Despite Census 2021 results showing that 18.6% of the UK population was aged 65 years or older, “the needs of older audiences are all too often overlooked by companies and designers”, says Josephine Chanter, director of audiences at the Design Museum, ahead of the opening of a new display exploring design to improve later life.
Opening at the museum on 24 February, Designing for our Future Selves will comprise 10 new designs targeting areas such as homes, health and work that are currently in development by the Design Age Institute and its partners.
Contextualised by issues facing present and future generations as they age – with better health, financial security and technological know-how tipped against job losses from automation, the climate emergency, increased cost of living and a growing risk of global pandemics – the projects look not only to provide solutions for “our future selves”, but to “radically reimagine” stages of life such as education, employment and retirement, according to the museum.
Redesigning the walker
A commission for The Hamlyn Walker Challenge looks to remove the stigma from the walking frame or walker, described by Lady Helen Hamlyn, patron of the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art as “the most degrading object that we can give to anybody”.
Product designer Michael Strantz proposed a single frame on wheels for a walker and related scooter-type designs intended to meet the needs of different generations. Strantz is now working with PriestmanGoode and user groups to explore further possibilities within the concept.
Design Age Institute designer-in-residence Roseanne Wakely worked with the UK National Innovation Centre for Ageing and its citizen research network Voice, banking professionals and users to reimagine banking services for later life. A move to a cashless society and the closure of high street branches that offered traditional banking services, mean new solutions are needed to offer increased confidence and security, and meet unique financial needs of those in later life.
Tides is a whole-body massager used to increase bloody flow and keep tissue healthy, with additional benefits including relaxation, improved sleep and pleasure. Designed for people experiencing menopause, Salome Bazin of Cellule Studio and Giula Tomasello created the product as a therapeutic tool to tone pelvic floor muscles as the body ages. Unlike related products, Tides is non-penetrative and non-genital focused while making use of vibration technologies.
Created by Walk with Path founder Lise Pape following her father’s diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease, IntellAge is a smart insole system that tracks mobility and gait with sensors. Feeding back real-time information and prompts to an app, the product hopes to give users an understanding of their gait and to mitigate against the risk of falls.
Other designs include a desirable and functional riser chair that allows people to easily move from sitting to standing; a naturally insulated house coat designed for reduced tolerance to cold temperatures; a live/workspace to support older people in the workforce; a hand-held, accessible and discreet incontinence device; light installations to improve circadian rhythms, affecting mood, sleep, hormone release and temperature regulation; and the petition for inclusive packaging standards announced in November 2022.
The displays will also share the process of design development and co-creation with users, through audio and video content, prototypes, materials, sketches and consultation feedback and user experience as well as films by Chocolate films looking more closely at the stories and experiences of older communities.
Design Age Institute director Colum Lowe says, “Designing for our Future Selves allows us to explore how design innovation could improve our lives as we grow older. The exhibition will open this dialogue up to younger audiences who may not have questioned what it means to grow older in today’s society, the potential challenges that lie ahead and how we seek to solve them.”
Designing for our Future Selves will be at the Design Museum, 224-238 Kensington High St, London W8 6AG, from 24 February to 26 March 2023. Banner image is of the Hamlyn Walker, credit Michael Strantz.