Interaction Design Studio
Spring 2012


Background Research

After deciding that our project goal is to design a social mobile information system for older adults (chosen from a list of 4 topics), we did preliminary online research to find out older adults’ mobile usage and social network adoption.

56% of adults over 65 own a cell phone, and 11% of all adults over 65 own a smart phone [1].
In 2010, one in four seniors are using social networking sites [2], with 11% of all Facebook users (14 milion users) being U.S. seniors [3].
The top 3 reasons for using social networking sites such as Facebook are: 1) connect with family and old friends, 2) photo sharing, and 3) social gaming; older adults are finding utility in these sites because they connect them with other people they know and care about [3].

User Interviews

To gain deeper insight into how our target population connects with their loved ones, we interviewed 4 older adults (1 male) over 65 years old about their cell phone usage and social life. The interviews were semi-structured and informal, lasting about 30 minutes, and took place in person or over the phone. We asked them the following questions.

Mobile Usage
What kind of mobile phone do you currently use?
How comfortable are you with using your mobile phone?

Social life
Do you have family or friends who live nearby?
How do you set up in-person meetings with them?
Please tell us about a time when you had an unplanned meeting with a family or friend (e.g., bumped into them).


P1 is a female who uses a sliding feature phone that she's comfortable talking and texting on. Her family lives within two miles of her, and she has three grown children that she sees at least once a week. Currently, she calls or texts them to meet up. She mentioned an event when she was at the store and her daughter called her, saying "Are you here? Because I think I saw your car."


P2 is a female who uses a cell phone with a slide keyboard. Her phone does not have internet because she knows she would get hooked on it. She uses her Nook to go online sometimes. She has a lot of friends who live nearby whom she bumps into occasionally, about once a month. For example, she saw a neighbor once at the grocery store, and was able to give her a ride back home because she knew her neighbor did not have a car.


P3 is a male who is "well over 65" who has an iPhone he is comfortable making calls on. He lives by himself and talks to friends and family about once a day. P3 did not want to comment on other aspects of his social life, and seemed to be a very private person.


P4 is a female who uses a feature phone. She does not text, but uses her laptop to check email, see pictures, deal with banking account, and Skype with her granddaughter. She has two sons, and the closest one lives 100+ miles away from her. She has three grandchildren, one of whom lives in Italy, so she travels a lot to see her children. Locally, she is very active with several organizations, including book club and volunteering. P4 usually hangs out with 5-15 specific friends, and they plan group dinners using email.

Based on initial findings, we decided to design our mobile system to focus on face-to-face communication, which is highly preferred by our participants. After working on a concept idea of a service that notifies users when friends are family are nearby, we pitched the idea to our participants.

Reactions to concept idea
Who would you put on the notification list?
In what situations would you try to meet with them?
In what situations would you ignore the notification?
What privacy concerns do you have?


P1 would put her closest family and her children on the notification list. She would meet up with them if she was grocery shopping, or going out for a meal. She also mentioned that there were times people wouldn't want to run into others if they were busy. If she's in a hurry for a doctor's appointment, or didn't have time to socialize, she would want to be able to turn it off. She would prefer opting in to sharing her location information, rather than have it be on by default.


P2 has a son who lives further away from the city, but would add him just in case. She would add six of her closest friends, and would find the service to be helpful because she bumps into people a lot and is very social. Because she has other elderly neighbors who don't have cars, she would turn off the service if she is on a tight schedule or headed somewhere else soon. Sometimes, she is not driving home directly, so does not want to be rude to others who know she has a car and will expect her to drive them home. The service must be explicit about privacy concerns and who else gets their calendar or location information (when it's shared, and what is shared). Thinks that switching the service on/off based on calendar integration would be a great idea.

P2 also provided valuable feedback on aspects of using a phone that is difficult, for example, high cost of owning an iPhone, invasiveness with sensors and extra functionality of smart phones, emoticons and punctuation are hard to use on keyboard, her friends with hearing problems could benefit from learning how to text, touch screens might be easier for older adults without manual dexterity, and larger on-screen keyboard would be helpful. Additionally, P2 reflected on how isolation is bad for older adults, and sometimes she would need a reminder to go out because as a writer, she would sometimes stay in her house for days.


P3 is not interested in having a mobile service that tells him when family and friends are nearby because he prefers communicating daily on the phone.


P4 is not very interested in having a service to facilitate spontaneous meetings, and she is not interested in knowing her friends' locations. She is, however, very active in suggesting activities, venues, etc, for her group activities with her friends. Additionally, these group hangouts depend largely on the health of the participants. Some of her friends have arthritis, breast cancer, mobility limitations, vision, and memory problems, which all need to be taken into account when organizing an event.

Competitive Analysis


+ See map of friends
+ Automatic or manual location reporting
+ Different location granularity for different friends


– Complex settings
– Cannot manage timing of when location is shared
– Integration into larger Google Maps app with multiple menus for settings


+ Check in to venues
+ See where your friends have checked into
+ Explore surroundings
+ Earn badges and points


– Active check-ins
– All or no notifications for friends' check-ins
– More gamification than utility for older adults

Happystance Features

Happystance is designed to do one thing simply: It notifies you when friends and family members are nearby. It's different from competitors because it:

+ Is easy to set up

No username or password is required because it automatically links with your iPhone contacts and calendar.

+ Automatically notifies you when someone is nearby

You don’t have to actively check the app, just set it and forget it.

+ Has flexible privacy settings that are context aware

Depending on your location or schedule, it will turn itself on or off, but users can override that decision.

With these features, we provide the utility and control users want without the cognitive overload of active checkins or constant maintenance of privacy settings.