As marketing professionals, we have all experienced introducing a product to the market place that we felt was not quite ready, not created with enough consumer input, or is just poorly designed. It is frustrating when communication is expected to overcome problems intrinsic to the product.
When we launched the Move Beyond Age movement at the beginning of this year, we wanted to start a global conversation about design, with the belief that when products are designed smarter for older consumers they function better for everyone. Since the launch we have brought this message to big-box retailers, technology companies, housing developers, health care organizations, packaged goods companies, aging organizations and hundreds of others. Conversations range from how to “re-tool” senior products for Boomers, to how to appeal to the largest demographic in today’s marketplace.
The drumbeat of the movement has grown louder throughout this year. Friends and partners are shining a light on human-centered design and the aging population.
AARP: The Bellwether?
Jody Holtzman, SVP of Thought Leadership for AARP, has said that the organization is becoming mission driven, rather than organization driven, and that mission is about improving the quality of life for every generation. Thus, Holtzman’s team has taken a “design for all” focus.
This manifested itself at fall’s DEMO conference in Silicon Valley, where AARP offered scholarships to entrepreneurs over 50, or entrepreneurs with ideas for tech products for consumers over 50. DEMO is the launch pad for companies with emerging technologies; many companies have launched and raised capital at DEMO.
To see what happened, hear the story of OhMyMeds and the founder’s “DemoGod status.”
Design First: Other Indicators
In our first show for the second season of “The Business of Aging,” our radio show on the WeEarth Global Radio Network, we interviewed Jeffrey DeMure, an architect and founder of Jeffrey DeMure & Associates (J D + A). Jeffrey’s firm has taken on the challenge of reimagining senior living communities and his firm is doing some of the most interesting work worldwide.
Some of this work can be seen at Eskaton’s Livable Design site.
The goal of Livable Design is to change the way homes are built in order to accommodate everybody in both functional and beautiful ways. Eskaton has built a demonstration home to show builders and consumers what this means in our homes.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Jeff Rosenfeld’s new book, Unassisted Living: Ageless Homes for Later Life – which premiered this past week. This book is visually beautiful, but the story Jeff and his co-author, Wid Chapman, from Parsons School of Design, weave is about Baby Boomers taking control of their future and designing homes for the way they wish to age. And it is nothing like the current vision of housing for aging people.
The architects highlighted in this book are taking the issue of housing for an aging population and turning it upside down; they have questioned the assumptions about what a home should look like for an older person and replaced them with beautiful, thoughtful designs that ensure safety but also consider that a home can be stimulating and inclusive of multiple generations.
Obviously the housing market has been the most troubled in the recession; and historically very slow to change their approach to the market. This new thinking points to a new optimism being demonstrated in the industry.
Gerontological Society of America (GSA) – Really?
Just this month in Boston, GSA presented their Aging Means Business conference to two hundred hungry participants; the theme of this conference – “Design for a New Age.” Several years ago, this very scientific aging conference had no business focus. The attendance this year was nearly double last year, and it was engaged!
First, Joe Coughlin from MIT’s AgeLab spearheaded the event and moderated. The work at AgeLab is myth-busting and smart. This team examines aging from every perspective and leads their clients to smart conclusions. The agenda of participants for this one-day event was inspiring, and included IDEO and Hollwich Kushner.
Matthias Hollwich challenged us to think. He has been involved in the development of the BOOM community worldwide, which started as an LGBT project. It is smartly designed and encompasses qualities that boomers, regardless of sexual orientation, care deeply about. This team has listened to the consumer and created amazing communities that they are replicating in various forms worldwide.
As marketers we must focus companies back on the design of their products and services. Marketing cannot fix poorly executed product development and design. The speed of innovation and time crunch created by VC funding can no longer be an excuse for bringing products and services to market before their time. Consumer input continues to be the key to designing for aging consumers. Be part of this conversation. We invite you to join us on Facebook or at LinkedIn.