Founded by Clara Gaggero-Westaway and Adrian Westaway, Special Projects combines the principles of user-centric design, an unfettered understanding of technological possibility and the surprise of a magician’s performance to create products and inventions that delight the user and radiate positivity.

The Special Projects installation at the ‘NEW OLD: Designing for our Future Selves’ exhibition was held at The Design Museum, in London. As predicted, it's been a real conversation starter. The New Old exhibition was curated by Jeremy Myerson, co-founder of the RCA Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design, thirty years after the original project was conceived.
His brief for the contributors, raised some questions in the minds of Special Project designers Clara Gaggero Westaway and Adrian Westaway.
What is the most valuable thing you have learned so far? What was the biggest mistake you’ve ever made? Is it true that people don’t grow up? Interesting food for thought.

On January 12th  2017, design and invention agency Special Projects unveiled Exchange. This interactive installation at the Design Museum was designed to spark human connections and foster intergenerational understanding. 

"‘There is so much stigma around ageing and, as designers, the only way to overcome it is to deeply understand the people you are designing for. For NEW OLD we've tried to let the audience jump into a part of our process by letting them literally spend time with a range of amazing older adults to discover what ageing means for themselves.’"

Adrian Westaway, Co-founder, Special Projects.

A hand-picked group of leading designers were commissioned to contribute – including the likes of IDEO, PriestmanGoode, Industrial Facility, and Konstantin Grcic – alongside agency founders Clara Gaggero Westaway and Adrian Westaway All were invited to create a piece for the ‘Identity’ strand of the exhibition. Their aim was to break down prejudices and overcome the stigma's attached to ageing. They acted on the simple premise that the most effective means of overturning preconceptions is via direct, personal experience. 

The success of the exhibit was dependent upon members of the public and their degree of openness. They were invited to step forward and ask an older person a question.  It could be anything: ‘What made you happiest in life?’ ‘What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned?’ ‘What’s the best age to be?’ ‘Do the young of today have it easy?’ ‘Do you feel in control of your destiny?’

"The exhibition does not confine itself to product design, but encompasses the wider possibilities of employing design thinking to help people live fuller, healthier and more rewarding lives as they move into old age. It looks at all aspects of ageing and its impact on human life, with themes including community, working, home, mobility and identity."

Special Projects.

A table covered with paper allowed people to write down their questions. This helped embolden them to interact, while creating a tangible legacy of their exchange. The table itself acted as a physical bridge, connecting the participants. 

In response, the older participant would ask a question. This created an opportunity for dialogue, plus a moment of intergenerational connection. In so doing, both parties were enlightened and enriched, in an example of an exchange that takes place all too rarely in everyday life

Special Projects is a user-centric design agency. It places direct-contact research and personal engagement at the heart of all its work. Their NEW OLD installation is an embodiment of this process because it underscores this fact; that only by listening to the needs and experiences of the people it targets, can design ever hope to improve their lives. 

Although known for their technological innovation and future-orientated commissions, Special Projects aren’t afraid to take an analogue approach, ie in contrast to naturalistic observation, a method by which a subject is observed in an artificial setting, should the challenge arise. 

Already winners of the IxDA and IDEA Awards for their ‘Out of the Box’ project for Samsung and it was also featured in the exhibition. They drew upon immersive analogue-learning logic to instruct older phone users in how to prepare and use their devices . Clearly, Special Projects are perfectly placed to explore new ways by which effective communication can help overcome the stereotypes and stigmas associated with ageing. 

They created a delightful, inclusive space for intimate cross-generational conversations, where both participants were equally engaged and invested in the exchange of experiences. They are urging us to abandon our prejudices and expand our own frame of reference about what ageing is today in order to imagine what it might become in the future. 

‘NEW OLD: Designing for our Future Selves’ was accompanied by a public outreach programme, exhibition publication and an associated national opinion survey on ageing. The event was  supported by research and demographic data from the Oxford Institute for Population Ageing at the University of Oxford, where Jeremy Myerson is a visiting fellow.

They are taking this show on the road and the exhibition will go on tour internationally next. The NEW OLD: Designing for our Future Selves ran from 12 January to 19 February 2017.

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