karthikapriyaj@gmail.com​  |  Tel: 704-780-0013


FALL 2017

Assisting seniors to learn to use and explore the potential of their smartphones.

UX Design, User Research, Accessibility


Our broad mandate for this project was to assist Seniors with the process of purchasing person computing devices like smartphones and tablets. On a field observation trip to a BestBuy store in Atlanta we heard from sales personnel that seniors returned to the store multiple times(over 10 times in some cases) post purchase of their smartphones to troubleshoot and to learn to use their devices. This struck us as an important unmet need, something we had seen our own grandparents and parents struggle with and it became the focus of our project.

The Problem



Seniors are overwhelmed by the complexities of technology designed for much younger users. They have age related physical and cognitive limitations that make it harder to adopt and learn new things. A number of seniors who own smartphones just use basic functionalities and do not explore features like texting or apps such as Facebook because they do not know how to go about it. This seriously limits the benefits of owning these devices.




Our users are older Seniors (aged 70+), and those Seniors who are economically disadvantaged or have limited education as research shows that these two groups lag in smartphone adoption. This demographic faces age related cognitive and physical challenges. Some common impairments are diminished hearing, vision an d motor challenges caused by nerve disorders such as Parkinson's disease.

The Solution



The 'Tech Coach' coaches seniors as they explore and learn to use their smartphones. A simple, cheerful interface helps mitigate fears of technology and gives seniors the scaffolding they need as they learn to use their phones.

  • Simple step by step instructions minimize cognitive load.

  • Cheerful and simple aesthetics, help mitigate fears of technology.

  • Accepts touch and voice inputs to ease the interaction process.

  • Carefully curated collection of apps that seniors like to use.

  • Tasks are classified by the degree of difficulty.

  • Adaptive learning technology matches the content to the user's current level of expertise. 

The 'Tech Coach' can be used in two modes based on the senior's level of confidence in using their smartphone-


In the 'practice mode', seniors are allowed to safely practice and learn new skills in a simulated environment without fear of failure or any negative consequence. They are presented with a simple roadmap of how to complete a task and are provided with additional assistance when required.


The 'guide mode' is for more experienced and confident seniors. When using this mode, the senior is no longer in a simulated environment, however, a step by step guide can be requested whenever needed to perform a desired task.

The task we have prototyped is to learn to make a text post on Facebook. For this please choose the Practice mode, then the beginner level of expertise and continue...

My Role

My team worked closely on this project. Phases in the project where I took the lead were in organizing and conducting user interviews, and, usability testing sessions. I facilitated the brainstorming and design sessions and came up with the Tech Coach concept.

TOOLS: Balsamiq, Figma, Axure, Adobe Illustrator

Team: Karthika Jayaprakash, Shengxi Wu & Daier Yuan



- Heuristic Evaluations

- Usability Testing



- Task Analysis

- Affinity Mapping

- Persona Creation

- Brainstorming

- Concept Sketches

- Wireframes

- Paper Mockups

- Medium & High Fidelity Prototyping


- Literature Reviews

- Field Observation

- Market Analysis

- Semi-structured interviews




To understand the needs of our users, our starting point was a literature review. Next, we visited stores such as BestBuy and ATT to observe seniors as they shopped. We then conducted semi-structured interviews of 5 staff and 8 seniors shopping at these stores. We performed a market analysis of phones that were specially designed for seniors. Finally, we visited a Senior center and conducted more 7 detailed interviews of seniors with varying degrees of self declared tech expertise.

Findings from Literature Review:

- From the Lit. Review we learned about senior's adoption of technology. Most seniors(77%) require assistance to set-up & get started with their electronic devices. Over 41% of seniors are yet to connect to the internet. Adoption of smartphones is negatively correlated with higher incomes and education as well as greater age. 

- Seniors suffer from age related physical challenges such as tremors, diminished vision etc. that inhibits their use of technology.

Findings from Field Observations: 

- Seniors find it very difficult to learn to use smart phones. They return to stores over 10 times to troubleshoot very simple issues. Apple and Samsung phones are most popular because of their customizable, senior friendly interface options. 

- A very strong motivator for seniors to adopt technology, is the desire to connect with family(Facebook & Skype). Seniors often rely on family members to make purchase decisions on smartphones.

Findings from Semi-structured Interviews:

- Seniors do not feel confident in their ability to use or understand technology. They are afraid of making a mistake they cannot recover from. Seniors are extremely distrustful of the internet. 

- It takes longer to learn new things. Sometimes, seniors forget things they recently learned. Tech jargon is confusing. 

- Most seniors dislike change! They feel 'abandoned' by rapidly changing technology. 

- Social networking and Skype help seniors to stay in the know with what is happening in family and friend circles. Seniors find it easier to learn technology from people their own age.


We consolidated our findings from the research phase and performed some analyses to shape our design requirements. We performed Task analysis of Seniors buying tablets in-store and online. Next we conducted an affinity mapping(AM) exercise of our findings from our field observations and interviews. We then created a timeline of the senior buying process and mapped the insights from the AM to timeline. 

We also created personas, to better inform our design process taking into account the age, physical and cognitive challenges, goals, motivations and frustrations of our target user group.


Task Analysis

Mapping the insights to the tech purchase timeline

We conducted this analysis to look at the various challenges we had identified in the senior's tech purchase timeline and to focus on one part that we felt was an important unmet need that we could attempt to solve.​ We picked the post-purchase stage as we felt that the senior's inability to use their smartphones was a serious handicap.


User Personas

We met a number of very interesting seniors during our interviews, with very different attitudes towards technology. Their education, jobs, health and attitudes all played a role in how Tech savvy they were. We broadly classified them into 3 personality types based on their attitudes to Technology.

User Needs

Through our analysis we gained an understanding of seniors mindsets. Smartphones and their applications have been designed for much younger demographics and seniors struggle to use them. Even help manuals are no longer printed and have virtual homes, for technophobes and tech-novices this is a huge barrier to adoption. Some ask family for assistance, but this help may not always be available when needed. Interestingly, from interviews at the senior center we discovered seniors learned better from their peers

Painpoint: I can't always find the assistance I need

Easily accessible assistance

Assistance in 'senior speak'- language free of tech jargon

User Needs

Seniors dislike and fear new technology, some of this stems from their dislike of change. They are also afraid of making mistakes that they cannot recover from when using smartphones and laptops. This fear of 'breaking something' prevents them from exploring the potential of their devices beyond basic functions.

Painpoint: I'm not confident I can learn to use my smartphone

Robust error recovery mechanisms

Learning environment that mitigates fears of technology

Seniors have to deal with diminished vision and hearing, they suffer from tremors, memory decline etc. that makes it difficult for them to learn new processes, gestures etc at this stage in their lives.

Painpoint: I need help with my age related cognitive and physical limitations

Improved accessibility, multi modal interfaces





Two kinds of evaluation were performed at this stage, Heuristic Evaluations and Usability Tests. The benchmark task selected was to choose practice mode and proceed to use the coach to make a text post on Facebook.

Expert Evaluation

Heuristic Evaluations were performed by my team and I based on Nielsen's 10 standard usability heuristics. 

Usability Test


Since our target population of seniors are not tech savvy, we identified a Senior Center in an economically disadvantaged area of Atlanta . We conducted usability tests with four female volunteers, three were in their 60's and one was 85 years old, all had a maximum 5th grade education, had limited tech knowledge and most did not own a smartphone. After this set of evaluations, we conducted a fifth evaluation on a male aged 62. This participant underwent the usability test roleplaying a non-tech savvy senior. Our 85 year old participant owned a smartphone but did not know how to use Facebook on her mobile. 



Participants were first thanked for volunteering to participate and verbal consent was obtained to observe them. To avoid moderator bias, an infomercial was presented to them to get acquainted with the idea of the Tech Coach. They were then introduced to the prototype and asked to perform a task using a speak-aloud-protocol to voice their reasoning as they progressed through the task.

The task was to create a text post on Facebook using the Practice Mode.  During the evaluation, moderators observed user’s behavior, corralled participants if they got off track. A note taker took notes when participants got stuck or confused. Upon completion of the task, a Single Ease Question was used to calibrate the ease of completing the task and a System Usability Scale(SUS) questionnaire was used to measure satisfaction with the usability of our prototype. There was also a short follow-up interview to elicit more qualitative data.


  1. The Tech Coach supports independent learning of smartphones by Seniors

  2. The Tech Coach builds Seniors confidence in using smartphones and mobile apps

  3. Seniors would be willing to use a digital solution to assist them when learning to use their smartphones


  • Effectiveness

    • Task completion rate - number of participants who completed the task and number of participants who abandoned the task

    • Accuracy/ error observed participants’ actions to check if the task was completed with minimal or no errors.

  • Efficiency

    • time participants spent on each step

    • time participants spent completing the task

  • Satisfaction

    • Difficulty of completing the task -

      • verbal response: was the Tech Coach was easy or difficult to use.

      • verbal response: did the Tech Coach ease their learning process

    • Willingness to continue using the Tech Coach

      • verbal response: would you be willing to continue using the Tech Coach



The step by step instruction reduces cognitive load as users do not have to remember all the steps. Our users loved the fact that they could refer to the Tech Coach’s step by step instruction while using their phone. Following the instructions from the Tech Coach, one user who had very limited experience with Facebook successfully created her first text post using her own phone. Another user who had never owned a smartphone before completed the given task in a very short time. They both expressed happiness and a sense of achievement upon the completion of the task.


Users found the onscreen help very useful, especially the animations which helped coach them with gestures like the upward swipe.


Most seniors smiled as yet another piece of the puzzle was revealed when they completed the task. In post-task interviews they mentioned that they would love to have pictures of their family, messages from their grandkids etc. pop-up as they accomplished tasks.



A user pointed out that he liked the fact that there were only 4 apps icons per page and they were large enough to see. Another said it made it easier to find what they were looking for.




We noticed that seniors did not use the help button even when they struggled with a task, they said they did not notice it. Once the moderator brought their attention to this button however, they used the help option whenever they got stuck.

In our redesign, we moved the help button to the end of each instruction. This should reduce the senior's need to look for this option on the screen. 



Some of our instructions were worded incorrectly and this tripped up the seniors.

For Ex. While the prototype required a swipe up gesture on the phone to open it, our instructions said 'swipe across'. All our testers failed at this step and had to use the help button to figure out the right action.

Another problem was not being explicit about the screen the action was to be performed on. Since the Tech Coach has an interactive interface, an instruction "swipe across the screen" confused our oldest participant who wondered which screen she should swipe across. This could be resolved by explicitly mentioning "phone screen" in future iterations.

Since, this is uncharted territory for our target users, we would need to be extremely careful to be explicit and leave no room for ambiguity in our instructions.


The SUS scale proved to be too complex for the seniors, they puzzled over some of the words. For future tests a much simpler version should be used.

Overall feedback

This iteration of the Tech Coach was very positively received by the seniors as evidenced by the SUS scores. All participants said that they thought the Tech Coach was very helpful and that they would be interested in purchasing it if it were commercially available. Most said that it increased their confidence and our 85 year old participant without prompting asked if she could try the task she had just practiced on her phone using the coach as a guide.

We had concerns if seniors with limited tech knowledge would be open to using a digital solution. Our participants did not have any such issues. The success of a solution like the Tech Coach would depend on the instructions being explicit and unambiguous. We also felt that the possibility of cognitive strain of working with two screens should be examined further.


This was a very interesting project to work on, especially because of our demographic. Most gratifying was when our 85 yr. old not only completed our evaluation, but also volunteered to try out the task on her own smartphone using the Tech Coach as a guide. She made her first post in Facebook which was just her name, but the immense pride, joy and satisfaction she showed upon success is great justification for the need of a product like the Tech Coach.  



The design phase began with brainstorming, over 30 ideas were generated and the team voted to shortlist the most promising concepts. We made concept sketches for 14 of those ideas. 

A feasibility versus impact mapping of the concept sketches helped us converge on two of the most promising ideas to which we added interesting  elements from our other designs. We created storyboards inspired by the needs of our personas and created lo-fi wireframes.

Detailed Concepts



CommuniTech is an online community for seniors to connect, learn and share their experience about using smartphones.

The premise is that seniors will be able to understand better the problems faced by their peers, and, hence offer better and more relevant solutions. CommuniTech leverages senior organizations such as community centers to provide person-to-person contact if so desired. 

Tech information is targeted  mainly at young users without enough information that is important for older users. A place is needed to gather reviews from seniors’ perspectives.


We then analyzed our shortlisted designs before narrowing down on the idea of the Tech Coach. Factors we took into consideration were evaluator's feedback, magnitude of impact and ease of learning.

Design Guidelines

We crafted the following design guidelines based on the user needs we had identified earlier to give us more focus in the next iteration.


From research we learned that older adults tend to abandon tasks that they find complex, they do better with realistic goal setting. They are also used to a sequential, single task approach to problem solving over the multi-tasking approach favored by the younger generations. 

  1. Create realistic, achievable goals by breaking each task into easily manageable subtasks.

  2. Number the subtasks to provide a sequential approach to problem solving.


Since seniors have differing levels of vision and hearing, a multimodal approach would help improve usability.

  1. Provide redundancies to accommodate various disabilities.

  2. Ensure accessibility guidelines and standards are met.

  3. Ensure solution is highly portable


Since seniors have differing levels of vision and hearing, a multimodal approach would help improve usability. Provide assistance without over coddling them as Seniors tend to be annoyed by such treatment.

  1. Create simple error recovery mechanisms.

  2. Ensure that adequate help is always available.

  3. Allow the senior to carry out a task independently and provide assistance whenever needed.


To increase adoption of smartphones, we should improve user confidence and make technology feel simple and less mystifying. Family and social connection is a great motivator for seniors to adopt technology.

  1. Provide a translation of technical terms/avoid tech jargon.

  2. Provide simple, clear instruction in the active voice.

  3. Provide learning environment where seniors can explore without fear of failure.

  4. Focus on apps and features that seniors find most valuable 

  5. Use familiar ideas and icons.

Form Exploration

Dissatisfied with the current physical manifestation of the Tech Coach which had poor portability, we considered various forms the coach could be implemented. The final form we selected uses the familiar idea of a user manual. 

I facilitated a mini design sprint to design the interface of the Tech Coach. We went on to create low fidelity wireframes and then tweaked the wireframes before creating the high fidelity prototypes with more detailed interactions.

Low Fi Wireframes

To mitigate seniors fear of technology, we designed a very simple interface minimizing the cognitive load. Additionally, we use a cartoon character to personify the coach to make the interface feel more friendly and less complex. We created a 'practice mode' providing a safe space for seniors to train and hone their skills before attempting tasks for real.

We evaluated our low fidelity wireframes with our peers. Based on the feedback we received we created the high fidelity prototypes. I used Balsamiq to create these wireframes.

The Tech Coach interface is on the left of the phone. The interface is minimal and buttons and fonts are sized for older adults. 


Simple instructions are provided sequentially. Additional cues are provided in small animations next to the coach icon. 


When the task is completed, one section of a puzzle is unveiled. Beneath can be pictures of grandkids, pets or even scenery.


Seniors can practice in a simulated environment to build their confidence in the use of features and applications. To reduce cognitive load a max. of 7 buttons are used in the interface


Little tick marks let users track their progress. The Tech Coach icon offers encouragement.



One important feedback we received was that animation/video cues near the coach might be too small and might not be adequate help on a crowded phone screen. 

- To counter this, we decided that in practice mode, the app would play the animations/clips in the appropriate position on the phone itself.

- Another feature that evolved was to increase the effectiveness of help mode by masking off portions of the screen that were not important, so it would be easier for the seniors to focus

- This masking could also theoretically help those with tremors from hitting the wrong keys. It would also improve the ease of learning 

High Fidelity Wireframes Flow Diagram

In the high fidelity prototypes we added the following features-

1. Two modes, a practice mode and a guide mode

During our interviews, seniors often mentioned that they something forgot things they had just learned. To provide them some scaffolding as they performed tasks on their phone we introduced the guide mode. In this mode users can perform tasks independently, however, whenever needed they can ask the Coach to help list the steps they need to follow.

2. Voice input

To make the application easier to use and to improve accessibility, we included voice input as an option on the interface.