environment was an environment for shopping, having fun and social interactions. They were specifically enthusiastic about communicating with the younger generation and truly appreciated the young people’s patience when they needed more time to learn. The participants liked to be specially treated, not in a manner that suggests they are not capable of doing it themselves or that they are old, but a special care based on friendly relationships and respect. Care and respect were two major phenomenon linked to this behavior.
The study revealed that seniors love to be respected. The desire for respect did not seem to arise from an egotistical behavior, but a feeling of being recognized for their wisdom they have gained through years. The seniors loved to be viewed as a intelligent characters and treated with high levels of dignity. They loved to feel being cared for. This was obvious from their statements through the research and behavior towards the outside world and the researcher. The researcher found having sincere respect and being genuinely honest and kind to the senior participants of the research, to be her main key to success in communicating with them.
Approach to Design Solution
The findings of the research showed a very wide spectrum of physical, social and emotional needs and wishes. Most of the physical needs have been greatly highlighted in existing literature however there is very little attention paid to aging adults’ social and emotional needs. Based on this finding and the social network paradigm of this research, the designer of this creative work project chose to focus on social needs and wishes of aging adults. The designer made an effort to find a way to strengthen aging adults’ social networks in the neighborhood, naturally and effortlessly.
New Design problem Statement
Scenario #1: Most aging adults prefer to age in the comfort of their houses independently rather than having to be relocated to other headquarters. One of the factors that can help elders age in their houses is having a strong network of people who can support them when they are in need of help, specially during temporary sicknesses or accidents. How can we bring older adults of the neighborhood closer together through shopping experience? Scenario #2: Most aging adults prefer to age in the comfort of their houses independently rather than having to be relocated to other headquarters, however often the house can be too large, making it hard for an aging adult to live in and maintain. Therefore some elders decide to downsize to a smaller house, which may lead to living in a new neighborhood. Literatures exhibit that elders’ health decline each time they relocate. Stress, isolation and grieving of relocation contribute to adults’ overall physical and psychological decline (Maag & Krisztal). How can we bring new aging adults of the neighborhood closer to others through shopping experience?
Research Finding Used in the Final Concept
Studies suggest that having a strong network of supporting people can contribute to individual’s health, which is one of the main factors of aging in place. Also a strong social network can support elders when in need and allow them to age in their houses for a longer time. On the other hand the findings of this research illustrated elder shoppers’ interest for having a more social shopping experience. They mostly viewed shopping as an experience that should have more fun aspects to it. The most significant related concepts were respect, feeling of being taken care of. The participants liked to personally know and be known by the staff. They liked to receive customized advice from the staff and found the staff’s notion of customers’ preferences to be an ultimate sign of care. They paralleled trust with personal notion of the person. Concepts of trust and advice were often used together.
One of the prominent findings of the research was elders’ discomfort when standing in long lines. Some had to physically strain while standing, finding leaning on the carts to be the only option to alleviate the hardship. Also, over the course of study a few times people brought up the idea of a resting area where they could sit for a while and take a breath. The combination of these findings led the researcher to design a service to address the mentioned issues. The service is called, “Valet Checkout”.
The Design Narrative
Based on the factors mentioned above the designer designed a new service to bring new and old aging adults of the neighborhood closer to others through shopping experience. The service also responds to seniors’ desire for being respected and known to the staff, being cared for and receiving appropriate special treatments and having a more social, relaxing and fun shopping experience. From business point of view it is predicted that the service can generate more loyal customers. From the social standpoint the service aims to create a context in which aging adults can meet neighbors living in the same neighborhood and shopping in the same local store. Here is the story of Joe, a retired senior who just moved into the area 2 weeks ago, 3 years after losing his spouse. The story explains how Joe found friends in the neighborhood and helped Gabby to continue living in her home.
The Valet Checkout Service in brief
The valet checkout service (VCS) is a service that does not require the costumers to stand in lines to checkout; instead VCS creates a better shopping experience for costumers by allowing them to sit, sip their drink and enjoy chatting with other costumers while waiting for their receipt.
To gather feedback the researcher devised one survey to collect aging adults research participants’ opinion about VCS and another survey from general population shopping in stores to have an understanding of the general reaction to the idea of having a valet checkout service. The results are as follows. In this step, the researcher defined the Valet Checkout (VC) service to 12 aging adults and asked them to answer to a short survey. In response 1/3 of the participants stated they will always use the service given the VCS exists. Almost half said they might sometimes use the service while 11% showed no interest in using the service. Almost 20% of the participants declared that in their opinion the service will definitely catalyze conversation among the customers while 77% believed it might encourage conversation. In response to the possibility of creating friendships among the customers that last outside of the context of store about 44% had a negative opinion a little more than half of the participants found it likely to happen. When asked about their general idea of implanting the VC service in the stores, 88% found it to be a great idea and the rest viewed it as a relatively good service. Some participant share their concerns or suggestions about the valet checkout service. The main question was about the money transaction. Participants liked to know specifically where and how they pay. One participant was concerned about coupons and how they can be used in the VC system. Two participants suggested a permanent cashier for VC line who can is welcoming and friendly.
To gain a better understanding of how the valet checkout system works the researcher prototyped the service. She then noted out areas of problem and suggested solutions to improve the experience. The researcher’s first goal was to prototype the service in a grocery store, yet due to liability issues could not get permission to do so. Therefore, she replicated the checkout point in a different area and assigned roles to actors and actresses. The prototyping process showed a series of issue, which should be considered in designing the experience.
Findings of the Prototyping Activity
The prototyping activity helped the researcher to understand the issues in the designed service through roleplaying the VC service; starting from when a customer puts a shopping cart in line to when he is ready to leave the store. The role-play revealed several problems in the designed service.
1- Name tag: How does the costumer identify his/her cart from the rest of the customers? Sub-problems: In case of requiring a name tag where does the customer get one? In case of requiring writing down his name, where does he get the writing tool? In case of having to attach a nametag to the cart, where and how does the costumer attach the nametag?
2- Shopping cart should be carried to the customer to provide him/her the choice of using one. This was not predicted in the original idea.
3- One aspect that was not predicted in the original idea was the fact that the receipt needs to be printed after the transaction is completed. Sub-problems: How does the receipt get printed after the transaction? Is there a necessity for printed receipts? How does the information from the scanner transfers to the card reader? What if the costumer changes his/her mind about one product?
4- Dragging the carts: There will be a gap between the carts, after the cashier drags the one in the front towards himself. The gap between the first and second cart might be negligible, but becomes a real issue when there are more than 2 carts in line.
5- Cash transaction: When doing cash transaction the staff member who delivers the service should carry change with him to the resting area. The cash should be organized and easy to reach.
Based on the findings of the role-play prototyping session the original design of the service morphed into a more practical design. In the new service the resting area is located right after the valet checkout line and allows the cashier or staff member to call the customer to the checkout point after scanning and bagging all the items. In the new version of designed service all the money transactions take place at the cashier’s desk, which is located very closely to the resting area. In this model the customers will still find the chance to omit or add another item effortlessly or use their coupons. If the cashier’s desk is located close enough, customers might even be able to do the transaction while seated. Conclusion Literature suggests that healthy and independent aging relies on more than merely medicine and elderly-friendly environments. Social support is another major contributing factor. Studies have shown that a strong social network of support can directly contribute to one’s health. People can also provide assistance to each other when in need, preventing the force to relocate for further assistance. A great example of this model is the ‘Village’ movement; a neighbor-help-neighbor system that allows old people to age in their home and community. This research showed that elderly shoppers have many physical, social and emotional needs and wishes when it comes to shopping experience; including spending less physical energy on standing in long check out lines, a sense of nostalgia and desire for rich human interactions at the store such as a sense of familiarity and respect by staff. Elder shoppers loved to be known and respected by the staff and regarded it as one of the most important factors that is missing from their current shopping experience. One went to the extent of describing the experience as “cold & mechanical”.
The final design allows customers to use their physical energy more efficiently for picking the items of their choice by avoiding standing in line through valet checking out service (VCS). VCS can also address some emotional and social needs and wishes of elder costumers to create a better shopping experience. Customers can relax and enjoy talking to other people and maybe make some social connections that is a contributing factor to again in place, by possibly meeting and connecting with other costumers that are likely to live in the same neighborhood while waiting in the sitting area. Having a set schedule for cashiers at VCS line will facilitate forming social connections between costumers and cashiers through repetitive interactions with same costumers and provide an opportunity for a richer human interaction between costumers and staff. Calling costumers by name after scanning and bagging stages will provide a more personal and friendly atmosphere and a sense of familiarity. In general the goal of the service is to create a sense of being respected and taken care of, and bringing back the sense of nostalgia that elder shoppers mentioned they miss in so many occasions during the research, while allowing shoppers to spend their time and full physical energy on choosing the items they needs rather than shorting their trip to leave some time for standing in line, as some costumers had mentioned to do in the research phase. To avoid segregation or creating a negative connotation, the service is geared towards general public.
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