Communication among friends and family is a central part of life for most people. We call, email, instant-message, write letters, and do whatever else we can to stay in touch with the people we care about. We do this on special occasions, during the week, before holidays, and when someone we care about isn't well.
Sadly, there are people for whom communication with loved ones is a source of stress, instead of pleasure. These people suffer from various degrees of memory loss or impairment, and when the phone rings in their home, they feel a moment of panic that perhaps they won't be able to identify the person calling. One day they might not be able to remember a phone number or an email address, and another they might forget entirely when the last time they called someone.
There was a time when as someone got to this stage of life, either due to a disease or simple aging, they would need someone to start looking after them. With recent technological developments, however, such people can now strive to "Age in Place" [Mynatt, Essa, & Rogers], a term for a lifestyle that older adults choose when they decide to continue living independently rather than move to an institutional setting.
PhotoGenic is a project aimed at helping this group of people regain and retain mastery of their communication, by associating digital photographs with communication events. As it was originally conceived, it was to have the following components:
Events (Screen Pops)
Due to lack of time, we had to reduce the scope of the project, and limit
it to the following activities:
There are several other projects that are aimed at creating enabling technology for older users. The Archimedes Project, for example, at Stanford [Macken] describes several novel user interface devices to help individuals with disabilities communicate, but focuses more on modes of communication rather than on tracking calls & emails and establishing the connections.
Several commercial products have been developed that can aid seniors in their communication needs. The PhotoPhone [Ameriphone] allows you to dial a phone number by pressing on a picture on a physical phone. The Portrait Video Phone [Li, Shum, Yu, et. al.] is a video phone that connects to a PDA or desktop PC that shows black and white portrait-style video at 5-15 frames per second.
It is possible to design software for older users that will adapt itself to the user's ability and preferences [Zhao & Tyugu], with agents that monitor a user's behavior and change the software based on the user's interaction.
Cell phones are now being made with photo capabilities that a low a user to associate a photo with a number on caller ID [SpringPCS] [T-Mobile]. In addition, there is an application called Talking Caller ID [talkingcallerid.com], which is a shareware program that talks to you, telling you who is calling before you pick up the phone. Talking Caller ID is also available in hardware on physical phones [Panasonic].
The K. A. T. E. System of Instant Messaging [Haptek] allows an "avatar" or on-screen representation of a user, to op up and start talking when an IM comes in, but this is more for entertainment purposes and does not uniquely identify the IM sender (i.e. you could choose an lien or an animated character as your avatar).
Microsoft Outlook allows users to associate a picture with entries in their Contacts. However, only one picture is allowed, and does not show up in response to an incoming email.
There are programs around the country that bring seniors in contact with technology. One of them, called "LinkingAges" [Lansdale] is an email- and Internet-based program for seniors. It achieved great success by bringing elders together, allowing them to stay in close contact, and stimulate themselves using communication technology.
There are many factors that need to be taken into account when designing programs for seniors. Guidelines include sufficiently large font size (16 point or higher), high-contrast text (black on white), clean background and foreground, consistent placement of controls, use of the same text and graphics when they have the same meaning, distinctive and recognizable button/link names, and lack of jargon [Mead, Lamson, & Rogers]. Additionally, in a recent focus group regarding design of the "healthfinder.gov" website, elderly users appreciated the four simple colors and minimal use of graphics, describing the interface as "gentle to the eyes" and "clean" [Hsu & Deering].
The HCI Bibliography on Accessibility [HCIBIB] is a strong resource for developers working on projects for the elderly or those with motor / visual handicaps, and is a good starting point for future development on this or similar applications.
Jacob Nielsen published a long report [cited on Alertbox] on a usability study done with senior citizens, which found that email was the main Internet application used by seniors, which helped guide our choice to focus on email rather than web browsing, for example. The report also noted that seniors frequently lose track of where they have been, leading to our decision to have the feature list always visible in the left-hand pane, with the current feature visibly highlighted.
In designing the browsing and e-mail card functionality, we borrowed elements of a kiosk-like application [Baraglia & Laforenza] for searching/browsing locations in a map. In that implementation, each click opened up a new popup window, which we removed because of the added distraction.
Historically, it has been the case that technologies developed for the disabled have ended up helping everyone [Mayfield], and it is our hope that this trend continues, and that the lessons learned from the work done on PhotoGenic will benefit everyone as communication and digital media become more and more intertwined.