Design Process for Aging in Place, a sneak peek.

Stanford Center on Longevity announced the nine finalists in their 4th annual Design Challenge contest at the end of January under the theme “Innovating Aging in Place”. As usual I researched as best I could and for fun, voted for my top three choices. While the winners won’t be chosen until April 2017, Stanford continues to pop out tweets on some of this year’s design pitches and has it happens my number 3 choice – BeeHome, was featured in a tweet late last week.

As I noted in my Jan.31st post, even though I couldn’t seem to find anything about this in my on-line search, I envisioned this web platform as being able to support a noble inter-generational experience and serve a common social need at a time where economic realities are becoming tougher for many people in urban areas.

BeeHome_final_designproposalBeeHome is, as is stated on their project web page a housing platform that matches seniors with tenants who exchange assistance on house chores for affordable housing.” This Design Challenge entry fits in the broader world trend of the “sharing economy” with an activity that has already been happening as a global movement for many years as evidenced for example in my immediate region by HomeShare Canada- Ontario.

So now, from of this tweet, we have a sneak peek at the mapping of a design process for an aging in place solution. Yifei Liu is the lead in the four-person team on this submission. By all accounts looking at her bio, she is a bright creative light in the world of tech design and in her brand strap line she professes her talent to include “Design, Coding and Storytelling”.

Storytelling for aging & alternative living in urban areas

It’s that third one, storytelling that likely points to her motivation for coming up with this concept. Yet, I am genuinely interested; what was it specifically in her personal story that motivated her to want to contribute to a better quality of life for older adults who want to age in place? I guess I will just have to ask her. (Assuming she responds that will make for another blog post.)

Now with this open sneak peek, at first impression it strikes me that BeeHome is sort of like “Airbnb meets in home Molly Maid”, all for social good in the “uberization of everything” category. I like this as one of the alternative affordable housing concepts out there, though it assumes that if this web platform were to get early and sustainable market adoption, that there is a rigorous vetting process in the match game.

Multiple examples of alternative living relationships are emerging as large urban areas in particular are becoming more expensive to live in and to be sure, this is one area where younger (quite often single students) and older (most likely single adults), have a shared common need. It is however a shared common responsibility that can quickly cross the line into caregiving beyond household chores. As HomeShare says “Good for many but not for everyone.”

Storytelling if you want to tick off a 65 year old  

Not that I want to change my vote for BeeHome as they make their Design Challenge pitch on March 30th, but I do have a few observations in terms of the market profiling and language identification that Yifei Liu briefly outlines on her project web page.

Using US based AARP as the reference point when describing the challenge,90 percent of people over age 65 want to continue living in their homes for as long as possible, but they will need increasing help with basic tasks like cleaning and cooking.” Let’s not argue that statistic for now.

My point of dispute with the BeeHome profiling and language is that the over 65 landlords are then described as “elderly”. If you want to tick off a 65 year old – !  If you have any hope of marketing this out of the gate you won’t lead with that.

Then to make matters worse in the “User Survey” section of the process outline they declare, “We conducted two rounds of surveys targeting people over 55+…” So now, they have shifted the demographic scope and I guess by extension anyone over 55 is to be considered elderly. There’s another section in the project outline titled “Elderly UI Research”. I know where they are going with this UI issue, but I think I’ve made my point.

So Ms. Liu and your creative team, wishing you luck, allow me to make a suggestion before you make your pitch. In your “Reflection” segment at the end of your design process, you might want to enhance your “storytelling” by making a note that you will look at altering the marketing and demographic profiling language as you develop your business model to reflect a more age aware marketing approach.

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