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Product and Interface Design

Product Design

Surprisingly little is known about the range of abilities of the population to undertake routine domestic tasks. As a result, many consumer products are designed with the average person in mind leading to the exclusion of many older people. Designers require much better information about the abilities of people of all ages if they are to design better products. SPARC projects are developing new approaches to gathering design data which can be used by designers of packaging.

Photo of Alaster Yoxall

The “inclusive engineering” approach: enhanced data gathering for an optimum diameter for ease of opening

Dr Alaster Yoxall, Sheffield University
6 months, £17,048
Poster: Improving Openability
Executive Summary: Making Jam Jars Easier to Open
Keywords: Measuring Human Ability, Inclusive Design, Understanding Pack Function, Openable Packaging

In nearly all actions in which we use our hands there is some form of grip used in order to hold an object before manipulating it. Thus the decline in our strength and dexterity as we age has serious consequences. The lives of many older people are made a misery by the challenges of everyday packaging, restricting their choice as consumers and in some cases compromising their nutrition and general health. Despite much work on torque and grip strength of older people, only recently has a realistic test jam jar been developed – a glass container with a metal closure and with robust measurement equipment inside. Further development work will be undertaken to make the device more portable and capable of gathering the extensive data required by food manufacturers if they are to be persuaded to provide packaging which is more friendly towards people of all abilities.

Avril Thomson

Designer relevant biomechanical data: Packages opening in an older adult population

Dr Avril Thomson, Strathclyde University
12 months, £56,587
General Poster: Package Opening,
Scientific Poster: Using Biomechanics
Executive Summary: Designing for Inclusion

Keywords: Packaging, Biomechanics, Ergonomic Data, Inclusive Design

Biomechanical research is producing valuable data relating to the strength and mobility of the older generation and how they interact with products such as consumer packaging. However, the existence of this data is frequently not apparent in their design. There are thought to be a number of reasons for this including:- designers are not aware that the data exists, the data is presented in a format that designers find difficult to understand and use, and data produced from biomechanical testing does not match the requirements of product designers. The ultimate aim of this research is to facilitate both product designers and bioengineers by ensuring that biomechanical tests match the requirements of product designers and that the resulting data is presented in a meaningful and useable format.

Interface Design

Many older people use computers to access the internet. Many more would like to do so, but have difficulty navigating the information provided on a screen. Understanding how older people use computers, structure information and browse the internet are essential to developing better interfaces. This is a principal aim of the SPARC projects. So too is the development of practical recommendations for systems designers.

Faustina Hwang

Improving computer interaction for older users: an investigation of dynamic on-screen targets

Dr Faustina Hwang, Reading University
12 months, £42,703
Poster: Computer Access
Executive Summary: Improving Computer Interaction for Older Users
Keywords: Human-Computer Interaction, Graphical Interfaces, Expanding Targets, Selection Tasks

Access to computers and the Internet can be beneficial to older people in many ways. For older adults, however, computers can be difficult to use because of the need to control a cursor accurately for selecting targets on the screen. This project will investigate techniques for improving target selection with a computer mouse. In particular, we are interested in learning if dynamic targets, for example icons that expand or move toward the cursor, can make target selection easier for older computer users.

Panayiotis Zaphiris

Mathematical Modelling of Age Related Differences in Web Browsing

Dr Panayiotis Zaphiris, City University
12 months, £26,600
Poster: Web Browsing
Executive Summary: Age-related Differences in Browsing the Web

Keywords: Website Navigation, Information Architecture, Website Design Guidelines, Mathematical Modelling

How information is categorised, labelled and presented and how navigation is facilitated determines not only whether users will and can find what they need, but also affects user satisfaction and it does influence return visits. One term that is often used to describe the 'process of structuring and organising information so that it is easier for users to find and for owners to maintain' is information architecture. This project will investigate age-related differences in web browsing and will attempt to develop predictive mathematical models that describe them. In addition we envision that our findings will enable us to provide practical recommendations on how information can best be organized on the web.


SPARC & KT-EQUAL Workshops

Please refer to the KT-EQUAL website for forthcoming workshops.

Latest Executive Summaries and Monographs

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The SPARC Story

Welcome to SPARC and KT-EQUAL: Knowledge Transfer for Extending Quality Life

SPARC brings together researchers, practitioners and policy makers in ageing. It specialises in communicating the latest design, engineering and biological ageing-related research to all stakeholders, making the case about the benefits for an ageing population of scientific research, and it encourages new blood into ageing research. Although funding for SPARC ended in December 2008, SPARC is continuing to function from the University of Reading within a new initiative - KT-EQUAL which commenced in January 2009. Soon KT-EQUAL will have its own website but for the time being news and information about SPARC and KT-EQUAL events are being handled by the SPARC website.

SPARC Mission Statement

Supporting Older People by
Putting Research into Practice and
Actively Promoting Needs and Solutions through
Research Leadership and


BBSRC - Biotechnological and Biological Sciences Research Council EPSRC - Engineering and Phsyical Sciences Research Council