Aging with Foresight & Design Thinking

Foreseeing a future that is already here. If you have not as yet entertained your own thinking as to how your life will play out in a longevity society, there are design thinkers out there doing inspiring things that you might want to watch. Under the assumption that you accept a pure concept of career as being your life’s journey, let me go so far as to say that design thinking is the best way to project yourself into your future, call it aging with foresight.

Design thinking for aging in a longevity society encompasses many themes; from how we will augment a healthier life, to how we will satisfy options to work and play differently, to how we will make a home and extended community liveable, long enough to sustain independence and social interaction. Fulfilling all this are thousands of new programs, products and services emerging on the market or in the pipeline under development.

Pay attention. It’s no longer enough simply to site demographic statistics and projections of an aging world by the year 2030. Our individual contributions to ongoing conversations – about the challenges or uncertainties of an “older me” future, that looks too far off to plan for – do matter if we hope to benefit from the current design thinking of others.

You might ask – what is design thinking anyway?

BR1509_500If you start by looking at it from a business context, one of the descriptions best spelled out is by Jon Kolko in his Sept. 2015 HBR article – Design Thinking Comes of Age. How appropriate a title for here.

Kolko says, “A set of principles collectively known as design thinking—empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure chief among them—is the best tool we have for creating those kinds of interactions and developing a responsive, flexible organizational culture.”

Replace organizational culture with “community culture” or “family culture” then see how, if you allow yourself to be a design thinker on a topic of concern like design for “aging in place”, you will start with applying empathy with users. This might even be based on someone older you already know who is struggling with meeting that desire for sustaining independence and social interaction. What would you want that design to look like for you? Only fourteen years until 2030!

Last week a March 4th Globe & Mail article (Housing Solutions for an Aging Population) by Sharon Crowther, highlighted all the dimensions of design thinking in a Canadian example related to aging in place. As you will see in this story, the key lesson is in how collaborations work; in this case, the University of Calgary Faculty of Environmental Design and Faculty of Medicine joined the Institute for Public Health in this project.

Pay attention again. This G& M article also has a message for businesses – house builders, realtors, home renovators and home & health care professionals. The University of Calgary initiative has received feedback from these people as well as user groups (seniors and their families). This only suggests that opportunity is knocking – and we are all asked to answer as design thinkers, for our future that is already here.

As Jon Kolko says, “design thinking is an essential tool for simplifying and humanizing”. This is exactly the outlook we need, as we think out the possibilities in a longevity society. High praise to those who are designing and collaborating on many fronts to take us from the “way we were” in our view of aging to a new “how we might be”.

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