Design for all: Why BSH uses age simulation suits in the lab
The scene could be straight out of a science-fiction movie: A white room. In the center, a machine. The door opens and a person enters. She’s wearing a padded suit and a large helmet with a visor. Her hands are hidden in thick gloves. Taking small steps, she approaches the machine and presses a button. Cut!
The BSH UX lab in Munich is where employees test how consumers experience new products. The idea behind it is to develop home appliances that are easy to use and adapt to consumers’ needs. Today, Barbara Boos plays the role of the consumer. The master’s student is testing a fully automatic coffee machine while wearing an age simulation suit. “We want to find out how well the elderly can operate the machine,” she says.
Barbara Boos and the age simulation suit: testing different appliances wearing the jacket, gloves and the helmet.
The secrets of aging
Old people often suffer from physical limitations. Their joints ache, and their orientation and sense of balance aren’t what they used to be. BSH employees simulate these complaints in the lab. By wearing ear defenders to muffle sound, Barbara experiences age-related hearing loss, and a special visor blurs her vision and color perception. The gloves reduce her dexterity and weaken her grip. Almost 300 small weights, as well as bandages and splints are sewn into the suit to restrict mobility. “When I put on the suit, it doesn’t take long before I feel like an 80-year-old,” says the student. “It allows us to understand how older people actually experience our products.”
Design for all
BSH develops its products based on the “design for all” concept. In other words, products and user interfaces are designed in such a way that all people can use them without any individual modification or assistance. If a home appliance is suitable for old people, it’s suitable for everyone. That includes simple operation, large buttons and labels, and a user interface in plain language. “I’d never really paid all that much attention to the needs of old people in the past,” says Barbara Boos, “but since wearing this suit I perceive my surroundings differently. That starts with climbing stairs and ends with the coffee machine.”
The age simulation suit is an important tool for BSH to help understand the needs of old people. At the company’s UX lab in Munich, employees thus gain insights that are incorporated into current product development. The result is home appliances that are easy to use for everyone. Quite simply: Design for all.
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