28 Jul 2014

An Update from See What I Mean

By Lily

Guest post from Ilyanna Kerr, co-founder of See What I Mean.

It’s hard to believe that at this time last year we had just started at Bethnal Green Ventures – time has flown by! Even though it doesn’t feel that long, looking back we’ve come a long way from our very first shaky prototype, a speech to image translation tool on my laptop, and a rather vague and long winded explanation of how this could help people with Dementia. Now, a year on it seems like the perfect time to reflect on the space we’ve been operating in with some general bits of advice and insights for anyone interested in or thinking of doing something in the same area.

Older Adults and New Technology

I thought a good start would be to debunk the common myth that older generations do not use or do not want to engage with technology. Older people are not only the fastest growing proportion of the population they are also the fastest growing adopters of technology, despite being branded a generation of technophobes! That said, despite the fact that there are more ‘older adults’ than ever before engaging with tech there are still huge barriers that leave millions excluded. The most obvious being Internet access and the cost of devices. The less obvious but just as significant are those rooted in design.


If a product or service has poor usability its more likely to exclude older adults. This age group, who have not grown up with technology, have more trouble using a badly designed product than younger ‘digital natives’. This does not necessarily mean that products have to be designed differently (with big buttons, large type etc…) it means they need to have good usability. If we design products that can be used by people of all ages we are likely to create better design.

Design Context

Design is not just about the way things look, it’s about how and what we choose to design and how well it caters for our ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ as we age. When designing for older adults it’s important not to look at this group as a set of people who have reached a specific age or to categorise them as simply having a set of cognitive or physical impairments. Ageing is complex so it’s crucial to look at the wider context in which people live as they age; the shifts in economic and social circumstances and the effect this has on their engagement with technology. This is even more relevant when designing for dementia as the disease will affect each person in a unique way creating a diverse set of needs and wants that change as the disease progresses.

Design Approach

See What I Mean is a speech to image communication tool for people living with dementia. At the moment we are co-designing our ipad app with Jewish Care through a two-stage pilot this summer. It’s been a fantastic opportunity for us to improve general usability, develop a care version of the app and measure it’s impact.

Including older adults in the design process and considering them as equals within it may seem like a really obvious piece of advice but I think it’s worth reiterating. This approach has helped us develop a valuable tool and gain a better understanding of the ‘wants’ as well as the ‘needs’ of the people we are designing for. The process has also allowed us to see how See What I Mean can fit into the larger systems that surround care as well as the smaller daily interactions that take place between people living with dementia, and their carers and family members.

Health Tech and Well Being

When we think of ‘health tech’ we often think of sensors and devices that track our vital signs and feedback to us about our physical health. However research has shown that older people, who have not grown up with technology, are not interested in ‘wiring themselves up to collect lots of data and graphs’ – ( Ziegler 2013). So why are there so few solutions out there that go beyond the physical to support mental health and well being for older people?

I think now is a really important time to think of more solutions that can better support human interaction and emotional connection, a time for us to look to the future and think about our changing our relationship with technology and its potential to support us in more holistic ways as we age.

If you would like to know when the See What I Mean Lite app will be available to download or if you want to be a part of the Beta test, sign up with your email on our website.



Many of the ideas above have been influenced and inspired by the research at The Age and Ability Lab at the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design and discussions and debates led by Aging 2.0. Thanks to Tim Jackson from Lean Investments for connecting us to Jewish Care.