I moved out of my parents home in 2005. Growing up in a joint family, I was constantly surrounded by family. And after all these years, it was a wonderful feeling to finally be free. I packed my whole life into three bags and when the boxes came down the narrow stairs, so did the memories. Yet there was not a bittersweet moment — I was ready and excited.
As I embraced adulthood, everyone slowly adjusted to the long distance parent-child relationship. Promptly at 9pm, my dad would call me every night on my new flip phone. My daily activities were then relayed to my grandparents since hearing over the tiny gadget was just hard for them. Occasionally, we would try Skype but more time was spent fidgeting with the technology than actually talking to each other.
When I moved out of the country and to another timezone altogether, the daily calls slowly dropped to weekly. Saturday nights were reserved for video chats. By this time, there were more tools at our fingertips. I had an iPhone and my parents…a cable modem! The video quality was miles ahead. It was their lens into my life. My grandfather was thrilled. Show me what you cooked for dinner tonight. I was more eager to let them in and share my life because of what the technology enabled. I always made time for those late Saturday conversations.
The comfort the technology afforded kept the blues at bay.
Today, I juggle a busy career and being a parent to a busier two year old. I cannot underscore more the role of technology in keeping our families connected. The need to stay connected goes both ways. For my parents, it is an opportunity to be involved in their granddaughter’s life. For Anya, the connection allows a preservation of her self-identity and cultural roots. It is all about her now. We try to FaceTime at least a few times a week but sometimes, life gets in the way. The ordeals of a global family structure. Sadly, as my parents get older, it is harder for them to keep up with new tech tools advertising richer engagement. This, in turn, affects their well-being as they end up feeling left out.
So when Gregg talked to me about our opportunity to partner with the folks over at FamilyGram to design the digital experience of how families engaged, I was excited.
I obviously saw the value such an application would bring to my own life. I am a true Xennial. What that means is I cherish my privacy and don’t look for constant validation from casual acquaintances that I rarely see. My last post on social media was from college and I was not about to share Anya’s priceless reactions to first encounters for the world to comment on. So, you can see why FamilyGram’s promise of exclusivity — noise just from the family — was a big draw for me. I was immediately on board.
One of the greatest challenges, right off the bat, was differentiation from all the other ‘messaging’ apps. What was the hook besides private and exclusive? The paradigm for texting applications is primarily designed for a near-synchronous communication. When you text someone you are usually looking for an immediate response. Email is on the other end of this spectrum. In the context of family communication, you don’t expect emails to be timely. For people in my mother’s demographic, there are also appear to be more barriers to entry around accessing and processing emails. So, the question in front of us was what would be a happy median? We didn’t expect our users to use the grams for instant back to back communication, yet at the same time, we wanted something more accessible than email.
A Gram is a unit of communication and a capsule of rich multimedia content. The design encourages me to say more than a few words and attach images. Grams are still organized in a thread so our entire conversation history is organized in one place. I know she received it and I know she read it. Imagery is automatically pulled from the grams and curated into an album dedicated to Mom.
The role of FamilyGram as an enabler of relationships is still contingent on how often I pick up my phone to write her a gram. To encourage this, the toolkit for the family member includes the ability to curate a queue of Grams upfront that get delivered to Mom periodically and reminders that nudge me to engage with my family.
When we worked on the design of the app at Amplified, one of the things we felt strongly about was the design to not appear “ageist.” I have seen many apps intended for an older demographic that make skeuomorphic references to walking sticks and grandfather clocks everywhere in the UI. I don’t understand the rationale for this paradigm. In fact, our research shows that seniors don’t want to feel the stigma associated with old age. We made a conscious choice to avoid such references. We wanted senior users of FamilyGram to feel more ‘alive’ and empowered even. Our design philosophy was that if the interface was clean and the interactions natural, the app will shine by default of the rich social engagements it was enabling.