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Title: Smart materials and metaphors to enhance technology adoption among older adults
Author: Micocci, Massimo
ISNI:       0000 0004 7658 0769
Awarding Body: Brunel University London
Current Institution: Brunel University
Date of Award: 2017
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Technological innovation is increasingly contributing to the development of smart objects, meant as semi-autonomous devices augmented by sensing, processing and network capabilities that facilitate older adults being independent and in control of a healthy lifestyle. Given the lessened familiarity that the ageing population has with internet-based technologies, a 'digital divide' among generations is often observed. This research is premised on the basis that design interventions can develop intuitive and understandable smart objects minimising age-related differences and promote a greater technology adoption. The aim of this thesis is to investigate how the understandability of smart objects for the ageing population could be supported through the application, at the product design level, of Smart Materials (SMs), a category of engineered materials whose properties can be designed to both stimulate human sensorial abilities and to develop engaging experiences. In line with such research enquiry, SMs are adopted in this thesis for their ability to embody 'analogies' and 'metaphors' into product designs and systematically stimulate the prior knowledge and memories of older adults to facilitate their understanding of new concepts, following the principle of 'familiarity'. Analogies and metaphors, powerful learning tools for written, verbal and visual communication, have been recently investigated as 'non-linguistic' tools, when physically embedded into product designs, to facilitate the users' understanding how technology works. How non-linguistic metaphors help to cope with age-related differences is still incomplete. In order to demonstrate that embodied SMs can minimise differences in the understandability of technologies across generations, a qualitative and exploratory study was conducted; empirical evidence was collected through four techniques to accomplish the following objectives: 1. identify critical areas that affect older adults' everyday life and that smart objects should cope with; 2. define a set of embodied Smart Materials to be included into the prototype of a Smart Radio, a novel communicative device specifically design for the ageing population; 3. evaluate the prototype of the Smart Radio, where age-related similarities and differences in the interpretation are made explicit. 62 participants (n=31 under-60-year-old and n=31 over-60-year-old participants) evaluated the developed Smart Radio, the main evaluation study conducted in this thesis, using four different families of SMs. Findings reveal that embodied SMs considerably help mitigate age-related differences in the understanding of smart objects; this in return may increase the chance of technology adoption among ageing users. The embodiment of Smart Materials that enable metaphorical processing shows promising improvements on the older adult's ability to reaffirm their own subjective awareness, hence control, of the world around them along with opportunities for a human-centred technology development.
Supervisor: Ajovalasit, M. ; Spinelli, G. Sponsor: L.T.M. Light Touch Matters (NMP.2012.4.0-1)
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Inclusive design ; Digital divide ; Technology and ageing population ; Intuitive and familiar interfaces