A Fresh, Tech-Forward Space for Older Adults to Connect
Determined to spark reimagination of what senior life can be, Wallis Annenberg, Chairman, President, and CEO of the Annenberg Foundation and the Wallis Annenberg Legacy Foundation, founded GenSpace to combat social isolation by offering a welcoming alternative to the sterile nursing homes, boring senior centers and dark, and lonely apartments that too often comprise the environments that senior adults experience.
Wallis Annenberg GenSpace is designed to function on multiple levels in its overarching mission to promote the value and vitality of older adults. The engaging and modern space will be extremely age-friendly and accessible to access relevant programming, opportunities for creative expression, social connection, fitness, financial guidance, storytelling, meaningful technology use, and a wide variety of relevant and compelling programming.
The facility is housed on the third floor of the newly constructed Audrey Irmis Pavilion, which stands out as a striking architectural statement in the midst of Los Angeles’ highly diverse Koreatown neighborhood.
This groundbreaking new addition to the community, and the entire conversation concerning aging, serves as a distinct representation of Wallis Annenberg’s philanthropic focus of leading with innovation to achieve lasting improvements for the well-being of people and communities.
Digital Representation and Engagement Driver
Seeking to extend the purpose and passion of GenSpace into the digital world, Wallis Annenberg Genspace reached out to Solid Digital for the design and development of the website.
The website needed to reflect the beauty, accessibility, and innovation of the physical GenSpace environment, while strengthening engagement with additional content, resources, and program information.
As the lingering COVID-19 pandemic further delayed actually opening doors, the GenSpace website also helped to fuel community support and excitement, while jump starting conversations and thought leadership among secondary audiences on the broad topics of aging and longevity.
The three audiences for the website were identified as:
- Older adults who live within and around the Los Angeles Koreatown community who would be accessing the site as an ongoing point of reference concerning resources, event updates, calendar information, and virtual programming, as well as to orient themselves to the GenSpace location and view teaser “GenSpace On Demand” virtual program videos.
- A secondary, but essential, audience of readers and contributors to The New Aging blog, hosted on the GenSpace website. Content and conversations that gather here will serve as a new think tank — driving critical exchanges of research and insights among gerontologists, academics, the media, policy makers, and industry leaders concerning how we think about, talk about, talk to, describe, and support older adults.
- Family members and care providers looking for information on relevant resources and support networks, as well as insights for enhancing communication and relationships.
Recognizing that the likelihood of visual impairments and other disabilities that can impede web accessibility increase as a person ages, and that the Baby Boomers and earlier generations tend to have a less comfortable relationship with technology than digital natives, accessibility considerations were a significant factor in the design and development of the GenSpace website.
To a large extent, this required a sharp focus on current Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) maintained by the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative. Solid Digital’s commitment to the project, however, far exceeded WCAG compliance. The team thought through every facet of the web experience, along with a high degree of empathy for older adults, client insights, and research.
This commitment is apparent in many unique features of the site such as the “Change Text Size” option that prominently appears on the right margin of every page. By clicking on accompanying plus or minus signs, visitors have the ability to increase the size of the text by as much as 200 percent, or decrease 50 percent, or anywhere in between to fit within their visual comfort zone for both desktop and mobile.
Reflecting the sharp focus on the kinds of details that can make a significant difference, the design and user experience team realized that the typographical reference to “font sizes” which is a part of the everyday lexicon of both designers and digital natives, might not be obvious to older adults. This prompted the decision to create the option of “Change Text Size,” versus “Change Font Size.”
Alignment with Screen Reader Logic
In many cases, WCAG compliance called for an understanding of how assistive technologies work. The screen readers that visually impaired users rely upon, for example, navigate a web page according to logical heading hierarchy. To ensure that screen readers are able to smoothly and understandably navigate a page without experiencing unnecessary glitches, headers need to conform to a sequential and consistent H1, H2, H3, H4 logic.
Adherence with web accessibility requirements guidelines also required the assurance of adequate color contrast, the use of specific fonts that met accessibility criteria, and the avoidance of light type reversed out of dark backgrounds.
Seamless Combination of Warmth, Inclusivity, and Community
Even though accessibility was essential, equally important was the determination that accessibility compliance does not appear forced, or stand as the overriding feature of the website. The age-friendly focus needed to be a seamless aspect of a site that was distinctly friendly, inviting, and innovative — in alignment with the goals of the GenSpace physical environment. Among the steps taken to achieve the balancing act of these multiple objectives:
- Distinct color associations for all of the program categories,
- Prominent photos that reflect the diversity of the Koreatown neighborhood, and
- Dual navigation options and the avoidance of too many choices within dropdown menus.
Fortunately, the Solid Digital design approach and philosophy was already in alignment with a conviction that good design is accessible design, and that the most effective UX is clean and uncluttered, with a simplified, streamlined navigation.
The Solid Digital team felt privileged for the opportunity to create the digital component of Wallis Annenberg GenSpace. The clients’ passion surrounding the mission to fight social isolation anad create new possibilities for both the Koreatown neighborhood and the global conversations concerning aging, sparked a depth and breadth of insiration and creative problem solving.