What Do Baby Boomers Want From Technology?

http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/07/what-do-baby-boomers-want-from-technology/

Baby Boom Stamp

Baby Boom Stamp

I wish I’d been invited to one of these research sessions / dinners! Apart from the fact I like free food I think I would have an opinion or two. A few years ago when I lived in California I was part of a pool used by a company that conducted focus groups. They’d call every few months and ask me a load of questions. If I qualified they’d invite me to a session in Sunnyvale. I don’t remember many of them but one was from Yahoo researching small business services. It didn’t pay well – maybe US$30 for a couple of hours work – but it was fun and it felt good to have some influence on the direction of a product.

I was on the other side of the one-way mirror a few times when I worked with an IP Telephony startup in the heady dot com days in San Francisco. We set up focus groups to evaluate our PC-based “smart phone”. That was a chastening experience as users often did not grasp our elegant and intuitive (an overused word I’ve come to dislike) user interface.

“That was a stupid group – recruit another!”

I don’t think I am a typical “baby-boomer” in US terms any more. I have fallen behind the technology curve compared with my peers. But some comments in the article rang true:

  1. I am comfortable with technology. I grew up with PCs and Macs. I am less comfortable with mobile technology though.
  2. I agree “tech products are cluttered with excessive features”. “Excessive” of course means those I don’t want to use. If a product lacks something I want it is “underpowered”. My experience with a Nokia N95 is a case-in-point. It completely flummoxed me. On the other hand I can understand a complex PC product like Lightroom very easily.  The N95 was a whole new paradigm (as we used to say) whereas I’ve been using PC apps since before the PC was invented.
  3. I am much more sceptical than reported about the notion of an “identity passport” for using the Web. I guess I am an “info-libertarian” a heart. I have so many reservations about governments misusing the information “for security reasons“.

The take-away from the survey as reported was very limp:

What does that mean for marketers and product designers? “There is a real opportunity for companies to aim for a smart middle group that may well appeal to everyone,” Mr. Rogers said.

What’s that meant to mean?


[picapp align=”none” wrap=”false” link=”term=baby+boomer&iid=3014309″ src=”5/a/1/5/Baby_Boomers_164b.jpg?adImageId=8094850&imageId=3014309″ width=”380″ height=”254″ /]

Early Baby Boomers.
A teacher and children in a classroom at the Walsgrave Colliery School near Coventry, where the effect of the rise in the post-war birthrate is causing overcrowded classes. Original publication: Picture Post – 9109 – Overcrowded Schools – 1952 – unpub. (Photo by Haywood Magee/Picture Post/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

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7 Responses to “What Do Baby Boomers Want From Technology?”

  1. Michael Willems Says:

    As a teacher of photography and camera technology, I am amazed by the disconnect between the audience of middle-aged baby boomers and the hideous camera UIs. Notihing is intuitive, and I often wonder “don’t these Japanese companies do bloody focus groups?”. Having to explain Nikon menus with the tabs on the left 10,000 times a year to peopel who Just Don’t Get It is bad for my sanity. And that’s Nikon’s fault, not the audience’s fault. They’re doing their best.

    And don’t start me on the manuals.

    • BKKPhotographer Says:

      That’s interesting. I would have expected that boomers would be the people who’d read the manuals and would have more patience and less trouble.

      I must admit I felt old when the Nokia N95 completely confused me. That was too much of a shift – but PCs and cameras are so familiar that I don’t have much trouble.

      Do you use an iPhone? I wonder what would happen if Apple decided to make cameras. I mean a dedicated camera rather than one that’s part of a smartphone.

    • BKKPhotographer Says:

      I was thinking … (Dangerous, I know).

      My Nikon Coolpix P6000 is the first Nikon camera I have used. I’ve had 2 Canon DSLRs and Sony P&S. I think the P6000’s menu system is similar to its big brothers. The tabs on the side did not bother me for a second. If I thought about it at all it was to think “they wanted to be different from Canon, who have the tabs at the top”.

      Parts of the user interface do drive me nuts, for example https://bkkphotographer.wordpress.com/2009/06/29/i-have-sore-fingers/. That’s where I say bad words about Nikon u.i. designers.

  2. Michael Willems Says:

    You think tabs on the left are simple. 1,000 clients a year who after three hours still don’t get it say that it isn’t.

    MICHAEL’S UI TIP: Try to write out in longhand how something works. Then you understand.

    So to do one Nikon settings, you need to:

    “Press the left arrow thing. Then press the up or down arrow thing repeatedly until you have selected the tab you wanted. Then press the right arrow to get into that tab’s functions. Then repeatedly press the up or down arrow to get to the function you want. Then press the right arrow to select it. Then press the up or down arrow to select the value you like. The press the right arrow, or the OK, to conform that choice. Don’t forget the final OK. Now your setting should be done. Now you are still in the menu; press the MENU button or wake up your camera by lightly pressing the shutter button to get back to picture taking”.

    Easy? For me, yeah. For normal people, no way. Even the split between menu-mode and picturetaking-mode is unintuitive.

    • BKKPhotographer Says:

      We used to joke in HP about how we could never get into the piano making business. They have so many unlabelled function keys and the user interface is completely unintuitive.

      Try writing down in longhand how to drive a car.

      Being contrary here, some skills require study and practice to learn. It’s a mistake of our instant gratification culture to believe that everything should be easy and you should expect great results with no mental effort on your part.

      So if I was a teacher I wouldn’t always be Mister Nice Guy and commiserate about how hard things are. I’d admit that it takes learning and practice. If you don’t want to do that set your camera to program mode automatic and tape over all the controls so you can’t alter them.

      But then I would not get any students to come to my classes.

  3. Michael Willems Says:

    >>>some skills require study and practice to learn<<<

    Ah, that is true – but "how long does it take?" It simply takes too long and the audience for these cameras is not an IT-minded audience. Believe me, I see how people struggle.. day after day… being tough does not help if people just don't get it… and yes, students need to enjoy!

    • BKKPhotographer Says:

      I’m fortunate because I learned traditional photography as a kid. We had a darkroom in school and so on. So each change for me has been incremental and thus easy to assimilate. If I was faced with a modern DSLR after only limited exposure to a P&S then I would feel the same way.

      I think I would struggle like your students if presented with a complex smartphone. I have fallen behind the technology curve so something like a Nokia N-Series is endlessly confusing to me.

      Have you found any DSLRs who do a good job with the user interface, documentation – the whole user experience? I wonder if perhaps Sony, coming from a consumer electronics background, does a better job with their Alpha Series.

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