Britta F. Schulte – UCL Interaction Centre, University College London, UK

What contextual factors make older adults unique?

Short answer: None. The more complicated answer is that I think age is a highly fluid phenomenon. Even though I assume we have all woken up and felt old, this has happened at different points in our life, has stopped and started and had a variety of reasons – some positive, some negative. While growing old might come with many complexities and problems, it does not feel like a problem in itself to solve from the inside. Nonetheless, there are certain settings, such as care homes or certain problems, such as e.g. changes in vision that are more common to older adults and it would be reckless to ignore this.

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

As a trained designer, I fully understand why it is important to generalize and build up a picture of the user and their circumstances that can guide and inspire your work. Nonetheless, I think the way we address ageing currently is quite static, which I do not think mirrors the way it is felt and experienced. I find this tension highly interesting and I think that by looking beyond contemporary generalizations and coming up with our own, we might be able to extent on contemporary technologies and develop ground-breaking new approaches that can support personal development

What themes have you explored in your work?

The question of how technologies can ‘grow’ and adjust to fluid circumstances came from my exploration of monitoring technologies in dementia care. Even though it is a highly individual illness and symptoms will fluctuate, abilities will be lost over time. While technology has a big potential to support those affected and their caregivers, technologies are often brought in at a late stage, after a crisis event. One of the suggestion from my findings is that the degree to which these technologies, especially monitoring technologies, take control away from the person affected that makes it hard to accept them at an earlier stage. If technologies were to give greater autonomy when less support is needed, a sensitive way to grow and change is needed. While I am still at the early stages of the thought process I think this can form an interesting approach, also for addressing ageing.

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

In my work I have used design fiction to reflect on the use of monitoring technologies in dementia care and address the question of ‘What could possibly go wrong?’. In my written design fiction (see 1), I have tried to build up a more ‘holistic’ picture of users that have agency and make decisions that are awkward, such a daughter learning that her mother had a relationship. While I have yet to use this method in a design process, the resulting discussions show that it helped to get people out of their comfort zone comfortably.

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

I think the biggest issue we have to address at this point is the ‘othering’ of older adults and the idea that their needs and wishes are different from ours. As a designer I think many technologies currently developed are working well enough to fulfil needs, but they are not desirable. I think we will need to overcome this limitation to make technologies that actually fit into people’s lives, that are used when needed and can sit aside when not.

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

If I look into my own future and my own technology use and make a wish, I would hope that I do not have to get novel technologies just because I grow old. I would hope to be able to follow the development of existing technologies and make them work for what I need them to do.

What are you hoping to get out of attending this workshop?

I hope to have the opportunity to discuss my idea of growing, fluid technologies with fellow researchers who see similar – or maybe completely different – problems with the way ageing is currently framed. I hope to develop this concept by discussing its strengths and weaknesses and explore its future potential as a research area. In particular, I hope that opportunities arise for future collaborations, e.g. for publications, but also beyond for future research projects.


  1. Britta F. Schulte, Paul Marshall, and Anna L. Cox. 2016. Homes for Life: A Design Fiction Probe. In Proceedings of the 9th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 80.
  2. Britta F. Schulte. 2016. Using design fiction to reflect on autonomy in smart technology for people living with dementia. In Proceedings of the 2016 ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing: Adjunct, 1110–1113.
  3. Britta F. Schulte. 2015. Designing garments for people with dementia: Innovative practice. Dementia 14, 5 (September 2015), 691–695. DOI: