We were lucky to track down US based design guru Frank Nuovo to talk about design and age. Not only is Frank a global award winning industrial designer with over 200 patents to his name, he was also the Design Chief at Nokia. It was under his design leadership that Nokia became the world’s top mobile brand for a decade. His Design Studio Nuovo clients include Samsung and Hewlett Packard and many start-ups like Zone V pioneering good design for all ages.

TAONR — Do you think your age is relevant to how you see the world? 

Frank Nuovo — Age provides experience. Experience changes your perspective on just about everything. Varied experience is important to keep life interesting and to see the world as it really is – both good and bad. With each new bit of information recorded in your memory over time, you gain a new type of lens for seeing something interesting or even critical that might have previously gone un-noticed or unappreciated. It’s your “experience matrix” and it unlocks opportunities for a person to ignite their own personal creative flow and contribution. Your experience matrix presents unique knowledge sets providing opportunities for innovative solutions to problems and is the basis of both deliberate and serendipitous discoveries. Using an individual’s unique combination of experiences and the resulting perspective is also a survival tool on many levels for your wellbeing. If a generally positive persona spirit with broad life experiences encounters negative situations, they can call on a great toolbox within their matrix to overcome negative influences working against them. Your matrix keeps you from panicking, you can see the positive through the negative blur with age and experience. It’s impossible to know about a topic completely and confidently - even intuitively without somehow experiencing it first-hand. The difference between information and knowledge I suppose is practical experience. Youth are information and energy rich but lacking in that critical first-hand knowledge. Older folks can also be over-settled into the comfortable advantages of being experienced - such knowledge smooths out their lives. When younger and older people come together it’s the best possible team to pursue innovation opportunities while assuring a human  centred component focused on higher quality of life.

"When younger and older people come together it’s the best possible team to pursue innovation opportunities while assuring a human  centred component focused on higher quality of life."

Frank Nuovo.

Frank Nuovo.

TAONR — From a designer’s viewpoint, what do you think are the biggest challenges the world shares across all ages?

Frank Nuovo — Making products, environments and media content easier to live with, consume, comprehend or simply operate around is essential. Developing solutions and best practices that are truly important for improving the quality of life around the world generally should remain the priority. We live during the most incredibly fast-paced time in history. Everything moves too quickly and time constraints put too much stress on people – all of that can hinder performance and cause the degradation of health. We focus so much on practical solutions and streamlining work flows, sometimes we forget to look up from our intense technology. Simple joy and delight are critically important. All natural boundaries of time and space that protect our essential happiness are gone. Outside of living alone in the wilderness, there are no safe zones away from instant awareness of every disaster or the nastiness of most global politics, crime, hate and evil in general. With more experience (years) it all adds up and causes undue stress and depression. How does it help a person to learn of an earthquake or terrorist attack on the other side of the world in virtually seconds and have that news continue endlessly for hours on end in media? I personally don’t think humans are wired to handle much other than the stress produced in your own local village or city let alone the whole country or planet. So, we need to be sure we do everything we can to keep happiness and joy in our lives. So, by design, how can you keep people informed while also reducing stress Youthfulness give people hope. Being around the simplicity presented by children lightens a heavy load when you know too much about the realities of life. In summary, Older people help youth tune in, and younger people help older people tune out. When we are together and appreciate each other, it provides mutual benefit and comfort in these fast times.

TAONR — As designers what can we learn from people who are older?

Frank Nuovo — The one thing my wife and I always said to our kids as they went out as young adults was “make good decisions”. The worlds condition evolves each day from the result of a constant flow of endless good and bad decisions. Decision making is a critical skill. So many people today simply do not think properly through available information or options before they make a decision. There is too often a lack of care – a lack of concern or consideration for things and others. There was once a time when elders were consulted with great respect, for needed guidance. While cultural norms vary around the world, I find with a glut of digital information, there is increasingly a false confidence and brashness – a growing lack of youth’s appreciation for the tremendous value of obtaining advice from those with experience. The internet is very rich with information and has provided a false confidence to many youth. Nothing compares to the judgement from those who are simply more knowing and wise – well armed with seriously real time logged in this world. Clearly, the “more experienced” you are, the better you are able to draw upon your knowledge to make good decisions - experience shapes how you reference opportunities and consider alternatives. For the most part, the things you see are physically the same as what others see but it’s how you interpret these things, with knowledge and experience that really matters the most.

TAONR — As designers what can we learn from people who are younger?

Frank Nuovo — It’s about perspective and priorities. Perhaps it’s even impossible to fully understand the perspective and priorities of another person let alone younger people as a whole. So, including younger people in design activities is critical to be sure you touch on the points which are important to that group. A design vision is not usually represented through design by committee, but any design vision should include understanding and consultation relating to how a variety of users in different segments of the population understand the challenge. Separately, many young designers can make or design things quickly using digital tools of all kinds. They can make it all look cool and proposals seem real, but often there is a problem with quality and consideration found in the detail. Today’s entrepreneurial world is typically seen as a fail fast approach to development. This has benefits, with rapid design and refinement cycles, but the benefit of designing over more time allows for greater consultation and consideration with important user groups. Human centredissues are simply more difficult to understand without a broader knowledge base (experience) to draw from. Some things just can’t be explained or discussed – they have to be experienced.

TAONR — What benefits and opportunities does an ‘ageless’ society provide us with?

Frank Nuvo —  Replace the word age with experience. In almost every situation an ageless society will benefit from the return of respect toward the ideas represented by those with more experience. The concept of retirement age should be revised to mentors age, advisor age and life guide age. Development projects of all kinds should be prioritised to link more experienced individuals with youth – demonstrating the advantages of working with experienced people wherever possible. Keeping people active in later years is better for everyone. Age also makes you more respectful of real property, more appreciative of someone’s effort to build and maintain something meaningful. Age helps recognize and understand the importance of culture and provides confidence from the sense of belonging to a tribe. With age, you increasingly respect precious time itself and appreciate the value of spending it wisely. Age appreciates the freedom of youth while youth is anxious to grow mature for more independence. Mostly, with age you gain the respect for time and critical knowledge to help you better decide how to spend it.

TAONR — How do you think we should change how we view and think about age when we are designing?

Frank Nuovo I think there are more ways to uncover knowledge and valuable experience from people in order to make products more human, enjoyable and effective. It’s not always about invention – it’s also about simple improvement for different people’s needs. Most design projects break out concepts which vary in complexity and style. Some people like a challenge and feed on complexity (Japan) others dream of products that are so easy they practically read your mind. It’s not about age but preference. When I was asked about designing a phone for women, I found that most anything proposed was rejected. Most women want what men want when it comes to functionality. High quality design and style is generally neutral to age, race, gender etc. Simplicity is universally appreciated but many like levels of complexity to be unlocked when needed. I think good design is in fact neutral unless it is purposely intended as a polarized or niche creation.

TAONR — 83% of people of all ages in our recent cross-age study want age-neutral and inclusive products and services. Why do you feel demographic-segmentation still plays such a significant role within the design process? 

"Older people help youth tune in, and younger people help older people tune out. When we are together and appreciate each other, it provides mutual benefit and comfort in these fast times."

Frank Nuovo.

Vertu Range designed by Frank Nuovo.

Frank Nuovo — Many products today intend to be age neutral. I think as you age you become more practical and the once attractive bells and whistles for many can become a blur or distraction. Both for aesthetics and for usability, customization is an important factor and is something I have championed for years with the design of communication products. The ability to personalize and tune a product, its user interface and experience is a modern technology capability serving all ages. The ability to customize products, like our Zone V software and hardware, should continue as a trend to optimize performance and delight for all manner of people and ages. Demographic segmentation is important in the development of products. It’s simply important to recognize that certain groups are not interested in things other groups want. However, that should never exclude providing the benefit of important functionalities from any particular group, young or old.

TAONR — What are your thoughts on designing with the customer / worker / citizen as part of the design process?

Frank Nuovo I have always practiced involving the customer in the design process. You simply cannot conduct a proper design program and expect excellent results without such practice in place. Again, in the case of Zone V, we had our vision, but we constantly were testing and applying learnings from users to improve the product. This takes time and unfortunately time is hard to find for most product development programs.

TAONR Ageless or intergenerational design? Which phrase do you prefer? Is there any other words or language you feel we should consider? Intergenerational design is preferred. Age is something to celebrate. I don’t want to be ageless but I do want intergenerational activity.

TAONR — What do you think is the benefit of a society where our age does not define us?

Frank Nuovo  — "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience." Ronald Reagan.

"Replace the word age with experience. In almost every situation an ageless society will benefit from the return of respect toward the ideas represented by those with more experience."

Frank Nuovo.

Zone V software and case designed for easier use and handling.

Age is a good thing. We all age from day one – no way to stop it. As stated above, the value of the individual and his or her life’s experience should be celebrated more. I would like to see more ways of extracting more knowledge and information from a greater number of individuals through, as you suggested, intergenerational activity. I believe if the benefits of aging are better understood by youth in a positive way, and elders are appreciated more by youth for what they have experienced, there would be a tremendous positive change. Society can form a collective mindset which returns to more simple times when the older generation really did hold the key. They had all the stories and shared them personally (rather than learn strictly from faceless information and media). We all can benefit by allowing more people to contribute their own unique information about their experience to society. Facebook could more often be a positive tool used for sharing learning from young to old. I know it makes me feel great when I am privileged to hand down important advice and help others feel better about their own potential on this planet.

You can find out more about Frank's company here.

"The concept of retirement age should be revised to mentors age, advisor age and life guide age."

Frank Nuovo.

You can find out more about Zone V here

If you liked the story above, we think you will also like these related stories from our In—Common library.

Special Projects

05.01.17 - Design

Founded by Clara Gaggero-Westaway and Adrian Westaway, Special Projects combines the principles of user-centric (more)

New Old Exhibition

02.02.17 - Design

There is still one more week to go get inspired by The New Old (more)

Design

30.03.17 - Design

Over 65s can inspire design for everyone and the packaging industry needs to evolve (more)

Read more of our In-Common stories here