As humans, we have a unique tool to achieve change - our ingenuity, our creativity, our ability to find solutions within the constraints of every day life. In other words, design. The Age of No Retirement really believes that design is the mechanism to change the world. What’s more, design works not only for people, but for businesses too, as it engages customers and users and encourages loyalty and trust. This is the first in a series of stories showing the power of intergenerational design.

As the amazing mother of Universal Design, Pattie Moore, once so wisely said, "design can enable us, or disable us". 

Design thinking and the design process must be at the heart of how we create a more positive and intergenerational future. But what is design? At its most basic, design is making products, services and environments that work as well as they can. Yes, design is is about how things look and how they make you feel. But essentially it is about making things work better. For as many people as possible. 

Design shapes ideas to become practical and attractive propositions for users or customers.  

"Design she says, can enable or disable us."

Pattie Moore.

Photo by Jay Lee.

Most of the results of design are visible. Design is all around us, everything man-made has been designed, whether consciously or not. The question therefore isn't so much 'what is design and why does it matter?' but 'how can we use good design to make the world better for all us?'

Design is at its core optimistic, and designers are trained to be courageous about the future. We know that we need to change the story around age, as well as our whole life narrative. Design is about putting change into motion. It generates ideas which are quickly prototyped. The first iteration might not be perfect but it proves that we don't have to be stuck where we are, that change, for the better, is a possibility. Through engaging with the design process, we can quickly rethink some of the biggest challenges which we face — across all ages.

In 2016, we worked with the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design (part of the RCA) to create a new set of principles around age. We tested these principles (which can you read about here) across people from all ages — from 18 through to 99. We found that 86% of all ages wanted to see them in their day to day but only 16% of all ages felt brands, business and government were using them. An open goal if there ever was one for social and economic innovation.

Our vision is for these principles to inspire designers, business leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs in their thinking around new products, services, new environments and even new systems. To inspire new thinking and to show that good design is design that works across all ages. For when we design well, we all become enabled. Because when we get it right, who is going to complain about technology which is too intuitive, customer services which is too helpful, packaging which is too easy to grip and open, financial products which are too comprehensible, and homes which meet lifetime needs? Anyone? We don't think so. 

"If we insist on categorising people as either young or old, we create falsely conflicting camps for attention and action."

Pattie Moore.

Photo by Evelyn Bencicova

Many companies are starting to see the potential of creating products that cut across the age barriers – the advantage of building products that work for people and focus on their needs and attitudes, rather than their age group. Many of those companies in fact are starting to reap the benefits.  There is change happening already. Over the weeks and months to come we will be sharing examples of products, services and environments which we have found which we think work well across our principles as well as sharing the stories of those we are working and collaborating on. We will be talking with leading designers from all disciplines as well to get their insights into the benefits of intergenerational design.

You can find out more about the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design here.

"When we design well, we all become enabled."

Georgina Lee

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Read more of our In-Common stories here