Potential Buyers Consider Assistive Device Aesthetics
Published: 2022-09-08 - Updated: 2023-01-04
Author: North Carolina State University | Contact: ncsu.edu
Peer-Reviewed Publication: Yes | DOI: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/RJTA-01-2022-0005/full/html
Additional References: Assistive Technology Publications
Synopsis: Study reveals people often consider the look, texture, and smell of assistive devices in online reviews of the products before purchase. The findings detail key aesthetic characteristics that users care about and the language used to describe them - factors that could be important for manufacturers to consider in product development. In the study, researchers analyzed online reviews of assistive devices on Amazon.com to look for descriptors of the visual aesthetics of the products, such as their color, appearance, style, feel, smell, and sound.
- Assistive technology (AT)
Assistive technology (AT) is a general term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities, including the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. Assistive technology promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks they were formerly unable to accomplish or had great difficulty completing by providing enhancements to or changing methods of interacting with the technology needed to fulfill such tasks.
Consumer perceptions and concerns regarding aesthetic attributes of textile-based assistive devices: a qualitative analysis of online retail product reviews.
In online reviews of the products, North Carolina State University researchers found that people often considered the look, texture, and, occasionally, the smell of two assistive devices, compression gloves and a knee brace.
The findings detail key aesthetic characteristics that users care about and the language used to describe them - factors that could be important for manufacturers to consider in product development.
"Aesthetics of assistive devices are often not taken into account even though research shows one reason for abandonment is that users feel embarrassed or stigmatized by their devices," said the study's lead author Kate Nartker, assistant professor of textile and apparel technology and management. "There's also an assumption that users want to conceal their devices, but increasingly some want to express themselves, and need more opportunities for creativity and self-expression."
In the study, researchers analyzed online reviews of assistive devices on Amazon.com to look for descriptors of the visual aesthetics of the products, such as their color, appearance, style, feel, smell, and sound. They analyzed 1,000 reviews of a knee brace posted between Aug. 10, 2019, and March 18, 2021, and 1,082 reviews of compression gloves posted between Dec. 27, 2017, and March 31, 2021.
They found users did comment on the aesthetic qualities of their devices and most commonly made comments about their visual qualities.
One of the most common words people used about visual aesthetics was "color," which occurred 92 times. Some reviewers praised sellers for offering various color options, while others requested more neutral colors and colors not currently available, including beige, dark brown, or grey.
"Some users complained about there not being a broader range of browns," Nartker said. "It's only recently we're starting to see different shades of skin color in medical products like Band-Aids. Our findings align with this and suggest a need for more skin tone colors if people want to conceal their devices. The color was also the one aesthetic option for each device, and users appreciated having multiple colors to choose from. I imagine if the device were offered in different patterns or textures, maybe that would have come up more."
The researchers also noted that some consumers commented on their devices' style, using that term 18 times, while the word "look" was used 144 times. The word "look" was commonly used to praise devices when they looked stylish and not "medical." Users liked it when products aligned with fashion trends.
"We had consumers who were excited that they felt the product was not read as a device from others - that the gloves looked like normal gloves and used materials they were familiar with, so they could wear them conspicuously," Nartker said. "Devices are made to be functional, so they're often made with industrial materials that might stick out. But consumers responded when they used recognizable materials."
The word "smell" occurred 18 times in online reviews, primarily in a negative context. Six customers said they found a disturbing smell when they opened the product packaging, which researchers said could indicate to designers and developers to allow for off-gassing when packaging materials. Users responded when the device felt rough, scratchy, soft, or stretchy.
"When you're looking at tactile characteristics, it's hard to distinguish between aesthetics and functionality," Nartker said. "Some had a sensation of it slipping -- that could also be considered a functionality issue. Regarding smell, some people notice body odor or off-gassing when you open the product - the smell is something designers often don't consider."
In future work, researchers plan to dig deeper into different demographics to find out what it is about the appearance, sound, smell, or texture that appeals to product users or not.
"This study gave us insight into how people talk about aesthetics; the language and terms are different from what is used in the field of design," Nartker said. "It also told us that visual aesthetics was the most common feature people were concerned with, but users were also interested in texture and smell. This supports the argument that aesthetics must be a bigger piece in developing assistive devices."
This research aimed to examine consumer perceptions of aesthetic attributes of textile-based assistive devices (ADs) and the language consumers use to express those concerns. Previous investigations of user feedback for ADs have largely focused on functional attributes.
An interpretivism research philosophy was selected to investigate consumer perceptions' meaning and understand their viewpoints on the aesthetic dimensions of ADs. Using product reviews for two ADs sold on Amazon.com as data, the researchers conducted qualitative data analysis through coding and interpretation of meanings behind reviews to determine consumers' perceptions related to their ADs.
The authors identified consumer concerns linking aesthetics as a multi-sensory integration of visual, tactile, and olfactory cues. The consumer-preferred language used to address aesthetic preferences was found to supplement the literature. Aesthetic considerations were found to be impactful in avoiding stigma and encouraging or discouraging continued use.
The use of consumer product reviews as a rich source of user data is discussed in the paper. As previous research on assistive technology has largely focused on functionality, the results of this analysis offer insight into consumers' aesthetic judgments related to ADs and bring a sensory perspective to the research area.
Findings may contribute to developing textile-based ADs with improved aesthetics to enhance user experiences. New ways of using consumer language may assist future research and design practices for consumer products.
"Consumer perceptions and concerns regarding aesthetic attributes of textile-based assistive devices: A qualitative analysis of online retail product reviews," was published online in the Research Journal of Textile and Apparel. The Wilson College of Textiles Research Opportunity Seed Fund supported the study. Authors: Kate Nartker, Kate Annett-Hitchcock, and S.M. Azizul Hoque.
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