For each issue of St-W, we challenge emerging designers to answer a topical question with a future-forward design concept.
Triggered by a UN report predicting that by 2050 the world’s population over 65 years of age will outnumber those under 15, for St-W 115 we asked five makers to come up with an item, tool or service that responds to our planet’s growing number of senior citizens. Kailu Guan was one of them.
You developed a co-educational game where the elderly can act as mentors to the young. Are you trying to reverse common perceptions of senior citizens?
KAILU GUAN: Most of the time the elderly are seen as a group that needs to be taken care of, an attitude that ignores their ability and desire to share knowledge and experience. I think of the elderly as wise people who want to contribute to society as much as the rest of us do.
Your proposal involves VR. As a fashion designer, why did you not combine clothing with AR – or another wearable technology – as you have done previously?
Many elderly people are keen to act as mentors, and I thought that creating a VR learn-and-teach system would fulfil that desire better than clothing. On a more personal level, I find it challenging to innovate out of the box and to try new approaches.
Tell us about The Director.
It’s a story-reading and cognitive game for children aged three to six, and it involves the interactive participation of the elderly.
How does it work?
The older person reads the script from a tablet, but the story can continue only if the child places the right object into the visual narrative in VR. The game teaches kids about shapes, objects and colours, while connecting them to the words read by their mentors.
What kinds of stories would The Director feature?
I don’t see a defined category for the stories, and that variable adds to the charm of my proposal. Education is a crucial part of the game, but utilizing the older person’s time and desire to share is just as important. It’s a co-educational system in which the mentor’s participation is significant to the progress of the storyline and to the child’s education.
What’s the advantage of using The Director instead of a book?
It offers a more engaging and immersive experience. The mentor can participate in the child’s learning process by guiding him or her and awarding virtual gifts when certain achievements are reached. The child learns while playing a game together with an older person: it’s a win-win situation that bridges the generation gap.
Why aren’t the elderly invited to enter The Director’s VR world?
Young children adapt to the technology quite easily, but motion sickness and other physical restrictions make VR less ideal for the elderly. Tablets make it much easier for them to understand the interface interaction.
What do you think could be done in today’s world to make VR more accessible for older people?
Virtual reality sickness must be addressed. After we’ve done that, we need to push more content that targets older people, who generally need more time and instruction to adapt to new technology. We have to develop a new set of UI/UX design principles that serves them, too.