Digital Divide

Inclusive design of digital television

Executive Summary

Television, a global media that has the ability to target the majority of the world, with the rise of technological advances in the twenty first century, is turning digital, and the Government’s proposed switchover between now and 2012 will shape the future of this commodity, opening a host of opportunities.  The increased durability of the digital signal will see communication services highly enhanced, creating a great deal of opportunities for digital companies.

These technological advancements are necessary, but to what extent?  The ‘digital divide’ is becoming ever more apparent for a majority of people who are excluded from these developments.  These people come from a variety of age, social groups, gender and ability, nevertheless they are excluded.

One specific group is the over-65s and within this group are a majority who suffer from visual impairments, disabilities, mobility issues and cognitive problems.  90% of people with impaired eyesight are over 65, most of which rely on television as a means of entertainment, information and company.  The future foresees over 50% of the population being over 50 who have 80% of the nation’s wealth.  No longer is Pareto’s 80 / 20 rule in place anymore within this ageing society.  This is a clear majority, one who business and design will have to cater for.Movie Fifty Shades Darker (2017)

Designers, therefore must consider this ever increasing majority and begin to create inclusive products, spaces and designs.


Inclusive Design is not exclusive to people with impairments or that have reached a certain age but a form of design that incorporates everybody, ‘inclusive’.

There is one group of people that plays host to a variety of stereotypes and discrimination, the ‘old’.  This discriminate act is usually called ageism.

“a process of systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against people because they are old . . . Old people are categorised as senile, rigid in thought and manner, old-fashioned in morality and skills . . . Ageism allows the younger generation to see older people as different from themselves, thus they subtly cease to identify with their elders as human beings.

Ageism, like all prejudices, influences the self-view and behaviour of its victims.  The elderly tend to adopt negative definitions of themselves and perpetuate the very stereotypes directed against them, thereby reinforcing society’s beliefs.”

(Butler 1975)[i]

[ii]“The term “ageism” was coined in 1969 by Robert Butler” it’s comparison was with other forms of discrimination at the time like racism and sexism although the form has changed somewhat now it is seen now as any form of discrimination against, what was once a minority group.  The Concise English Dictionary describes ageism as [iii]“prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age.”

Getting old is a journey we all have to face, and we shall achieve great things along the way.  It can take many forms and it is individual specific although the end result is the same, we get old, it’s the way we deal with it that is different.  With this blessing called age, apparently, comes wisdom, but also with age comes a variety of misunderstandings, impairments, loss of functionality and understanding.  Some modern day affairs are incomprehensible for some of our ageing population, as will eventually be for us.

In ‘modern’ times we can establish that the prejudices ‘old’ people face are quite apparent as there are a lack of positive older role models within advertising and television and a definite sense of stereotyping into certain roles, for example, ‘dirty old man’.  This eradication of older people from our screens is not the only problem, twenty-first century advances are posing a threat to the ageing population’s television viewing.


The population of the UK in mid-2004 was 59 834 300, England was responsible for just over 50% of which the average age was 38.  This high average is due to our ageing population.  The National Statistics Online UK states [iv]“there were 20.0 million people aged 50 and over in the UK in 2003” and the figure is predicted to increase to a whopping [v] 27.2 million which is an increase of 36% in 2031.  Currently, the Nation has more people over the age of 60 than it does below 16 as the youth population has been in decline for a while, accounting for only 20%.  There were 17% of people over 65 and the population was 5.5% over 85  which is said to increase a considerable amount in future years, although the gender divide will be less than it is now as there are currently 100 women to every 85 men for this age group.  It is thought that over the next two decades the population between 50 and 65 is to increase by a staggering 20% whilst there shall be a fall of 5% between the ages of 25 to 39.

This increase is not only due to the mortality rate but also to the fertility rate and also the impacting growth of immigrants within the UK.   It is clear then that the [vi]”UK has an ageing population” and there needs to be considerations made when designing for future markets not only for age but race and gender also.

Older people tend to have multiple minor impairments/disabilities such as poor eyesight as 90% of the population who are blind or partially sighted are over 65 but these are not exclusive to age as some ‘disabled’ people share these impairments as so does a selection of the young population.  Oliver states “The social model of disability argues that disability is not some form of personal deficiency but is actually created by environments, products and services that fail to cater for the needs of their potential users.”

[vii]”With over 10 million disabled people in the UK and an estimated £80 billion to spend, taking action to provide equal access to goods and services is financially rewarding as well as morally right and legally correct.


Some facts and figures back this up:


* There are over 10 million disabled people in the UK.

* They have £80 billion annual spending power.

* 70% of disabled people are over 60 years old.

* Almost 75% of the Nation’s wealth is held by the over 50s.

* £184 billion of annual income is earned by the over 50s.

* More than 360,000 disabled people are under 16.”

The ageing population not only face the hurdles of life but also the consequences of a ‘poor’ education.  As Newnham discusses “around a third of people aged between 56 and 64 in the south-east of England have below level 2 (GCSE equivalent) qualifications, compared with 10.4 percent of people aged 16-25.”  The ageing population valued work and experience over education.  Alike the minor impairments poor education is not exclusive to the ‘old’ as Sherriff describes “Income, education and age as the biggest factors in creating the digital divide,…poor, badly educated people are still lagging behind…Still, they’ve got women and old people for company”

As technology is forever improving and becoming more advanced there is a constant increase that these people may become alienated from it.  One of those technical advances being the future of ‘Television’ and during the period 2008 – 2012, depending, the government will be switching to digital television and analogue shall be no more.  Digital television boasts a variety of enhancements compared to analogue, the benefits of which should be clearly made available to everybody but are these options catered for our ever growing ageing population.  It has an improved picture and sound quality and an array of interactive services, including e-mail.  This switchover is occurring whether one likes it or not, a concept bedazzling the majority of the ageing population, incorporating a lot of stress and worry into the transition that needs to take place.  For this transition to take place the introduction of new products, televisions and digital receiving devices are necessary for which need an amount of technical ability and understanding.

[viii]Ninety six percent of over 75 age group watch television every day as a source of entertainment, information and a reliable connection to the outside world of ‘what’s going on’.  The Government introduced free television licenses to the over 75s in November 2000 which has given television the opportunity to become a tool for social inclusion but these recent developments into switching off analogue could create exclusion.


My investigation hopes to uncover how two of the UK’s digital suppliers aim to include the ageing population within their design.  My research has been based on government statistical findings and in-depth reports highlighting various elements of inclusive and exclusive design.


Information is freely available on the web with regards to the crossover, but the ageing consumer, who is becoming a majority, does not necessarily surf the web, have access, the ability or the inclination, as findings show according to the Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General only [ix]17% of the population over 65 had surfed the web compared to 94% of 16-24-year-olds.  For the majority of the ageing population, television is television, the old fashioned analogue type.  They have no need for interactive services or these complications.  In a recent report [x]Multichannel vs Terrestrial Household Lifestyles – UK – July 2004 highlighted that approximately 40% of UK adults had no interest in digital television.  The groups in this high percentage were females, over-65s and the lowest social group.  A clear majority, 75% of the over-65s have only terrestrial television at home, accompanied by 66% of the lowest socio-economic group which could prove to be a problem for the Government to completely switch off analogue television as these majority groups could well be reluctant to switch to digital television as they may not have the skills or the finances.

[xi]“Yet many of those yet to go digital are exactly the people that the State has a duty to protect – the elderly, the disabled, the poorest.  They have in many cases the most to gain from a fully digital world. And we have to make sure they aren’t left behind.”  Tessa Jowell

To tackle the digital divide the Government in September 2005, alongside the BBC, with funding from the license fee, a scheme has been created to ensure people are not excluded from the switchover.  The scheme will provide free equipment and installation for the over-75s, people with significant disabilities and people of the lowest socio-economic group who are on Income Support, Job Seeker’s Allowance or Pension Credit.

To ensure a smooth switchover to digital, the Government’s, Department for Culture Media and Sport has teamed up with numerous charities and organisations including the RNIB, the RNID, Age Concern, Help the Aged and the Consumers’ Association – along with the Department for Work and Pensions and the BBC.  Together they have produced a follow-up support package for the over-75s and people with significant disabilities.

Technology is a complicated affair and with this introduction of digital television, although bringing a vast array of benefits will be accompanied by a host of confusion unless the functionality is comprehensible, not only by 16-24-year-olds but by everyone, ‘inclusive’.

Case Studies

As discussed this transition into the digital age will bring a plethora of technological gizmos and gadgets that will ‘enhance’ your life.  Digital television needs to be controlled and to do this requires a remote control.

The ‘remote control’ (although used in the war), was first designed for the television in the 1950’s and was called [xii]“Lazy Bone.”  The ‘Lazy Bone’ was not wireless like today’s examples but had a bulky wired implement that consumers were prone to tripping on.  The remote has moved on a lot since then, instead of being a luxury in the 1950’s, it became a common accessory in the 1980’s.  The remote control is a great invention especially for people with mobility problems.  It means the viewer can control the television, set-top box or other electrical device without having to leave the comfort of their chair making the television more accessible.  Now the 21st century plays host to the advancement of digital television and the remote control has very many  more jobs to do.  The capabilities of digital television consist of a vast range of information and entertainment services such as


TV guide (electronic programme guide, EPG)

social contact e.g. email

interactive / online games with remote viewers

enhanced programmes e.g. voting on outcomes / issues


video on demand

live interactive sport e.g. altering viewing angles

talking books / radio


current affairs e.g. news, financial information

interactive non-broadcast content e.g. healthcare advice

websites / TV portals

interactive advertising

courses / learning

search for jobs / holidays etc.


These complex digital enhancements offer the user the options but can the user ‘use’ the technology?  These on-screen user interfaces are [xiii]“based on web technologies” which bring an array of difficulties as displaying these menus on low-resolution televisions is quite difficult as British television has a resolution of 720px by 576px of which only 80% can be used to display text successfully.  This requires the user to be intuitive and have the ability to understand the screens and navigate successfully through this interactive maze.  The user also has to understand the remote control to be able to control the screen.  This will most probably involve the user changing glasses to more appropriate reading glasses as stated earlier 90% of people with impaired eyesight are over 65 most of which rely on television.

To create a good ‘design’ requires knowledge and to acquire this a great deal of research and investigation is necessary.  You need to know your consumer, and the television audience is massive, containing every type of being, it is a heterogeneous audience which has many different user requirements. Although moving to a definite digital age is relatively new the technology has been around for some time and a company utilising that technology is Sky.


BSkyB have been a leader in television for over a decade now and their name and brand identity immediately recognisable.  In the early years their analogue satellite receiving equipment was constructed by six different companies.  This created six different remote controls causing a great deal of confusion, not creating a cohesive brand identity.  Deciding to unify the look of  their handset, Frazer Designers were commissioned in 1996 to design the British Sky Broadcasting remote control.

Frazer are a company that have spanned 25 years in the design business and are pioneers in their field.  They have conceptualised and constructed some of the most influential pieces of design in the last three decades.

[xiv]“Sky’s brief to Frazer was for ‘the most comfortable and easy-to-use remote ever for males and females between the ages of five and 80’, to operate an electronic programme guide (EPG) that ‘any new user should be able to learn 70% of… within 15 minutes’.”


Sky’s approach of wanting a functional, inclusive design is highly commendable.  They know their target market and nobody is excluded.

Over the following two years Frazer, the top London design company researched heavily into creating one of the UK’s most prevalent objects.

Their initial strategy was to forget all other designs of remote and go back to basics.  Frazer embarked on their initial part of research which explored current issues regarding the use of a remote control.  Through focus groups they acquired qualitative results on how the remote was used in relation to the television.  This gave them an insight into what aspects of the remotes worked best and hone in on all the positive aspects and establish the negative ones.

[xv] “Frazer looked at the following issues” using ergonomics, a practice that ensures harmonious relationship between user and product.

•      Format – should the remote be rectangular, square, round or portrait?

•      Handset sculpting and form

•      Shape, number and size of buttons

•      Relationship of functions to the Electronic Programming Guide (EPG)

•      Position of buttons relative to each other and the handset

•      Contours of the keyboard surface

•      Weight and balance Colour and contrast of buttons, case and graphics.


Analysing the data,  they could determine how the device was handled, whether it was comfortable and used with ease.  How it sat in the hand, functioned, which buttons were used and how often.  All these factors would be influential in the design process.

One of the main problems with remotes is buttons and their function as there are usually far more buttons than people use.  Determining from the research Frazer proceeded to organise the functions into three categories and how they were used and the frequency these were then organised into three main formations on the remote control according to the three different pushing methods.

The decision for the shape was stick format, chosen to [xvi]“avoid bias”  ensuring it could be used with ease by both left and right handed users.  Thirty foam models of varying shapes, contours and sizes created.  Buttons were then placed on the remote accordingly.

[xvii]“Infrequently used functions such as the main system set-up, On/Off and Sky service options were positioned in the index finger zone.  The most frequently used functions – navigation, channel, volume, mute and back up – were arranged to fall under the user’s thumb.  The alpha-numeric functions were positioned closest to the user so they could be operated using the two-handed method in which buttons are pressed with one hand and the remote is held with the other.”

A series of focus groups were then arranged, where the participants would engage with the dummy remotes, blindfolded.  This was so they would not be influenced by the colour or shape of the remote, visually, but that they would have a tactile uninfluenced response.  The respondents were asked a series of questions

[xviii]“Which do you think is the right way up?

Which do you think is the front?

Which shape do you find most comfortable?”

From the data collected Frazer were able to pick out the most common honest answers and form a further design decision.  This time the answers were created into a group of 6 sculpted models which underwent further blindfolded focus groups.  These groups were more intuitive and entailed the participant to mould the interface into a more comfortable shape, change the position of the keys and the place where the batteries was stored.   These further alterations of user interactivity were recorded and influential in the final design.

The battery compartment was greatly considered and made into a design feature.   Constructed from a harder material than the rest ensured it had a longer life and more durable.  The compartment was covered by a softer tactile rubber.  The placement of this battery compartment and tactile feature which sits in the palm of your hand was to help the user to find the designed orientation of the product to enhance usability it also stops the remote from slipping as a researchers at [xix]Cambridge Engineering Design Centre found.

The buttons were designed chunky to be accessible by people with impaired flexibility, the spacing between enough to ensure only one button was pressed at a time.  Which is quite a problem for people with dexterity issues.  The sky remote houses 34 buttons of which colours were kept to a minimum.  Graphics work together with the tactile indicators such as bumps and tiny dots which are great indicators for partially sighted people.  However the font size and abbreviations are quite small and the white text on the bright jade green seems difficult to read.  These buttons are the ‘important’ digital interactive service buttons which seem to warn rather than invite its user, especially those who are technologically uninformed.

The sky remote though is well informed and has a great deal of research and user involvement behind it.

[xx]“Frazer claims that the flat and balanced shape and the configuration of the buttons make the Sky product the most ergonomic remote handset ever created.”

This piece of design took over 9 months to develop cost £250, 000 which seems a small price to pay as the remote sits in over five million homes of which there has only been 100 returns.  This enforces sky’s brand as a sign of quality.

This is a clear example of great product design and innovation.  The Sky consumer and prospective consumers were all taken into consideration making this piece of design a well informed inclusive part of the household.  Sky are continuing to improve their remote control and are currently working alongside SCOPE and Age Concern to develop an even more inclusive handset.


[xxi]“ntl is committed to improving the products and services offered to all customers including disabled customers.”

The ntl remote boasts to have been created inclusively [xxii]“to make it easier to use for disabled customers.”

At first glance, the slender torpedo shaped handset looks quite hard and uninviting yet the shape of the underneath is curved and split into two sections.  The contours of which fit comfortably into the palm of both hands giving opportunity for a firm hold if the remote needs to be operated by two hands.

The ntl remote has 39 buttons a third more than an average remote.  Alike the Sky remote the buttons have been divided into three distinct sections.

The bottom section consists of the alphanumeric keypad of which the ‘5’ key has a raised bump as [xxiii]“the majority of visually impaired people tended to use numerical keys” to change the channel, so this identifier helps the user to navigate.  This is not a new invention and I would have expected this to come as standard.  Also in this bottom section is the clearly identifiable ‘Fastext’ buttons displayed in red, green, yellow and blue.  Although the same colour, these buttons have taken on a new function within the digital realm in comparison to the analogue text.  Their function opens an array of digital interactive services, such as the common ‘press red’ that appears on the screen.

The next section on the control is the middle section which houses the main navigation buttons.  The central button is a wide oval shape with ‘ok’ and ‘select’ of a reasonable sized font approximately 10pt.  The position of this button reflects its importance as the surrounding buttons are for the navigation, containing arrows / triangles which point in the varying directions, up, down, left and right.  Framing these buttons either side to the left are the two ‘VOLUME’ and right the two CHANNEL’ buttons.  They are all four silver in colour, a completely different shape and have a slight raised bump on each.  Within the two lower buttons the bump contains a minus sign (-) and the two buttons above, a plus (+).  This tactile element adds another easily identifiable way to navigate and control your viewing.

There are 14 other buttons placed in the top section of the remote, including the power button.  This button contains a light which activates when the buttons are pressed.  The light has 2 colours red, this indicates to the user that a button is being pressed and something should happen to the ntl cable set top box and green which indicates a button is again being pressed but the remote is communicating with the television.

Just below the power button to the left is the ‘help’ button which when pressed opens up the help section of the EPG where users can research into how to use their remote and interface successfully.  This all be it a simple task requires the user to be aware of the functioning of screen based navigation and interactivity.  The ‘help’ is written in lower case approximately 8pt type as are all the other labels in this top section.  These are quite difficult to read, as they are written in pale grey on grey and blue buttons.

Although claiming to be ‘inclusive’ the ntl remote has come under scrutiny, as researchers at the [xxiv]Cambridge Engineering Design Centre undertook a qualitative research project highlighting the problems with remote controls.  The ntl remote was considered difficult to handle and unintuitive.  There tended to be a delayed response between the user pressing the button and the set top box.  This led to confusion and having to repress the button harder to ensure a response.  The top section of buttons were ignored as the user had no indication what they were for and were generally happy with the knowledge that they could use the numeric keypad to access the usual terrestrial channels.

Although clearly not as ergonomically designed as the sky remote the ntl device has obviously taken some inspiration from its competitor.  The button layout for the navigation and ok /select buttons is in the same arrangement although the sky directional buttons are more intuitive as they are shaped as the arrows rather than the small painted on ones of the ntl.  The channel and volume buttons are too in similar places, this is an area where the ntl remote is successful as they have not abbreviated as have sky, ensuring better readability for the user.  The sky remote however uses rubber for its buttons which is far more tactile and intuitive compared to the hard plastic used by ntl.  The sky’s help button is positioned in an easy access place, amongst the frequently used buttons unlike ntl’s which requires the use of the index finger as understood by the research performed by Frazer is a place what doesn’t get used much this does not make it easy for people with dexterity issues who will be the people who most need the help.  The EPG interactive buttons on both remotes are a contrasting colour to the housing although the position is far superior on the sky remote, reflecting the months of research carried out.  The sky remote is still not totally inclusive although they are continuing to work with leading organisations and charities to resolve resounding issues and have again commissioned Frazer for another two remotes.  This is clearly a great working partnership whose consumer considerations are pro active reflecting inclusive design and great design management.


People are currently happy without digital television, although their lives will be enhanced through the ability to shop, make transactions, have audio enhancements, stay in touch and the rest of these wonderful things that digital television will bring, there needs to be more emphasis on the design and interaction between user and technology if these services are to be introduced and used efficiently.

Efforts are clearly being made to include everyone in the digital age although there definitely needs to be more understanding to ensure the requirements of everybody are taken into consideration.  We can see from these companies that inclusive design is taking shape and consideration is being given to guidelines set out by the RNIB, SCOPE, Age Concern and Help the Aged.  There does however, need to be more thought given to the construction of these devices, as technology is forever advancing we should maybe consider how we can make technology simple and user-friendly.  Designers need to ‘put themselves in everybody’s shoes’ to ensure a successful product.  The people who they are excluding are the people with the majority of wealth, who have more of a disposable income and are spending rather than saving for a rainy day.  To increase spending designers need to ensure everything is inclusive.

This essay has been designed to take into consideration the reading needs of older people, the typeface Gill Sans has been used along with indented paragraphs to ensure a more fluid readability.


Butler, R. N. (1975). “Psychiatry and the elderly: An overview.” American Journal of Psychiatry, 132, 893-900.

Butler, R. N. (1975). Why survive? Being old in America. New York: Harper & Row

Newnham, David. TES LEARNING REFORMS , Older Learners, Chain Reaction. MAY 19 2006

Oliver M., The Politics of Disablement, Palgrave Macmillan, 1990. Cited in Etchelland, Lindsey and  Yelding, David. Inclusive design: products for all consumers. CONSUMER POLICY REVIEW NOV/DEC 2004 • VOLUME 14 • NUMBER 6

Sherriff, Lucy. “Poor left stranded by digital divide.” <>


[i] Overcoming ageism in service design and delivery

Paper presented at Aged Care for the New Millennium

Aged Care Conference Melbourne 26-28 July 1999

Patricia Reeve


[ii] “ageism n.”  The Concise Oxford English Dictionary. Ed. Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson. Oxford University Press, 2004. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press.  13 June 2006  <>

[iii] Population estimates, Office for National Statistics

Population projections, Government Actuary’s Department

Census 2001, Office for National Statistics

Census 2001, General Register Office for Scotland


Unless otherwise stated older people refers to those aged 50 years and over.

Published on 22 November 2005 at 9:30 am

[v] Government response to Aspects of the Economics of an Ageing Population. London : The Stationery Office Limited. 2004 (The Numbers Game: Older people and the media report, Independent Television Commission, 2002)

[viii] Mary Bellis









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