GrandWatch.

GrandWatch is a concept for a smartwatch for seniors that was created as part of a course taught by Prof. Constanze Langer at the Potsdam University of Applied Sciences. The main goal was to develop a watch with a simple user interface and without unnecessary functions.

Introduction

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How can we make the lives of seniors safer?

In a long interview with my grandmother, who has dementia, I asked her about the various interfaces and touchpoints in her environment. I noticed that many interfaces are far too complex for seniors and illogically designed. There is always the fear of pressing something wrong or forgetting something, for example, how the phone works. That’s why I came up with the idea of designing a concept for an easy-to-use smartwatch for seniors.

Design Process

Market Analysis

Before moving on to the actual design process, I researched the current devices on the market, read user reviews and forum posts about the various products, and added my own opinion as well.

It was noticeable that the offered smartwatches for seniors mostly work with the Wear OS developed by Google, the system was often only extended by some emergency call functions. The problem is that these watches are operated exclusively with a touchscreen and buttons on the side. This operating concept is simply too complex and unfamiliar for older people, like my grandma. Emergency watches and emergency bracelets, on the other hand, can usually be operated even by people with severe arthritis, but they lack useful functions such as a fall sensor or a heart rate monitor. From the reviews of the products, it has emerged that a replaceable wristband is particularly important to customers, as older people are often no longer able to put on a classic safety wristband and prefer an alternative fastener with Velcro or magnets. Many models also have a font size that is far too small, and the battery life of six to eight hours on average (for smartwatches) also left much to be desired.

Requirements Analysis​

With the help of the evaluation of the interview and the findings from the market analysis, the requirements for the product to be designed were defined in this step. For this purpose, the quotes from my grandmother were assigned to the following categories:

Usability

„So many buttons that you don’t even know what to press.“

Approach:
limiting the interface to relevant information

Reliability

„You need to constantly replace the batteries.“

Approach:
energy efficient technology and easy recharging

Readability

„I can’t read this without my glasses.“

Approach:
high-contrast displays and easy-to-read font

Perceptibility

„I can’t hear this without my hearing aid.“

Approach:
notification through visual feedback, vibration and loud audio signals

Intuitiveness

„My brain won’t last much longer.“

Approach:
simple menu navigation through closed questions

Why I didn't want to use a touchscreen:

Touchscreens are great because they can display different things and are space-saving, but I think they are unsuitable for seniors. It’s often difficult for older people to use them because the information can be grasped mainly with the eye, but not with the sense of touch. Haptic feedback is missing and gestures like swiping and double-tapping can seem unnatural.

Sketches

To meet the requirements, the smartwatch should be operated with buttons instead of a touchscreen. Buttons provide haptic feedback and can be operated even with shaky hands. To be able to display different contents and states, the buttons must have an integrated display. E-ink technology would be ideal for this because it is very energy-efficient and enables a long battery life.

User Interface

The colors were chosen for contrast and consistency. The font called „InterFace Trial“ by Dalton Maag Type Foundry was chosen for its good legibility and the advantage that this font is very narrow, so a lot of content can be accommodated in a small space. Its aesthetics are reminiscent of 19th century sans serif fonts in many details, which is very fitting for a watch aimed at the elderly. Overall, the watch’s interface is designed in such a way that no prior knowledge of smart devices is necessary. Operating the display keys should be easier for most older people since they have a pressure point and thus resemble the haptics of classic phones, remote controls or radios.

Questions can usually only be answered with „yes“ or „no“, as this is easiest for people with dementia. In addition, an attempt was made to avoid typical terms such as „back“ in the navigation elements. For example, if you are in a submenu, „time“ takes you back to the main overview with the current time. Unfortunately, this could not be implemented successfully everywhere and still requires further development and user tests.

Companion App

The Companion App is not aimed at the wearers of the watch themselves, but at their relatives or caregivers, which is why the app’s interface takes a fundamentally different approach. In the app, for example, medication reminders and contacts can be added to the GrandWatch.

At this point I would like to express my thanks to Carl Linz, who helped me with the implementation of the interface. Besides many improvements to the user interface on the watch, he additionally designed the complete companion app.

All settings of the watch are made in the companion app, such as volume and WiFi. Due to the limited interface with only 5 buttons, it is not possible to make settings on the watch itself. This also prevents the wearer from accidentally changing the settings.

During the initial setup, the user is guided through the various settings. The main focus here is on the privacy settings, it was important to us that no personal data is requested. For example, no name or gender has to be entered. The fact that the GrandWatch sends the wearer’s data to an app that is controlled by someone else is a very sensitive topic and needs to be elaborated in more detail. If the watch detects a fall, a message is directly forwarded to the companion app and a predefined person is contacted. If this does not happen within a certain period of time, the emergency call is automatically made.

Prototype

To get a feel for the necessary size of the watch, I tested the readability of the user interface from different distances on paper. Then I designed a digital model and printed the GrandWatch.

The following storyboard was created for the video at the beginning of the documentation. It was important to me to present the basic functions of the GrandWatch as appealing and simple as possible. The animation and all other renderings were created in Blender.

I didn’t want the watch to look clunky and old-fashioned, so its users would enjoy wearing it every day. For this reason, I took inspiration from other modern smartwatches when choosing materials. The height of the watch was also designed so that you can easily pull a sleeve over it. However, a height of about half a centimeter would probably not be possible for a fully functional model. For comparison, the Apple Watch is just over a centimeter thick.

Thanks for reading!