Client: Japanese cell phone manufacturer

Project: Study market segment to design a user-specific smartphone.

Challenge: Seniors have very different needs when considering small screens!

Smartphone Design: Phones for Asian and European Senior Citizens

Case Study: Japanese manufacturer needed to create a cell phone for the Asian and Western European senior citizen market

Prior UX efforts: This company, a leader in worldwide cellphone sales, had made 2 other ‘senior’ cell phones in the past. The first one they built was a non-smartphone that sold very well. The second one was a smartphone that did NOT sell well, and they wanted to try again.

First User Group began by watching seniors over 70, with a broad range of technology exposure, use phones. Many were still using landlines to make/receive calls, while a rare few were using iPhones like their children or grandchildren. But no matter what they were using or how proficient they were, their experiences remained true to the following:

  1. More than half were unfamiliar with the need to press a key to start a call. They wanted to simply pick up the phone and start talking or dialing.
  2. Seniors were used to hanging up a phone by putting it on a cradle of some sort; NOT by pressing an ‘end’ button.
  3. Most had trouble seeing detail on a smartphone due either to small type or, more often, lack of proper contrast. Black text on a green background was OK (many caller ID stations still use this high-contrast lcd screen).
  4. 90% wanted to know who was calling them.
  5. Most did not possess the physical dexterity to manipulate apps, let alone a touch screen.
  6. All wanted an audible and tactile responses to accompany the press of any button.
  7. Many had a need for increased volume.
  8. Most wanted a phone that was easier to hold than most thin smartphones on the market.
  9. 75% of those tested wanted a speakerphone feature.
  10. Presets, address cards, calendars, and personal information about friends and family were, surprisingly, unimportant. Seniors don’t think of phones as a storage device for information.

The industrial designers at First User Group used these results to design our senior phone. We created a phone design 18mm thick with one small, green lcd screen for caller ID; very large silicon buttons that made a pleasant-sounding beep when pressed, and a feature that hung up the current call by simply setting the phone down on any flat surface. This phone comes with a charging cradle instead of a cable, and does not require a keypress to turn it on: lift it from the cradle and the user hears a dial tone (simulated) and is ready to dial a number. Our exhaustive research indicated 99% of the time the phone could automatically attempt to connect a call upon any 4 second gap between key presses.

Sales greatly exceeded every goal in Asia and Western Europe. While the phone was never made available in the United States, it does very well via secondary marketplaces (seniors seem to love eBay!).