Ageing population and what that means

Written by Julian Sykes

A few weeks ago now I attended an event hosted by href="http://www.designwales.org/ " >Design Wales. The event was a small event centred around the ageing population and how services will need to change in the future as we get more and more elderly people within the general population. Nesta attended the event and spoke about their recent project Age Unlimited which you can find a presentation of here.

The event sparked a number of memories from university about inclusive design and accessibility. Within the product design arena it is looked at being Universal Design
and was probably one of the hardest modules I did. For me there was always this contradiction in the idea. This was mainly because at the time the concept of tailored solutions for people was very strong. Customisation had been challenged in the form of projects such as NIKEiD which had hit the market and was showing the potential for a future where you could truly design a unique product for yourself. So Universal design seemed to be fighting a losing battle, as it was hardly very exciting. Discussing a form of universalism seldom is.

So mass customisation V's uniform universal products.

In part this issue is still the same, some ten years on. The problem however at the moment in terms of the products that allow customisation are still based on a basic already existing base model. i.e. making things bespoke or unique for people currently merely means you aesthetically altering a set design. In the case of NIKEiD the changes you make are pretty uniform the only recent change being the ability to change the sole type. This is also the case with more techie products such as the iPhone. You can make the product bespoke by buying certain App's and arranging them in certain folders, however other than putting a sleeve around it the product is pretty much set in stone.

These products are both hugely successful but if we look to the future and the idea of ageing and general accessibility and compare one of the original NOKIA phones to that of the iPhone. The NOKIA wins hands down? well firstly it has buttons to press with the centre button having a tip to allow people with poor eyesight a way of accessing the phone. The iPhone for example is almost impossible for someone to use as it has no feedback to inputting data. It could be argued that voice control allows this access however it is hardly a 'universal design' measure.

The base units are already very unaccessible so no matter what is attempted to make them friendlier is not going to be possible. It seems like there are huge strides to be made for companies willing to look into this type of service and product range. It will be interesting to see how will this alter brands and organisations? It seems to me that the first brands that open up to this concept in the next few years could begin to create fantastic experience for their customers.