Appropriate design of household appliances and devices like washing machines and telephones can significantly improve the quality of life and autonomy of people with motor or sensory impairments caused by their age. Currently, the manufacturers cannot easily find the information about these multifaceted requirements; representative user tests are also not feasible in many cases.
To improve design and evaluation of accessible products, we develop a number of simulation tools in the European VICON project (Virtual User Concept for Supporting Inclusive Design of Consumer Products and User Interfaces). With these simulation tools we conduct virtual user tests of product prototypes to assess their accessibility and to suggest design improvements.
The tools are based on virtual user models for different types of users, whose specific needs were identified in empirical studies and described in the models. In the simulations, avatars – virtual substitutes of humans – take the user models to interact with the virtual product prototypes, generating feedback on the level of accessibility and on features that may need improvement.
For the manufacturers it is particularly important that the different tools focus on different phases of the design process, from initial product idea to detailed design and final evaluation.