So Simple Grandma Could Use It!

I experienced first hand the difficulties and related anguish of providing care to an elderly loved one, and set out to create an offering that would allow caregivers to ‘be there’ regardless of their physical distance. This is long overdue, but now our partners and customers can improve their businesses while also improving the lives of those in their care, and the family members who support them.
— Kian Saneii, Founder and CEO, Independa, Inc.


IndependaTV™ is an internet enabled TV designed specifically for aging loved ones. The platform is based on special software called "Angela." Angela connects the aging adults with the senior living community and/or with the primary caregiver (daughter, son, relative, etc). Health devices can also be connected to the system, where the data is securely managed on the cloud. The Independa CloudCare platform enables care facilities to manage medical alerts and schedules, and the ability to monitor health measures. On the consumer side, the TV allows the primary user to stay connected to a "Circle of Care" network through a number of social and custom features adapted for the particular needs of aging adults. IndependaTV™ is a revolutionary system that leverages the television to provide remote care and engagement to the viewer, changing the way people connect and care for our aging loved ones.


Having satisfied customers was not enough. Independa challenged themselves to push the boundary and strive to delight their core target user of the IndependaTV™. As the CTO explained, “It has to be so simple Grandma could use it - literally”. No UX designer could pass up a chance like this! Put simply, for Grandma/Grandpa to use it, they have to love it.

When I was first given a demo of Angela, the functionality was as impressive as it was unique. Having grandparents that were struggling with these issues at the time (grandfather was moved to a senior care facility), I could clearly see the value of Angela. For starters, the TV was clearly the technology of choice to engage with our elderly population -- no computers, no passwords, no virus scans, no software updates, no tablets, no battery charging, etc. Still, Independa is all about continuous improvement, and they wanted to take their TV interface to the next level. Take an award-winning solution, and make it even better! Taking the TV to the next level would mean that the software actually enhances the entertainment factor (not just the functionality). Another clear challenge was that the interface control was not a point and click with a mouse, but a remote control which requires a very strong visual cognitive response. Essentially we needed to humanize the technology by making Angela 'feel' like a companion.

IndependaTV for Seniors

Business DEsign

Now that we understood the challenge it was necessary to make sure that our solution aligned with the business goals. We filled out a Business Model Canvas, which is a lean way to map out the business model. The business model was solid and being proven through a MVP. However, the exercise allowed me to have a high level view of how the digital experiences interconnected and what role it played on the model itself.

Not all Grandmas are alike

The mature market is not one big, homogenous audience

  • Woeful Worriers: faith in authority, comfortable in routine, shy away from excitement and risk

  • Liberal Loners: focus on their own independence, concerns and needs; little worry for family and friends

  • Fiscal Conservatives: shop for quality over value, wary of change, focus on tradition and pride

  • Active Achievers: well-educated, socially involved, enjoy excitement; don’t see themselves as “old;” often divorced and may lose touch with family

  • True Blue Believers: moderate, religious, compassionate, happy, smart, filled by family and friends

  • In-Charge Intellectuals: lifelong readers and thinkers, secure in their abilities, opinions, and perceptions; personal relationships are casual

  • Intense Individualists: see the world as unforgiving, with a pioneer’s resourcefulness and self-reliance; unsentimental and uncompromising

  • Hearth and Homemakers: family and friends are the center of their lives; religious, caretakers, volunteers, happy, and regard their lives rewarding

Misconceptions of Marketing to the Mature Market, Martino Flynn Advertising :: Public Relations :: Digital Media :: 

Next thing was to define our target personas. The differences in aging adults are as wide ranged as with young adults. The key was going to be in breaking down segments into psychographic behaviors. I found an excellent research paper done by Martino Flynn Advertising which provided an eye opening view into the mature market. This was incredibly helpful to understand who our target was (and was not), and how they thought. Here are highlights of some extracted mental models:

  1. The TV is my entertainment and companion. Don't mess with it.

  2. The social features are only appealing if I'm a social person or if I'm connected with my family. (The Latin side of me had a hard time believing that not all aging adults remain connected. It turns out, though, some like to remain loners!)

  3. Baby Boomers are comfortable with technology and one of the fastest growing markets on technology adoption.

  4. I don't want anything to make me feel like I need help. I can take care of myself!


Don't Kill My Entertainment

Message placement matches the button on the remote (top center). The visual cue sends the visual response that maps the thumb placement (up)

Message placement matches the button on the remote (top center). The visual cue sends the visual response that maps the thumb placement (up)

Aside from all other interactive challenges the primary goal was to ensure that Angela (software) mapped well with existing mental models for the device delivering the assistance. Two strong mental models we built on was to: 1) increase the entertainment factor already established by the nature of TV, 2) reduce the fear of new technology by not presenting itself as a "gadget" or computer they needed to learn. In short, many UX cliches like "don't make me think" became literal.

No Cognitive Load

Dr. Della Pena mentioned the importance of considering Alzheimer's as a decision factor in our solutions. Statistics such as Alzheimer's disease affects one in 10 people over age 65 and nearly half of people over age 85 surprised and saddened me. It also made me quickly realize that we could not rely on learned behaviors that many UI's can afford due to frequency of use. The only way to resolve this would be to rely on strong visual-cognitive responses. In other words, when grandma is holding the remote she should not have to think (at all!), or even look down to know which button to click. It should just 'feel natural'. Even a knee jerk reaction should be the right reaction. This meant that we needed to make a firm product design decision to contain menu actions to only five buttons even if the remote had many more. This was like reducing a long paragraph to one sentence! Simple IS hard.

Safety Nets

In some cases, we found that making all buttons respond to the same action was the best way to avoid user annoyances. For example, getting rid of a message while in the middle of Judge Judy's judgement call! In a time of slight panic, any button is the right button (whew!). Another fascinating research I came across answered why aging adults pressed so hard on the buttons of the remote. This was due to being from a generation when electronics had metal contacts. As those contacts wore down it created a need to press harder to make 'contact'. After years of this problem, it created a strong cognitive and muscle memory. In order to design around this we added guard rails for the buttons to avoid getting "stuck". For example, when navigating through the photo album pressing hard on the buttons would trigger images to rapidly paginate from one to the next. A slight delay avoided punishing for a hard press.

10ft Rule

Almost flat design with friendly metaphor for albums

Remember what I said about the electronics 'back in the day' being strong tactile actions? Well it applies to design as well. The design should be easy to view at 10ft and feel 'real'. That is a bit contrary to the current trend which is a 'flat' sleek look. The sweet spot was an 'almost flat' design for messages and main menu items but we went a little 'heavier' and stronger metaphors for areas such as photo albums and directional buttons.

Is It So Simple Grandma (Grandpa) Can Use It?

TV software is not very friendly to frequent updates. And the last thing we wanted was to be changing things on grandma's TV frequently. It was critical that we get the core UX and navigation principles right the first time. This meant putting our designs to the test. We managed to do multiple "hallway" testing sessions with aging adult friends and relatives throughout the design process but would the solution test well with other participants? We took advantage of the good relationships with aging living communities that Independa had to schedule all day testing in one of the locations. I hacked Azure (a rapid prototyping tool) to create a prototype that had a listener for remote control keys. This allowed the prototype to simulate the real product. We focused on high risk points to ensure we kept the qualitative testing concise and valuable. Finally, after many rounds of testing and tweaks, we had a design that tested positive for the expected value.


Independa is a company that started with the an idea spawned by the CEO's personal experience with providing care to an elderly loved one. The result is evident by the deep desire to improve the product by designing with the customer and not just for the customer. It was a very pleasant experience to collaborate with the executive team without having to "sell" an idea. The value to the aging adult was front and center and what we agreed would drive the design decisions. Being in the industry for so long I can attest that this is a very rare strength of a company. Many companies consider themselves forward thinking, progressive, and design driven like Apple, but few actually have the stomach to pivot or stay the course. Independa has proven to be an example in this regard and a strong mission-driven company with a product that reflects its values.


The customer feedback was very positive and Independa went on to winning the coveted CES INNOVATION AWARD IN “TECH FOR A BETTER WORLD” in 2015! Strong user centered design approach with design thinking, guidelines, patterns, and best practices proved to be a winner. Visit Independa to see how technology can be used to improve lives.


Daniel Castro: Product Strategy | Product Management | User Experience Architecture | Creative Direction

Visual Designer: Jonathan Madera

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