Designers For Our Future Selves- Design Museum Talk

Designers For Our Future Selves

It’s widespread knowledge that the population in most developed countries is ageing.  In fact, by 2050 over 60’s will make up 20% of the World’s population. The question of how we design for a community in which the elderly make up a significant portion of the population is becoming increasingly significant.

The “New Old” exhibition at the Design Museum challenged contemporary Designers to explore this prevalent topic by asking them to provide design solutions that will enhance the quality of our later lives.

The exhibition, followed by a talk, included Adrian Westaway and Clara Gaggero of Special Projects, Sam Hecht of Future Facility and Dr Takanori Shibata, inventor of PARO discussing their work in further detail.

Special Projects, during their initial research stages found that a large amount of people are misinformed and unfamiliar when it comes to the elderly.  We had become disillusioned with the idea that the elderly were passive and that we should treat and view them as such. This issue was exacerbated by tech companies offering “alternative products” for the elderly rather than aiming to remove the barrier that stands between some older people and the adoption of new technology through education.

Rather than designing a smartphone with limited functionality and “bigger buttons” Special Projects re-imagined the phone manual. The manual allowed for the user to place their smartphone within the centre and was presented as a hardback book rather than a flimsy leaflet.


Special Projects Samsung Tocco Lite Manual

For Special Projects, the solution to decoding technology by the elderly was providing an analog stepping stone to minimise the leap from low to hi-tech.

Inventor Dr. Shibata aimed to reinvigorate the medically unwell (specifically those suffering from Dementia) by using technology to provide comfort as a robotic companion. Shibata’s seal robot named PARO is certified as a medical device here in the UK and has the ability to learn to behave in the way that the user aspires. The success of PARO suggest that robots have the potential to become emotionally significant later in life.


Robotic Companion PARO

Rather than offering more control and functionality, Sam Hecht of Industrial Facility’s new division, “Future Facility,” re-imagined the living space in terms of being operated by a service driven company.  Hecht aimed to design a “future proof home to support us while we age” by eliminating the anxiety involved with home appliances breaking.


Future Facility’s “Amazin Apartment”

Apartments were to be arranged within service corridors with products becoming part of the interior architecture of the home. Appliance maintenance was to be completed externally by the service company. This allowed for the products themselves to become extremely minimal, removing settings that the majority of people rarely used.  Future Facility raised the question of how much control are we willing to lose into our old age? Will we want to continue to keep up with the increasing dependencies of appliances or adopt a lifestyle in which this requirement is taken out of our hands?

The exhibition, “New Old” is on at the Design Museum until February 19th, with a follow up talk focusing on a selection of other exhibited work is being held on Tuesday 7th February.