True Story

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We are only a few weeks away from our final AC4D presentation, and we’re excited to share with you where our exploration of designing for family discussions around aging has led us.

Currently, our team (Laura Galos and Maryanne Lee) is working on both piloting and creating ideal-state artifacts for our project, which we are calling “True Story.”

True Story is “the get-to-know-you game for people you’ve known your whole life.” It’s a card game for families in which the object is to collect stories from one another, in particular, between intergenerational players.

What Does It Do?

While collecting stories is a worthy goal for families on its own, True Story is designed to do much more. Stories provide a window into the past, but they also provide insight into the way people think, make decisions, their values, and their fears. While family members are collecting stories in the context of a game, they are also collecting perspectives from other family members about topics that might never come up in ordinary conversation.

How Does It Work?

True Story cards each feature a question about a situation that has come up in the past. Some examples are, “Tell me about a time you met a celebrity” and “Tell me about a time you went on vacation alone.”

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Other cards ask for stories around topics that our research has shown to be difficult for families to broach, such as finance, health, living arrangements, and driving. For example, a question that gets family members to talk about ill health is, “Tell me about a time you did something to improve your health.”

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Once the player has told the story, other player(s) guess whether the first player has told a true story or a fiction story. Correct guesses are awarded a token to acknowledge the collected story, and the first person to 10 tokens wins.

Why Did We Make This?

Why do families need to collect stories, perspectives, an intuitive understanding of one another’s values and ways of making decisions? Why do uncomfortable topics need to be surfaced, if only in a game setting? Why make a game of this at all?

The Making of True Story

To recap some of the thinking that went into the creation of True Stories, we returned to our last blog post about our project, written at the end of Quarter 3. At that time our goal was to develop a design solution to help facilitate the difficult conversations seniors and their families have around the major changes that come with aging. Specifically, we wanted to help start conversations about aging transitions—such as limiting driving, or looking at assisted living—between adult children and their aging parents.

While the core of idea has remained the same, over the last several months it has manifested in so many ways—from an iPad game, to a website that helps adults send letter to their aging parents, to a communication tool that uses cards to start the conversation—that amid all the changes it is affirming to look back and see how closely our current product adheres to the principles we set out at the end of Quarter 3. Based on our research and testing with families, caregivers, and aging individuals, we had developed the following criteria to which anything we made had to meet.To help families address difficult aging-related conversations, our product must:

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Design Principles: Mission Accomplished?

Use a medium older individuals already enjoy

Success! To get to True Story, we started by piloting a product we called “Playffle.” Playffle was also card-based, but felt more like a communication tool than a game per se. In our initial research back in Quarter 2, we saw that our older participants, such as Anette, 84, strongly associated cards with being social. She told us that she “love[s] to play cards. I have different groups I play with—some play more complicated games and some play less complicated ones […] It’s a good time, a lot of camaraderie there.” Our pilot participants, upon trying Playffle, greatly appreciated that the cards were non-digital. One participant, aged 82, was under the impression we were going to make a website out of our cards, was elated to hear that we intended to produce a physical product. Furthermore, even younger participants who we spoke with exhibit a wide spectrum of comfort with digital technology. Using a non-digital medium allows everyone to come to the table with a degree of certainty and comfort—a positive start to productive conversations.

Feels non-threatening for older individuals

In piloting Playffle, we explicitly created cards with questions about difficult topics, including driving, living arrangements, and daily tasks. However, we thought that by introducing these topics through hypothetical scenarios, there would be less of a sense that older individuals’ behaviors are being singled out by these conversations. In reality, declining health, trouble driving, etc. are problems that anyone can face, regardless of age. By creating scenario-based questions, we hoped to open up the dialog from one of intervention to one of mutual conscientiousness and preparedness amongst family members. For example, one of our cards looked like this:

Pilot Card for Blog

Our testing showed that hypotheticals are a great way of getting older individuals to open up about facing difficult situations. One pilot participant was very honest about how she could identify with one situation—about buttons and zippers on clothing becoming difficult to manage—and sharing with the other card player how she manages those difficulties. Another participant mentioned that she would like to use these cards with her daughter, who was making financial decisions our participant was worried about. In sum, older individuals not only felt comfortable with these cards, they identified them as useful for addressing difficult topics with their younger family members as well.

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Feels approachable to family members

In our discussions with adult children of aging parents, we found that there was a great deal of fear around broaching aging-related topics. That fear stemmed from angering their parent. One participant we talked to, aged 61, with a father in his 80s, said, “If you bring up the subject of driving, Dad will terminate the conversation. He will become extremely angry and stop talking. Particularly as your parents age, you don’t want to alienate them at the end.” We think that by providing a product that is comfortable and approachable for older individuals—something that will probably not make them feel threatened or angry—we increase the approachability to younger family members. When we introduced the idea of playing cards to another participant, she saw them as “Something I would do day to day with my Dad. My Dad would think its fun finding out about each other or the solutions to problems.”

Leads to solutions, not just fun bonding moments

Our pilot iteration, Playffle, was geared toward adult children and their aging parents at a very specific stage—one in which the adult children were already concerned about the changes their parents would have to make due to aging, but before a crisis had yet occurred. These adults are understandably feeling a lot of pressure and seeking quick, sure solutions that would alleviate their anxiety and make their parents as safe and well-cared-for as possible. Playffle was pretty direct about coming to solutions, not just fun bonding moments. However, the cards felt clinical—a major reason we moved toward our current product iteration. We doubt that Playffle was an enjoyable enough product for people to want to use on their own without us sitting beside them. So we made a decision to broaden the possible usage of our cards. Our current iteration, True Stories, is less direct. It is not meant for adult children who need answers immediately. It is meant as a game different generations of a family can play together to hear stories they would not otherwise have known, get a sense of how the other person/people think and make decisions, and bring up “taboo” topics, such as health and finance, long before a crisis forces the issue. However, in exchange for directness, True Story offers an enjoyable experience that increases the likelihood people will actually use it. One participant in our early testing is caring for her father, who has dementia. Increasingly, she must make decisions about her father’s care on her own without her father’s input. She told us that she wants to make decisions based on “what would my Dad do?” By creating a game that families like to play—and as a secondary benefit, helps family members get to know each other, how they think, and what they value earlier—they can help each other make aging-related decisions together later.

Includes a way to follow-up on conversations

One of the strengths of True Story is that by playing it, the game ensures that taboo topics, such as health, are aired before a crisis happens. A question such as “Tell me about a time you had a health scare” means that families will have heard a story about ill health and have some perspective on the thoughts and feelings around that topic. Later, if and when tough situations arise, each of these stories acts as a tiny window through which the conversation can be re-introduced. By the time a serious conversation about these topics needs to happen, the silence around the subject has already been broken.

Takes into considerations families who live far apart

Many families today live far apart. Partnerships, job opportunities, and geographical preferences can result in families members that live thousands of miles away from one another. In our research, many families we talked to see each only for visits on special occasions. We know that the time spent together under these conditions is valuable. True Story honors the family time together by focusing on the collection of family stories. Additionally, it’s portable—not a small consideration in cases where families must travel to see one another.

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Based on the design principles we laid out at the end of last quarter, we are confident that True Story can help families set the stage for open communication based on mutual understanding as they face major transitions, including those that occur with aging, together. Please feel free to explore our pilot version, Playffle, in the clickable prototype below. We will continue to pilot and evolve True Story until pencils down on May 2nd, so we welcome any feedback you have on our project in the comments section. Thanks!

Playffle Clickable Prototype