Design As A Quality-Of-Life Issue

Have you walked through a home that just "felt different" from the previous homes you explored? Do you prefer Target to Wal-Mart, or Lowes over Home Depot for your big box shopping, but are not clear why? Will you return to a favorite web site because you can find what you're looking for, it feels easy to navigate and you can complete a transaction? Have you held an OXO vegetable peeler and wondered why on earth anyone ever used the one in your Grandma's utensil drawer?

If you responded yes to any of these scenarios, you have experienced the positive nature of design thinking and the way it enhances our lives moment by moment. From our cars to our cubes to our phones and their interface, we are impacted by the choices and thinking of companies, industrial engineers, designers, and marketers who have decided what our experience will be with the products and services that we buy and access.

The rate of innovation

Even through this recessionary economy, the pace of new product and service innovation has not slowed. Though it may be suffering from a lack of courage and commitment on the part of investors. As an agency that provides both product development research and consulting and communications strategy, we attend a number of events where we encounter investors, designers and entrepreneurs hoping to break into the mature consumer market. We are frequently dismayed that requests for mature consumer insights into their product or service come very late in the process - at the marketing stage - and not during the design and development of the product or service.

This disconnect seems to be driven by investors and the desire to get a product into market as quickly as possible and to "test in market" and "innovate on the fly." In the many years we have seen this occur, we have observed products and services that:

  • Are designed for no one
  • Solve no human need or problem
  • Miss the opportunity to engage multiple consumer markets
  • Are the "love child" of their creators with no scalability

At the end of the day, dollars spent to understand the consumer during the ideation, design and engineering processes, will create smarter, better-designed products and services with a clear market direction and size.

Consumer insights to business intelligence

Having the research and insights into your consumer as you develop a product or service doesn't guarantee success. You must be able to translate these insights into actionable business intelligence that emerges as a strategic direction.

Take a look at Target. From store design to the democratization of designer products, Target has brought its "design for all" philosophy from the boardroom to our homes. The Archer Farms-branded food products feature great packaging options that fit a variety of lifestages with re-sealable containers and zipper packages, plus thoughtful graphic design that is both attractive and readable. The line of appetizers was created so that all products could be heated at the same temperature allowing hosts a more stress-free entertaining experience.

And let's not overlook Target's innovation in the pharmacy. The "Clear Rx" feature uses an easy-to-read bottle and color-coded ID rings to minimize the chance of taking the wrong dose or confusing medications between family members. A student conceived the concept with a personal insight into the problem of managing medication at home.

Or examine design darling OXO -- which, by the way, is pronounced "ox oh" for the uninitiated! The entire company is created on the tenet of Universal Design, which means the "design of products usable by as many people as possible." Universal Design does not mean that products will be fully usable by every person in the population. No product or service can really accomplish that. It does mean that all users' needs are taken into consideration at the onset of the design process. The result is a product that can be used by the broadest spectrum of users.

As a reminder of their mission of Universal Design, OXO employees collect the lost gloves they find all over New York City and wherever they travel in the world. These gloves are displayed prominently on the walls of the OXO office so that the team remembers all of the hands its products need to fit -- "large, small, male, female, young, old and in between."

Move Beyond Age -- A Coalition of Believers

We have launched a movement, Move Beyond Age to recognize the importance of design in our lives but, most importantly, the need to revisit the tenets of Universal Design -- not just as design for aging or disabled -- but as a way of thinking about design that spans generations to make products or services better for every user.

We believe that designers and engineers can benefit from an understanding of the mature consumer and the burgeoning needs of an aging population. Organizations like AARP and the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) are focusing on design, innovation and entrepreneurship this year. (See GSA's annual event.) We also believe that 50+ entrepreneurs have an enormous opportunity -- given their life experience and understanding -- to create more innovative, forward-thinking companies.

Join us in the conversation to provide better products and services for every generation. We'll keep you apprised of events and research, and look forward to your input. We're on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter (@movebeyondage).

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2 comments about "Design As A Quality-Of-Life Issue ".
  1. Patricia Friedlander from Word-Up! , July 25, 2011 at 10:15 a.m.

    Excellent! your design insights are spot on. Target reminds us that before mass production, design was important. I have a pair of scissors that belonged to my grandmother--they are beautiful as well as functional. The concept of universal design is a first step toward increased functionality for everyone and ultimately valuing innovation for what it can mean across social strata.

  2. Pete Healy from GyroHSR , July 26, 2011 at 10:17 a.m.

    Outstanding piece! Target's Archer Farms brand is a great example of the Universal Design principle, particularly since they extend it, as you point out, to the actual product formulation (ie, for easy heating of appetizers).

    Conversely, it's frustrating to see, for example, 70s-era thermostats with impossibly small control panels installed in apartments for seniors (which I discovered when helping my 80-year-old mom move). Time to get into a higher gear with mindful Universal Design!