Digital Messaging System

In the Design Theory and Methodology module for the M.Sc. in Interaction Design at Cyprus University of Technology/Tallinn University, we tackled the problem statement: “Design a product, system or service to foster inclusion of older adults in our digital society.”

After completing a literature review and observational research, I conceptualized a digital messaging system to be used within active living retirement communities.

The idea was further explored using participatory design sessions, a strategy where all stakeholders are actively involved in the design process to ensure the solution meets their needs. 

You can also check out a video of the project presentation.

Project Details

TIME FRAMESeptember - December 2017
METHODS & SKILLSCompetitive analysis, Observations, Immersion, Card sort, Brainstorming
TOOLSPen & paper, phone (for camera and voice recorder)
DELIVERABLESDesign plan, creative toolkit, final presentation

Problem Statement

Older adults who use technology have a greater quality of life and decreased feelings of loneliness and depression. Though more older adults are adopting technology, they may not be as engaged because of products that are not easy to use or by their own potential feelings of low self-efficacy. 

One way to ensure their needs are met is to involve them in all stages of design so that designers can find the best ways to consider their social influences, experiences, preferences and most importantly, how they use technology.

Observational Research and Initial Concept

I observed older adults interacting with other people, with each other and with technological devices in public spaces (a shopping mall, a casino and a celebration in a community center). The observations were supported by sketches, text, diagrams, lists and photographs.

Using these data – combined with research suggesting that digital technology can encourage virtual friendships and interactions which can be supported both offline and online – I decided to create a concept that was:

  • Non-intimidating and easy to use,
  • Had obvious success messaging, and,
  • Provided prompts to engage with others within a social network.

I conceptualized RAPP Connections (Responsive Application for Peer to Peer Connections) for older adults living in retirement communities.


  • tablet-based digital messaging system
  • calendars detailing upcoming activities within the community
  • prompts for residents to invite friends with similar interests

Participatory Design Sessions

To further examine the viability of the concept, I conducted three participatory design sessions: Immersion, card sort, and brainstorm. These sessions were guided by techniques outlined in IDEO’s Human-Centered Design Toolkit.

I engaged three older adults in the sessions; the only inclusion criteria was age.



I spent 2 hours with P1. She is highly independent and navigated the technology in her home (smartphone, laptop, Smart TV) with ease. 

In the end, she connects with her neighbors in person in their apartments or in the common areas. (Accordingly, she prefers face-to-face interactions with her friends in the city as well.) She learns about weekly events from the bulletin board in the building. So, communicating digitally in this environment did not appear to be important.



The other two participants completed a card sort with terms reflecting personal values to see if those values aligned with the perceived benefits of adopting the product.

They sorted 50 cards into three categories: Very important to me, Important to me and Not important to me.

Both participants viewed these values as “very important to me”:

  • Health: to be physically well and healthy
  • Faithfulness: to be loyal and true in relationships
  • Achievement: to have important accomplishments

With respect to faithfulness, both participants talked about their friendships. 

This chart highlights their preferred mode of communication with their networks. So, if they were close enough to their network, they would take the time to travel and meet in person. 



The focus of the brainstorm session was to generate as many ideas as possible related to the design problem. Everything was captured with photos and audio and video recording.

The rich discussion ranged from how free-cell and solitaire were used to teach mouse-fluency to stories about friends coming up with creative solutions. But the highlight occurred near the end when P3 brainstormed issues that arise as we age.

“Sometimes the memory goes. Generally, as you get older you take more meds…sometimes people forget so they have those dishes for pills for days of the week. You could come up with something like…”

He then used nearby objects to build a rudimentary prototype. Ultimately, the session ended with a creative solution which capitalized on existing behavior to create the digitized version of a familiar product.

Lessons Learned

  • Ultimately, the product wouldn’t be valuable to this small group. These three participants all valued face-to-face communication more than communicating digitally. In addition, they were comfortable and satisfied with existing technological tools. 
  • The sessions ultimately identified a new theme: health, which featured prominently in both the card sort and brainstorm sessions. 
  • It was challenging to find more participants to include in the research sessions. I would have loved to meet more older adults living in the target environment, but privacy issues (among others) played a role. 
  • One of the biggest takeaways was the importance of patience in facilitation. I did not interject my own feelings or thoughts and let each session reach its natural conclusion. And record everything!