Understanding Intergenerational Design

Gaining enthusiasm ahead of the announcement any day now, of the finalists in the 6th annual Stanford Longevity Design Challenge 18/19, this is a preliminary look at what the theme for this year is all about. Firstly the title – Contributing at Every Age: Designing for Intergenerational Impact.  

Thinking of this, we should take a step back and recognize an essential quote about design thinking from Bernard Isaacs, Professor of Geriatric Medicine who once said; Design for the young and you exclude the old; design for the old and you include the young.” Reading the promotional material for the Design Challenge it isn’t obvious they had this quote in mind but that’s why I mention it here.

Of course, design thinking has a large multiplicity of application, driving 21st century product and services development, where digital technology centres most prominently. Leading design strategist Jon Kolko describes design thinking as “a set of principles – empathy with users, a discipline of prototyping, and tolerance for failure chief among them”. That no doubt, along with Isaacs’ thinking, must be at the heart of what the Stanford Design Challenge, and others like it, is all about – at the intersection of technology, aging and longevity.

In an August 2018 Design Challenge introductory blog postHaving Trouble Understanding Intergenerational Design? , Ken Smith, Director – Stanford Center on Longevity describes the core of what they are looking for in intergenerational design as “products, programs, and other approaches that by their nature include more than one generation, and that are not simply young people designing something for older people.”

Outlined further in his post are three design categories – physical products, programs and phone/computer apps. The more interesting to me and least likely thought of by many people is programs. For instance, this is where the macro theme of advancing intergenerational social activity in communities enters the picture.

What’s an example of this? Smith cites intergenerational housing as one, with a business called Nesterly based in the USA. Affordable housing in large urban areas has become a common social issue among generations and this is but one of a few ongoing trends in housing options in many countries ranging from home sharing to co-op housing.

So, as we wait for the finalists to be revealed and see if any programs versus products make it through, here is a YouTube video link to the Design Challenge 2018-19 Overview to get more insight into the process for this year’s contest.

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