Kristina Rakestraw

Cadence | empowering isolated seniors to find and stay engaged in communities

Graduate Capstone Project.


Cadence | empowering isolated seniors to find and stay engaged in communities


Spring/Summer 2018
19 weeks


Intentional Futures

Artefact Group

Kristina Rakestraw
Alexandria Lee
Duminda Aluthgamage
Andrew Shiau



Led Website Design
Co-led Interaction Design
Co-led Service Design
Led Visual Design
Led Design Workshop
Project Management

Design Specification
Product Video
Public Presentation
Research Report



The Problem

Loneliness in older adults living alone is a serious health problem.

Social isolation and loneliness are pervading problems for seniors in America. They not only lead to increases in stress and depression, but also increased mortality rates. Various US national surveys have indicated that the instances of social isolation and loneliness in the “older adult” population (60+) in America is estimated to be at 40%. This is particularly troubling as the effects of social isolation and loneliness are amplified in people over the age of 65.

How might we empower seniors to find and stay engaged in communities?


Final Concept


Cadence is a service that helps seniors find groups and volunteer opportunities in their communities with the goal of creating meaningful and long-lasting social connections


Key Features



Cadence can be discovered through a local brochure, and connected through a phone call or by visiting the website.

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Cadence gets to know the individual user throughout the whole process.



Cadence suggests, reminds, and encourages users to engage in local groups.


Cadence ensures groups are accessible and safe for all attendees.


Customer Journey


Cadence is a service, rather than just a singular product. This means that there are services or support materials through every step of the process. Here’s a high-level overview of the journey a user might take when using Cadence from outreach to follow-up. 


Cadence is aimed specifically towards seniors.

Unlike existing services like Meetup and Volunteermatch where users have to come in with specific search terms or are required to browse categories, Cadence uses a conversational interaction, and can be accessed via the website or via an interactive voice response on the phone. Users answer step by step questions that Cadence asks about hobbies, location preferences, and skills they have. This builds up a profile which allows Cadence to give suggestions for what groups or activities they might like to do. Cadence is aimed specifically toward seniors through careful design choices, and acts more like a friend who talks to you and gives you personalized recommendations.



Each host receives a playbook that details protocols for hosts to address accessibility and safety concerns and follow up with each attendee to ensure continued engagement.


Research Approach 


In order to discover methods for alleviating loneliness in seniors, we decided to speak with seniors who were socially engaged in order to gleam from their awareness and personal experience. This was an important decision in order to reduce the harm that we may have caused had we chosen to speak only to isolated seniors.

The research goals were to uncover the barriers to social engagement that lead to social isolation, what people who are not socially-isolated do to stay engaged, to learn about elder technology use patterns, and to make connections in the community to our target population of older adults.  

Our Initial Questions:

  • What are the barriers to social engagement that lead to social isolation?

  • What do people who are not socially-isolated do to stay engaged?

  • What are technology use patterns of older adults


Methods used

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We conducted semi-structured and expert interviews. 


I led a design workshop to dive deeper into behavior and mindset.


I went 'Into the Wild' to build empathy and deeper understanding.


Conducting Interviews

Expert interviews

By talking with people who were knowledgeable about the space of older adults and socialization, I gained insight into behavior patterns and decades of knowledge and experience that I would not have been able to uncover on my own.


Hilaire Thompson
Professor of Gerontology



Matt Miller
VP of Product Development, It’s Never Too Late


Than Nguyen
Behavioral Health Consultant


Valentina Warner
Family Physician


Kevin Kawamoto
Multigenerational Social Work Professor


Semi-structured interviews

I synthesized more than a dozen interviews of seniors speaking about their daily lives, ways they manage and stay engaged and barriers they face along the way. Through these conversations, four major barriers were revealed that seemingly prevent seniors from fully engaging in their local communities.

Four Common Barriers to Social Engagement








Digital Literacy

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Guided Storytelling

I conducted two open-ended workshop activities with 3 participants. Each session was 30-45 minutes and consisted of "Card Sort" and "Activity Explanation." I used guided storytelling as a form of participatory design in order to gain feedback and insight that might not be possible in a non-activity based interview setting. The goal was to dig deeper into the people, places and things older adults feel connected to and, more importantly, why. By avoiding high-level discussions, we were able to gain more specific details about their unique experiences.


Card sort

Participants sorted cards referring to various factors in their life, such as family, friends, computer or social media. They placed these cards on a mat based on who or what they felt most connected to.

Structured storytelling

Participants wrote and spoke about activities they enjoy that help them feel connected to others. I asked them to share about the current or potential barriers keeping them from accessing these activities.


Into the Wild

At a glance

Conducting less formalized field research allowed me to gain more exposure to the problem space and build meaningful connections to older adults in the community. Throughout this method I visited various senior centers in the greater Seattle area and attended events advertised to older adults. I went where I could observe, conduct impromptu interviews, or foster relationships with our target population. This method stemmed from the realization that interviews, workshops, and more formal research methods might lead to shallow research and a sense of disconnect from seniors. Instead, I wanted to form deep relationships with some older adults so that I could talk to them about such a sensitive subject as loneliness and involve them in our design prototyping phases.

Places we went 

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Wallingford Senior Center

Drop-in community center that offers classes and events for older adults

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Puyallup Aging Expo

One-day expo for older adults (55+) put on by the Puyallup Aging in Community Committee

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Puyallup Area Aging in Community Committee

Senior advocacy group that meet every month to discuss community engagement issues

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PNA Village

Grassroots community to create alternative approaches for adults as they age through various services



Synthesizing the information was challenging, due to the volume of information we needed to work through and because everyone in the group had a unique preference for how to process the information. In order to overcome this, we independently worked through the data and then came together to discuss patterns, themes, and memorable moments. This allowed us to check our bias and made the process of crafting insights and principles more streamlined because we had each spent extensive time absorbing the information in our own styles.


Research insights

Cadence was informed by four key insights we gained from talking to seniors, senior community center leaders, and senior advocacy groups.

Existing services for seniors lack outreach.  

There are many existing communities and programs like senior centers and various YMCA and AARP meetup groups for seniors, but they have difficulty identifying and getting the word out to isolated seniors.

Hard to identify which communities are a good fit.  

Because there are so many community opportunities, even when seniors know about all of the offerings, they have a difficult time choosing what might be “best” for them.

Taking the first step is emotionally difficult.  

Even when seniors learn about these communities, it can be emotionally difficult to take the first step back into community by themselves.

Many physical and logistical barriers exist.  

We also learned that even if people identify things they want to do, there are issues of arranging reliable transport and fears of accessibility and safety.


Design principles

We identified two principles that we wove into the whole service while designing Cadence:

Make technology invisible

We found that technology use among this population ranges from only landline telephone use to being able to use email, websites, and even smartphone apps. We did not want to exclude people from the service because of their technology literacy and taking the first step is hard enough without making people learn a whole new technology.

Foster a sense of purpose

We also learned that even though older adults might have many friends around - and if they are just having fun without a sense of purpose, they can still feel lonely. This is why we aim for Cadence to offer productivity-based groups or volunteer opportunities.



I crafted a series of personas, all of which are composites of people we actually talked to throughout our research. The personas are primarily focused on personality — such as motivations and goals. We discovered a range of technology use patterns from talking to seniors and as a result we decided to keep technology attitude as a variable. Each blue card is intended to be mixed and matched with the different personas. Because this is a system design approach involving various people and how they interrelate with one another, we have a range of personas and tech mindsets.


Tech attitude cards


Refining the evidence

We created a research report to capture our design research, synthesis, and insights.


Generating Ideas

Concept sketches

Using our insights gained from research, we individually explored 30 design concepts ranging from a travel bus for seniors, to an Iot communication tool, to a neighborhood social pod system. The goal of this exercise was to consider as many ideas as possible, and to think beyond the obvious. We arranged ideas by what they are trying to achieve, such as locating isolated seniors, facilitating better communication or encouraging someone to take the first step. 


Narrowing Ideas

Humanizing the experience through storyboards

We eventually down-selected from the 100+ ideas to concepts that were focused on fostering long-lasting relationships. We crafted stories of six ideas in order to ground these ideas in context and flesh out the high level thinking. In doing so, we were able to humanize our ideas and consider the broader interactions that would need to incorporated. We sought out feedback from facilitators and leaders at local senior community centers to test six of our ideas. Below are two storyboards I made that align most with our final design solution.


This is a service that allows older adults to schedule rides within their communities. People can sign up in person where the service is advertised, over the phone, through text, online, or through an app.

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Food Pal

This is a service that aims to bring seniors together around food. Services range from facilitating restaurant outings, home cooking or dining, or creating support groups around food restrictions.   

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Prototype Testing




Refining the Details   

We created a design specification that includes a service blueprint and customer journey map, website hero flows, VUI flows, interaction design logic, and a visual style guide.



While we don’t think Cadence is the one step solution to solving loneliness and isolation in seniors, we hope that it is the first step in getting seniors to take their first step back into society.

We have hope because Cadence is not alone. There are real life Cadences out there, people like our friend Evelyn, an older adult who is out there doing things everyday to combat loneliness by acting as a social connector for other seniors, volunteering for the AARP. We hope that Cadence can be like personal Evelyns to people who are not lucky enough to have the real Evelyn in their lives and be a step toward a less lonely future.




This experience has given me great insight into the experience of aging and has helped me build empathy for seniors, especially around use of technology and designing social connection. Because this was a very sensitive topic space, I overcame many challenges in making sure that the research we were conducting would not cause harm to our participants. I am grateful for our participants willingness to share such intricate details about their lives — what they care about, hardships they have faced in their life, obstacles they have overcome, and their attitudes towards technology.

This project further revealed to me that many designers and researchers tend to gravitate towards projects with novel ideas and cutting edge technology. Rather than follow this trend, I deliberately chose to pursue a solution that met seniors where they were. If I were to take this project further, I would reach out to Senior Community groups and Mental Health Advisory Boards, who already have a strong interest in this space, in order to brainstorm how to turn this concept into a reality.