Finding Value for a "just in case" product, Today and beyond


The Life Alert Family & Friends app

Project Brief

Life Alert provides seniors who live at home with access to lifesaving emergency response through a simple one-touch wearable device. Through this fictional project, we were tasked to design a solution to help bring Life Alert into the digital age.



Life Alert has a variety of products that are out-dated compared with current technology, including a wearable that only works within one’s home and a GPS-enabled “help phone” that is limited to contacting only Life Alert.



Thinking about Life Alert’s success today and into the future, my partner (Jeff Brydon) and I created an app for family and friends to stay up-to-date on the wellbeing of their senior loved one.

  • Today, the app will focus on the information provided within the confines of the current Life Alert products.  

  • And looking towards Life Alert’s future, it can leverage the additional capabilities of the Apple Watch to jumpstart their offerings towards more tech-savvy baby boomers and share additional information with family and friends.

Understanding the Landscape

Comparing Life Alert to its competitors, we found Life Alert is offering similar emergency response services and alert devices, but many of its competitors are also utilizing advanced technologies, such as fall detection or medication reminders.  

Digging into research about aging and what seniors are doing to live longer, healthier lives, we also discovered that people who live longer are:

  • Staying connected to family and friends,
  • Living an active lifestyle, and
  • Eating right.

Two sets of users to understand

With the research in mind, we determined we needed to focus our attention on both seniors and their family members, as both would be essential to creating an experience that provided value and promoted long, healthy lives for seniors.  (Due to the time constraints, we decided not to focus on friends of seniors for this project.  We acknowledge they also play an important role and should be considered if more time were available.)

We surveyed seniors and their families and I interviewed a senior and her son to better understand their opinion about Life Alert and similar devices, and to learn more about their thoughts on sharing health and activity related data.


Learning Along the Way

I assumed “activity” meant exercising or walking.  After reviewing the survey results and conducting interviews, I learned that for seniors, “activity” can mean volunteering at the library, baking cookies for an evening with friends, or going to the hair salon.  These activities are what fills a senior's day, keeps them connected with those around them, and moving about (even if primarily by car).  It is also harder to quantify, like steps taken or calories burned.  Thinking about the tracking options available with Apple Watch, we would need to consider alternative ways to evaluate a senior's activity beyond what is typically used for tracking younger people. 


Keeping our two users in mind

Building empathy for the user is essential.  Personas are a great way to keep them in mind, ensure we were both designing with the same things in mind, and help communicate our ideas clearly. 

Above: Jeff and I grouping together basic concepts, which ultimately led to a focus on the positive (remaining independent) rather than negative (fear of falling).  Middle: I am reviewing my quick sketches during a design studio which helped guide our thinking towards considering smart watch technology.  Bottom: Jeff and I map out the user journey for both seniors and family.

Design is Messy

With interviews and survey information, Jeff and I mapped out the most basic bits of information with post-its, organizing the information in different ways to determine possible solutions.  We decided to focus on the positive aspects and sense of reassurance Life Alert products provide, rather than the negative aspects, such as fear of falling and being alone.

Due to the nature of this being a fictional project, we were not able to work with the Life Alert stakeholders directly, so in order to churn through possible directions, my teammate and I grabbed fellow students and conducted a design studio to rapidly generate design ideas. The design studio exercise allowed me to see and hear different ideas and interpretations on the agreed upon problem.  

We also considered the user journey for both seniors who wear the device and their family members because we wanted to better understand the possible engagement points with Life Alert over time.  From our research and interviews about seniors not to wearing the device all the time, we hypothesized that by maintaining a positive connection with family and friends, seniors may be more encouraged to wear the device continuously.  


Don't forget to sketch

Designs for the Family & Friends app when their senior loved one is wearing a pendant.  It went through several iterations before reaching the latest look.

Once we had our direction, I sketched out several screens to show our thinking.  At this point, we had one week remaining, so I also started creating wireframes in Sketch 3.  Unfortunately, that also cost us precious time when we had to make changes.  As you can see from the progression on the left, what started out as tiled buttons later turned into rows after receiving feedback that it's harder to distinguish a hierarchy or gain a sense of importance.  When there are more options available (such as with the GPS Help Phone product), it was even harder to distinguish.  

Lesson learned: Sketch early, sketch often.  Even if you're not quite sure yet.  Just keep sketching.



Feedback is Key

With the interactive prototype in InVision, I was able to receive feedback on our designs.  Our goal was to create an app that provides a better sense of connection between seniors and their family and friends.  During testing, I received comments about comfortability with sharing information and that some information could be confidential.  This echoed what we heard in the surveys and interviews we conducted.  Finding the right balance and level of customization so users and their senior loved ones feel confident about what information is being shared and with whom is a primary concern for this app.

Thinking towards the Future, Today

I didn't want to design a bandaid on an aging product.  The constraints around the current products didn't take into account possible technology advancements available today (some of which are being invested in by competitors like UnaliWear and Lively).  Considering the technology constraints in stages - first focusing on current products, and second considering how it could be connected to potential future products - helped guide our thinking and design an app that could continue to evolve and provide value into the future. 

Life Alert already has a network of experienced customer services staff for quickly assessing and addressing emergency situations.  Without specific direction on resources for developing products, I recommend the less time-consuming and more cost-effective approach of utilizing current wearable technology with the Apple Watch, instead of developing a new product entirely.  By leveraging Life Alert's service with Apple Watch technology, Life Alert could get a jump-start into the future of wearables for tech-savvy seniors and upcoming baby boomers.



Time was an ever present companion for this project. By the end of the first week, I was concerned that I hadn’t landed on a concrete direction to move ahead with and begin testing.  And once I finally settled on focusing on a product for today with a plan to expand it more in the future, time also limited the amount of work I could accomplish before presenting.  The design process is certainly a messy one, and it doesn’t always fit nicely into a time-box. That being said, I’m hopeful the design direction would provide value to current seniors and their loved ones and our thinking looking forward would prime Life Alert for future success as well.