Mike Bradley is a senior research associate in the Inclusive Design team at Cambridge University. He was also, in a previous life, the lead designer of the Ford Focus which looked at the needs of older drivers and used the famous 'Third Age suit' as part of the design process to simulate how age could impact driving. Mike absolutely knows that designing for older makes life easier for all of us. The Ford Focus became the world's best selling car for almost a decade and was voted at one point the best family car of all time by Autocar. Design for older and we all benefit! Read what he had to say to us about intergenerational design. Inspirational stuff.

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

"We should stop thinking that older people are an easily identified, characterised and designed for cohort. They are more diverse than younger cohorts and provide an even more rich source of inspiration and challenge for younger designers."

Mike Bradley.

MIke led the ergonomics design team of the Ford Focus, designed for older, but marketed to all to become the world's best selling car for almost a decade.

Mike Bradley — Not necessarily age, but the greater wisdom that come with age. I don’t see myself as middle-aged. I see the world through the eyes of a young person stuck in a slightly creaking body and through age related long sightedness. I see a lack of cohesion and empathy between age groups leading to a lack of participation in society for some young people, and a lack of connection for some older people.

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

Mike Bradley —  A lack of understanding of other people. This impacts on how customers, consumers and users are viewed and the products which are designed for them

"Design needs to be inspired by real users, not fantasy figures."

Mike Bradley.

Mike Bradley (in the middle of the human members of the team) at the University of Camridge.

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

"If older people are wiser (and they are), they are almost always the most discerning customer, consumer and user. Engage them and design to their satisfaction!"

Mike Bradley.

Film showing the insights that we can gain from designing for older and how it will help all of us.

Mike Bradley —  If older people are wiser (and they are), they are almost always the most discerning customer, consumer and user. Engage them and design to their satisfaction! The younger ones will find your better designs easier to use, as long as you don’t fall into the trap of designing for what you think older people will want.

TAONR — As a designer what can you learn from people who are younger?

Mike Bradley — Young designers often want to change the status quo, make changes and improve things. This provides impetus to make change, the challenge is to balance this with the need for continuity, familiarity and need. Change for changes sake, is not good design.

TAONR — What are the benefits and opportunities of an ‘ageless’ society?

Mike Bradley — Permission to age disgracefully and enjoyably. An inclusively designed world does not discriminate against those who don’t want to change, don’t want to learn new things – it accommodates them.

TAONR — How do you think designers should change how they view age when designing?

"Younger people will find your better designs easier to use, as long as you don’t fall into the trap of designing for what you think older people will want."

Mike Bradley.

MIke Bradley — We should stop thinking that older people are an easily identified, characterised and designed for cohort. They are more diverse than younger cohorts and provide an even more rich source of inspiration and challenge for younger designers.

TAONR — 83% of people of all ages in our 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?

Mike Bradley — There is a culture of segmentation in marketing and business thinking. This thinking provides a solution to the problem of trying to understand the potential customer, user, consumer for the designer also, but can lead to designing for a “target” customer. I have experienced this for a small car, whose target was a 22-year- old female fashion writer in Rome, who liked trendy nightclubs. The average age of the real car buyer was 60. This is lazy thinking, design needs to be inspired by real users, not fantasy figures. In addition, separating the ‘emotional’ design target from the ‘functional’ design target would be helpful too – design to the emotional aspiration of a younger person (we all feel young), but take into account the functional capabilities and preferences of older people who need to be able to use it.

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

Mike Bradley — Designing collaboratively can provide insights which is very appealing. However, it needs to be carefully choreographed to ensure that useful input can be made into the design process, at the right time. In some industries the designer may be better off spending more time on design ethnography to fully understand the users’ needs first.

TAONR — Ageless or intergenerational design? Which phrase do you prefer? Is there any other words or language you feel we should consider?

Mike Bradley —  I’m a fan of inclusive design as it has some traction now in some industries and has recognised design tools and methods to support it (have a look at www.inclusivedesigntoolkit.com to see some of them)

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

Mike Bradley — We could be free of the shackles of age related prejudice, expectation and conformity. We would not need to fear ageing, but instead embrace the wisdom, perspective and clarity it brings.

You can find out more about Mike and his work at Cambridge University here.

"An inclusively designed world does not discriminate against those who don’t want to change, don’t want to learn new things – it accommodates them."

Mike Bradley.

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