By Alex 07-12-2021
By 2050, the total UK population is expected to top all other EU members, with a current boom in births, high immigration rates and longevity of life with advances in healthcare. But with predictions of 1 in 4 of the UK population due to pass the age of 65 by 2050, how will design accommodate the changing needs and abilities of an older population…
EU Population Hotspot Map from Above
The population in the UK is currently in the middle of a huge transition, reshaping itself to adjust to changes in healthcare advancements in medicine and technology, a rise in immigration of a younger generation as well as a surge in births. Also With increased life expectancies, 25% of the UK population is expected to be over the age of 65 by 2050. This factor is significant, as the older we get, the more strained our body becomes both physically and mentally. Whether it be fulfilling simple tasks such as making a cup of tea or taking the bin out, the activities tend to become more challenging to complete as our bodily condition deteriorates.
Although a complex issue, with many factors relating to personal health conditions and individual support, the completion of daily domestic activities can be significantly affected through age-related factors. It is important to note that improved consideration during the design of products and services has helped many improve their standard of living where otherwise they may have struggled, but if we want to live in a society where the simple tasks of daily living are inclusive for all, then much more can be done. This is not to say that further consideration for the range of needs during the product design process is the only solution for improving the way of life for others, as it operates in a sphere of other factors ranging from personal support, improved communication and service design and delivery. Each is interlinked and interact with one another and should become active when required.
With a need for those in the medical field to communicate more effectively with the growing number of people who struggle to manage day to day activities, health professionals have coined two phrases to summarise the daily tasks that are undertaken; activities of daily living (ADL) and instrumental activities of daily activities (IADL). Both look to summarise the variations of tasks, for instance ADL includes activities such as dressing and taking a bath and IADL cooking and cleaning. These two terms are now often referred to during discussions between medical practitioners and the individual and their own support nework in relation to the completion of a task when taking into account their physical and mental condition.
There is also a continued appreciation within the design community to take into account their product range, as well as the potential value of the elderly market. It is predicted that those over the age of 50 have seen a 25% increase in disposable income during the last 2 to 3 years, totaling a value of £290 billion. This is sure to rise as the population alters over the coming years, highlighting the spending power the mature generation hold. The significance of this cannot be underestimated, as through an increase in demand for products designed to meet specific physical and mental capabilities whilst also still retaining the aesthetic values expected of a product, they hold an influential position within the consumer market.
There are many examples of designers taking the leap into providing products of an inclusive nature, both in terms of widening their existing suitability to take into account the elderly market as well as designing specifically for them. There are two processes frequently referred to when making the transition from the typical target market group toward a more inclusive one, centering around inclusive design and universal design. Split between the terms that reside in the USA and Europe, both generally refer to the same end-goal of educating the design process to take into account the needs and capabilities of those less-able, widening access:
“The design of mainstream products and/or services that are accessible to, and usable by, as many people as reasonably possible … without the need for special adaptation or specialised design.”
The British Standards Institute (2005).
“Universal design makes things more accessible, safer, and convenient for everyone. It is a philosophy that can be applied to policy, design and other practices to make products, environments and systems function better for a wider range of people. It developed in response to the diversity of human populations, their abilities and their needs.”
The Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDeA Center).
There are many great examples of successful products released to market which have drawn upon these particular design processes during their conception and development. We’ve taken a look at two of them to give an idea of the breath of the market potential as well as their significance in improving usability and satisfaction through use.
B&Q Power Tools for those with Physical Impairments
DIY activity amongst the retired has seen continual growth over the years, but access has always remained an issue. Within the domestic power tool market, there tends to be a lack of awareness and/or consideration for the physical impairments of the elderly market segment. However, the two product examples shown above came into existence through a close partnership project between the UK’s largest home improvement retailer B&Q and a user-centered research centre at the Royal College of Art, the Helen Hamlyn Centre. Through the course of the project, the design team was able to develop a series of easy-to-use DIY power tools that would take into account the usability factors of the ageing market.
Through intensive input from older users during the design process, four new/improved power tools were developed. The cordless screwdriver and the palm-sized sander as shown above were taken to market, providing an end product which stood out amongst its less universally designed competitors to an ever growing market of older DIY enthusiasts. The product epitomises the potential market success rate of retailers acknowledging older user capabilities through first hand observation and product testing, and is a great example of how better design can improve the quality of life just through what are sometimes simple design alterations.
You can find out more upon this project by clicking here.
BT Big Button Telephone
The BT Big Button phone has been one of the most successful corded phones released in the UK, being in the top 10 of overall UK corded phone sales since its launch. It broke all sale estimations with 90,000 units sold in the first 14 months. Just in the first year alone it generated around £1.2M in sales revenue, going far beyond the predicted success rate.
The product was developed as a mainstream telephone to achieve production costs of an inclusive design that were commercially viable. It would initially appear like a good idea to limit the target market to those who hold some form of impairment or age-related condition who may struggle with conventional phones, although it was specifically outlined at the beginning of the project that it would not marketed as a special needs product. It has however gained endorsement by both the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, highlighting its suitability for use by those who hold a sensory impairment. With a growing ageing population, inclusive design has proven itself as a realistic commercial approach.
There are now a number of other telephone products being developed off the back of its success story, drawing upon the integration of inclusive design thinking within the design process. Whilst there has been a focus on developing new solutions that take into account the capabilities of users who hold impairments or age-related conditions, by no means has it restricted the market potential, as interest still emerges from the wider market group. This in itself is a vital factor of universal design with the aim of widening the market group and not limiting it, and has shown clear evidence of use within the BT phone through its success.
Further information detailing some of the processes used within the project can be found by clicking here.
Clearly there are many challenges not just for the design industry, but for all services. With the expected growth in the older population, they will form an even more significant segment of consumers who’s will require particular approaches to meet their needs. Through further integration of inclusive design/universal design thinking into the design process will help in making the transition commercially possible.