Celebrating the Age of Aging & Design

One of the key elements that laced through the aging in place presentations last month at the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) conference in Toronto was the importance of design – home design features, the broader range of age inclusive community design and, not to forget product design. The significance of design is emphasised again in Joseph Coughlin’s recent 2017 book release The Longevity Economy, when he speaks of “transcendent design”.

Here Coughlin takes what is commonly known in the design world as “universal design”, and dials it up to this concept of transcendent design. As he says, “It’s essentially universal design that has been dialed up…with accessibility attributes so useful that they turn out to be highly desirable – even aspirational – for people with and without disabilities.”

When it comes to the future of design for products (and yes, homes are products) for an aging population in a longevity society, among the opportunities for the job of an older adult will be, that of product developer and consumer rolled into one, the “prosumer” (as Alvin Tofler coined). This already exists in many tech-product markets, a role defined as a customer who helps a company design and produce its products, and ultimately becomes the end user.

Coughlin furthers his statement – “If the defining narrative-shaping forces in our older future will be those that make it easy for older adults to achieve their jobs as consumers, transcendent products and design features will be the vanguard of this process.” Yet I wonder – if older adults have a hand in that process in the role as prosumer, it begs the question for me – how do we fairly reward that older adult prosumer for the value they bring?

A valued place for transcendent careers in design

Meanwhile as I reflect on design and its creative place in the longevity economy, I continue to see it as one major field in a huge range of interconnected business and career opportunities, which is another reason why among other trends and events I follow include technology design competitions, which attract young student enterprisers from all over the world. In many ways with all these emerging activities in cross industry/professional disciplines, what we really have is transcendent careers.

Once again for example, the Stanford Center on Longevity 5th annual Design Challenge 2017-18, has of last week, closed its contest with finalists to be announced in mid-January. Well over 100 submissions have been received this year, under the theme “Promoting Lifelong Healthy Habits Through Design”. In this context, healthy habits include financial, physical and social behaviours that lead to improve the quality of life.

Talk about opportunity. After following this Stanford competition and others like it for the last five years, my sense is that we are going to see a more eclectic range of designs for products that address a number of different human needs that go well beyond the focus of last year’s theme of Innovating Aging in Place. The moment you consider “lifelong” healthy habits, you support age inclusive or age-friendly design.

As older adult prosumers heading into 2018, we are only at the beginning where, driven by new and yet to be discovered technologies, the age of aging and design, will steadily change our lives. If we study the role of designers in society over the ages – in architecture, urban landscapes, clothing, furniture, art and graphics, communications and a multitude of other subject areas – we will note that these times are no different as to how design will reflect and shape our economic and social environments.

Can’t hardly wait until the Stanford finalists are announced in January 2018.Bring it on.

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