Using research circles to develop innovative product and services for an aging baby-boomer population

This research article, Laggards as Innovators? Old Users as Designers of New Services & Service Systems,  challenges the notion that elderly users of the social web are generally laggards in this medium and, thus, not viable sources of relevant input when using service design methodologies to design products and services that meet their needs. Service design

[I]s the activity of planning and organizing people, infrastructure, communication and material components of a service in order to improve its quality and the interaction between service provider and customers. The purpose of service design methodologies is to design according to the needs of customers or participants, so that the service is user-friendly, competitive and relevant to the customers.” Wikipedia citation

“New service design” basically incorporates social networking and crowd-sourcing concepts into this process. The authors of the study found that a widespread view existed amongst service system designers that elderly or senior users were “technophobes” or technology laggards and, thus, had no relevant input when using modern service design processes. Yet, there is an under-served market with respect to the aging baby-boomer population. The researchers argue that there is a great opportunity to service this market using human-centered design processes in a variety of industries across several product classes. For example, there are several unsatisfied needs for this market that “relate to fundamental aspects of a dignified life, such as being able to buy furniture they can use in their homes, being able to stay in their neighborhood in the center of town and in generally leading as independent and normal a daily life as possible.”

The researchers offer several tips on how to involve the aging consumer segment into the design process using the concept of a “research circle”. The premise of the research circle differs from a focus group in the sense that a focus group is designed to get “get feedback from people on their attitudes towards new products, services or ideas” and is a fairly structured process. A research circle is more long term in nature, and employs a researcher who facilitates collaborative group problem solving. The figure below describes the process:

Stages applied based on research circle method and milestones
Stages applied based on research circle method and milestones

The researchers point out that the process they’ve defined is not geared towards getting aging users to adopt a new product or service. Rather, the process is to gain insights and information from this group so as to deliver innovative products and services that meet their needs.

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