Vicki Hanson

Association for Computing Machinery

What contextual factors make older adults unique?

While most people in this workshop did not specifically define older adults by age, age was usually mentioned.   Age may be more relevant in some types of research than others.  Medical research, for example, is prone to mentioning age undeniably as there are some physical changes that occur with age.   In terms of HCI research, age may be less important than the many factors identified by others in this workshop.

Why do you think aging is an interesting area to research?

Increasingly older adults are people who have extensively used technology not only for work but also for many aspects of their daily living.  As technology develops, will the changes be ones that facilitate the lifestyles of older adults?  Or will they be ones isolate older adults?

Some issues raised by older adults may be unique to that cohort, such as whether an application addresses a goal they value.  Design issues, however, may well not be unique to this population but rather may be most apparent in this population.  Thus, this cohort may be excellent as testers in terms of readily identifying design problems.  In the end, better design for this population may better serve many users of technology, not just this cohort.

What themes have you explored in your work?

My work over many years started at basic UI and accessibility issues, and most recently issues about values.   I have become increasingly concerned over the years that work with older adults typically begins with a litany of physical and cognitive problems, often making it sound as if every person, upon reaching a certain age, becomes suddenly infirm.  Papers about aging typically look at issues of disability, poor health, memory loss.  Such issues are undeniable for some, but are not characteristic of many who might be considered older.

What research methods have you used to engage older adults in the design process or otherwise elicit relevant design criteria?

Having been trained as an experimental psychologist, I am always most comfortable when a study can be designed where there are experimental and control groups, with testable hypothesis and numbers.   In recent years, however, I have begun working with collaborators who have taught me the value of well-done qualitative research.

What aspects of aging, or what challenges in aging research, will continue to be relevant in decades to come, and why?

My real interest is whether we can find some overarching principles that will guide design.   How can we help make it such that “off the shelf” technology does not need to be re-done one application at a time for older adults?

How will applications of the future differ from today for older adults?

I was very impressed with the foresight of the Being Human (2008) effort (one of our organizers, Yvonne Rogers, was part of that).   Being Human looked at major technology trends, contemplating both the pros and cons of how they would shape the future of applications.  As a general summary, technology use will continue to grow in all aspects of our daily lives, often for the good, but also in ways that we will find intrusive.   How will technologies that invade our privacy and permeate our lives be accepted by upcoming generations of older adults?


  1. Knowles, B. and Hanson, V. L., 2018. Older adults' deployment of 'distrust.’ ACM Transactions of Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), Volume 25, Issue 4, August 2018, Article No: 21, 1 – 25. To be presented at CHI’19, Thursday, May 9, at 2:00 PM.  Room: Dochart 1
  1. Knowles, B. and Hanson, V. L. The wisdom of older technology (non-) users. Communications of the ACM, contributed research article, 61(3), 72 – 77.


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