Designing our future – a guest blog by Mat Hunter

A guest blog by Design Council chief design officer Mat Hunter on how the design community might respond to the UK’s aging population

Mat Hunter chief design officer Design Council
Mat Hunter chief design officer Design Council

This year I’ve been thinking a lot about aging – not so much my own accumulation of years but the fact that our life expectancy is increasing so much in the UK. World Bank data indicates an increase of nearly 10 years average UK life expectancy during my lifetime.

While I like to imagine that the human race is evolving genetically, our bodies rapidly adapting in order to delay decrepitude, I have enough science to know that if we live longer it is because of the food that we eat, the accidents we are protected against and the high quality medical care that we enjoy. We have designed ourselves a longer life.

So what confuses me is that this marvel of human ingenuity – an increased lifespan – is viewed with relative doom. Very few people look forward to their later years. The simple fact is that we have too few enterprising and innovative souls helping us to re-imagine and re-invent the experience of later life. We have designed ourselves a longer life, now we need to design a more enjoyable, aspirational one. After all, this current generation of 50 plus folks is the most demanding and affluent ever – this is a significant commercial opportunity.

One view is that as our needs change our consumer values should not. So if we suffer from aspects of ill health in later life then at least make associated products and services as attractive as the products that I use when I am healthy.

A new brand Sabi is exploring this space through pill and vitamin dispensers that help me to feel that they are part of a normal, even vital life.

Another view is that any support that I receive to live independently should keep me vital by allowing me to contribute in ways that I can.Casserole is a new service being created by designers FutureGov that allows communities to support each other through food. If I cannot cook for myself I can get a meal; if I can cook then I can provide for others.

And a final view is that innovative products and services are all very well, but what of the older generation actually beingthe entrepreneurs? The Amazings is new service that allows those close to retirement or just retiredto create amazing experiences with the skills, knowledge and passion they’ve picked up throughout their life.

What else out there uses great design to create a new reality for older consumers? The Technology Strategy Board is hosting a conversation on (or suggesting the hashtag #InnovateForAge for you twitterers) to gather views, stories and examples for this vital new marketplace. And meanwhile keep your eyes here for news of how The Amazings, Casserole and 5 other beautifully designed services are heading your way.

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  • Andy Penaluna November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Hi Matt,

    D&AD have got a good brief out there for students and what I find interesting is the lack of any real perception that there are meaningful advantages to be over 50 or 60.

    I am currently teaching on the UKs first (MA level) enterprise education for teachers module, as part of a PGCE. Many student teachers are what you might call mature, and are ready for intellectual stimulation and engagement in social types of enterprise. The marvel of human ingenuity that you mention has been referenced as being at its peak at around 50.
    Design thinking is a great way to engage these kind of individuals through multiple forms of education, as they constantly challenge and question their and others’ life approaches. Something else to consider?

  • Lydia Thornley November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    50 plus. It’s a much-used term. But would we talk about ‘under 50’ as a whole user group or market place? Probably not because you can’t lump babies, children, young people and people in early and middle adulthood together. It would be great to see some work on redesign of attitudes as well as products, services and resources so that we really make the most of understanding this complex, three-generation age group.

  • Mat Hunter November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

    Great point, Lydia. The first conundrum in this whole space is how we even talk about the opportunity. There definitely appears to be a problem that older consumers feel under-served, but the solution is typically not to speak in those terms – lumping over 50s together, as you imply, is about as stupid as marketing to ‘young people’.

    You’ll see each of the solutions that I highlight taking their own angle. The Amazings speaks of the time around retirement because attitudes to knowledge, skills and self-worth can be deeply affected at this stage of life; meanwhile casserol and sabi make (as far as I remember) no mention of age at all.

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