functional products for seniors
December 16, 2002
As baby boomers begin to swell the ranks of seniors, SFSU design and industry students are developing new ways to make products more senior-friendly. With innovative concepts ranging from a power dish scrubber to an electronic medication dispenser, the students ended their semester by presenting their drawings, models and prototypes to a team of outside design and marketing professionals.
"The challenge for designers is to create products that incorporate a high level of functionality with sensitivity to quality, aesthetic appeal and convenience that boomers have grown to expect," says Brian Donnelly, the class' instructor.
To get firsthand accounts from older people, the upper-level product design class collaborated with a group of senior citizens in SFSU's Sixty Plus Club, a 500-member organization of SFSU students over age 60. At several points during the semester, the seniors offered suggestions and comments about the students' work.
Enon Chia (upper right), working on her master's degree in product design, started the class with an idea for a new, easier-to-handle prescription drug bottle. She ended up with a sophisticated, artsy prototype for an electronic dispenser to manage medication and vitamin schedules. Dubbed the Better Times Health Dispensing System, the device features color-coded circular trays that rotate to dispense each dose.
Chia says that early in the class they learned the benefits of adding multiple, redundant cues to make a product foolproof. Her design calls for both an audio alarm and a flashing light when it's time to take a pill.
Looks mattered, too. Her prototype has an inviting sleek stand and would allow family members to record customized audio messages for their loved ones. She suggests a future version could also include clips for posting photographs or prescriptions to add creative and functional value.
To better understand real-world needs, many of the students did their own usability research. Tuyet Tran, a design senior who created a multiuse laundry bag, observed a laundromat to see how people carried their laundry. She came up with a two-compartment laundry bag that can be carried like a backpack and even included a pocket for quarters.
Chuck Floyd (left) visited a wholesale showroom to get ideas for his clip-on faucet temperature gauge. Mood rings gave him the inspiration for a color-changing heat-sensitive ring that turns red when water gets too hot for comfort. Floyd, a dual major in industrial arts and industrial technology, plans to submit his work to a few design contests and is thinking about applying for a patent.
Other concepts showcased included an ergonomic toilet brush with a built-in disinfectant dispenser, an expandable personal digital assistant (PDA), a one-handed "pop-top" can opener, and a food container system to keep delivered meals fresh (pictured right).
Over the years SFSU design and industry students have created countless innovations, most notably Charles Hall, who in 1969 experimented with starch- and gelatin-filled prototypes that would later become the world's first waterbed. Other student inventions include: the Unball, a cross between a softball and beanbag that was popular in the 1980s; and the Hooper, a plastic harness used to carry two-liter soda bottles.
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