How to design personalized and meaningful technology for older adults

Marjolein den Haan-Wintermans defends her PhD on ideas to help seniors relax and make sense of their day.

More and more research suggests framing ageing positively rather than focusing on problems. In her PhD research on the department of Industrial Design, Marjolein den Haan–Wintermans adhered to this positive design lens which resulted in concrete guidelines to come up with good technological solutions together with older adults thereby enriching more facets of an individual’s daily life. Eindhoven University of Technology

Barry van der Meer, Eindhoven University of Technology, November 9, 2021

Ageing has typically been framed as a problem that can be “managed” by technology, which neglects the growth, creativity, and development occurring in older adulthood. “Alternatively, we want to view technology as a facilitator to maintain quality of life and even enrich it – so taking a positive rather than a problem-related approach,” says Den Haan–Wintermans.

“Older adults are often seen as a homogenous user group while they, in fact, are an extremely diverse group. Users cannot be generalized because people have different needs, wants and dreams. The diversity of older adults should be considered when designing technologies, products and services, as solutions will not be suitable for an entire population.”


Successfully creating meaningful concepts as designers or researchers largely depends on the level of understanding and empathy designers can gain for the target group, according to Den Haan–Wintermans. Designers can provide tools to assist the user in bringing forward the expertise of their own experience.

“Because leisure time contributes to successful ageing, we chose this as our context. Ultimately aiming at empowering older adults through technology that is easy to use, to stay mentally and physically active, we co-discover their interests and co-create personal designs.”

Firstly, she evaluated the GoLivePhone and she found motivating factors to smartphone use and factors that contributed to a pleasant smartphone learning environment, such as tools that grew along with older adults, and ‘super-users’ who facilitated learning in a social setting.

She provided technological designers with useful suggestions on how to design technologies with the needs and wishes of the older adults in mind. “We contribute changing social and technological personal motivations of older adults to maintain engagement with a design, both when learning and using it,” she says.

“We recommend technology designers to create flexible and adaptive products from two different directions: from the system, and from the user.”

The GoLivePhone app is the companion app for the GoLiveClip and includes Notifications, Emergency alert, Activity levels, Fall risk analysis, Automatic fall detection. Available in the  Apple App Store and ▶︎ Google Play
Walking Application

Secondly, she used the Leisure Time Canvas she created, and developed a walking application based on this in co-design with our participants. She found that the participants preferred the quality rather than the quantity of physical activity. This study provided designers with the necessary knowledge of meaningful personal motivations to develop successful ageing interventions.

“We contribute a storytelling tool in the leisure time context that deeply engages people to design something meaningful. By creating and applying the Leisure Time Canvas, we showcase how to leverage personal interests such as hobbies to design interventions for successful ageing, represented by walking application Ommetje.”

Thirdly, she analyzed three student design projects and formulated ways to improve the designing for one approach and further personalized the participation for older adults in the design.

“Thus, we were able to reflect on how such a personalization in the design and design processes contributes to the creation of suitable supportive technologies for older adults.

This process helps the design researcher to interpret the qualitatively collected data, and facilitates the older adult to share stories to jointly create a personal design.”

More Information

Marjolein den Haan–Wintermans defends her thesis on November 11th titled: Getting Closer: Designing Personalized and Meaningful Technology with Older Adults. Her supervisors were dr. Yuan Lu en Rens Brankaert.

Source Eindhoven University of Technology via Medical Xpress


The leisure time canvas: eliciting empathy for older adults through activities and hobbies, den Haan-Wintermans, M, Brankaert R, Lu Y. (2019). Paper presented at Academy for Design Innovation Management, London, United Kingdom.

Applying design methods to promote older adults’ walking activities based on their hobbies and personal interests, den Haan M C, Brankaert RGA, & Lu Y. 2020, Design of assistive technology for ageing populations, Woodcock A, Moody L, McDonagh D, Jain A, & Jain LC. (eds.). Cham: Springer, p. 257-273, Intelligent Systems Reference Library; vol. 167.

Designing digital services to enhance older person’s access to public transport, Lu Y, Brankaert RGA, Valk CAL, Wintermans MC, & Ren X. 2019, Urban Environments for Healthy Ageing. Lane AP (ed.). Oxfordshire: Taylor and Francis Ltd., p. 209-225 17

Identifying factors for personalized strategies to motivate seniors to adopt a more active lifestyle, Valk CAL, Wintermans MC, Lu Y, Bekker MM. & Brankaert RGA. 1 Apr 2018, Gerontechnology. 17, p. 63s

Not all classrooms have four walls : analyzing experiences of senior citizens using novel smartphone technology, Wintermans MC, Valk CAL, Brankaert RGA, & Lu Y. 7 Feb 2018, p. 89-90. Contribution to 11th World Conference of Gerontechnology (ISG 2018) – St. Petersburg, United States

Situating societal challenges in an industrial design classroom, Lu Y, Ren X, Valk CAL, den Haan-Wintermans, MC, van Berlo AAJ, Li P, Li T, Li J, & Yang G. 2018, Next Wave: the 21st dmi: Academic Design Management Conference Proceedings. Boston: Design Management Institute, p. 1268-1278

Together we do not forget: co-designing with people living with dementia towards a design for social inclusion, Wintermans MC, Brankaert RGA, & Lu Y. 7 Jun 2017. Contribution to Design Management Academy Conference 2017: Research perspectives on creative intersections – Hong Kong, China

  Further reading

Co-Designing Technology for Aging in Place: A Systematic Review, Sumner J, Chong LS, Bundele A, Wei Lim Y. Gerontologist. 2021 Sep 13;61(7):e395-e409. doi: 10.1093/geront/gnaa064.  Full text, PDF

Understanding Technology Preferences and Requirements for Health Information Technologies Designed to Improve and Maintain the Mental Health and Well-Being of Older Adults: Participatory Design Study, LaMonica HM, Davenport TA, Roberts AE, Hickie IB. JMIR Aging. 2021 Jan 6;4(1):e21461. doi: 10.2196/21461. Full text, PDF

How can technology support ageing in place in healthy older adults? A systematic review, Ollevier A, Aguiar G, Palomino M, Simpelaere IS. Public Health Rev. 2020 Nov 23;41(1):26. doi: 10.1186/s40985-020-00143-4. Full text

Understanding changes and stability in the long-term use of technologies by seniors who are aging in place: a dynamical framework, Peek STM, Luijkx KG, Vrijhoef HJM, Nieboer ME, Aarts S, van der Voort CS, Rijnaard MD, Wouters EJM. BMC Geriatr. 2019 Aug 28;19(1):236. doi: 10.1186/s12877-019-1241-9. Full text, PDF

Mobility Menu

follow us in feedly

Call 403-240-9100