The Dignity of Living

Everyone talks about the dignity of dying, but what about the dignity of living?

Feb 21 2017 - 12:01pm

Are you looking forward to aging and retirement? Do you look forward to using the types of products people are forced to accept as they age? In this latest installment of IDSA INsights, Bryce Rutter, PhD, IDSA—founder and CEO of Metaphase, an IDSA Ambassador, and an IDSA International Design Excellence Awards 2017 juror—finds that just because someone grows old, it does not mean that their need for good design erodes, or that they love their aluminum walker modified with tennis balls or their hideous reading devices. Nor are drug packaging and self-medication devices easy-to-use and intuitive. Instead, everything about these products continuously reminds seniors that they are aging and need help—and more tragically—erodes their sense of dignity and self-worth.

Silver Tsunami

As we continue to make incredible advances in medicine, in far too many cases the state-of-the-art in healthcare being delivered to aging consumers overshadows the fundamental principle that drives good,  humanistic design—the importance of the human factor. All the technology in the world cannot save a product that is hard to use, confusing, tiring and grinds away independence. There is a lack of empathetic design solutions for the aging population, and a tsunami of need like never before.

According to a 2015 United States Census Bureau report, baby boomers—people between the ages of 45 to 65—are currently the second largest generational cohort with more than 75 million people and make up nearly 25 percent of the population. The number of people 85+ years old will increase from six million to 20 million in the next two decades. And 10,000 people a day will turn 65 years old for the next two decades.

On top of these significant changes in the demographics of our society, people entering retirement are doing so with the highest levels of disposable income in history and greatest awareness of what constitutes good design. Their bar is significantly higher and they have a low tolerance for poor quality products.

Designing for Psychographics

Demographics identify who you are designing for, but designing for psychographics requires identifying how people think, feel and behave when they interact with a product. As people age, they require products designed with insight so they work well for the older user.

Think about the best-designed product that you own. How does this product make you feel every time you use it? Does everything about it seem to be specifically designed for you and you alone? Its weight, balance, materials and textures feel perfect; it sounds just right, not cheap or irritating and its form, balance, color and visual rhythm look beautiful. It also creates an emotional connection that makes you feel good about yourself, happy when you use it—and in many cases becomes a seamless extension of your body.

It is through the potency of great product design that we can have a profound impact on quality of life for everyone with products that allow people to age in place with dignity and respect. Products should be a joy and pleasure to use as they effectively compensate for those physical or cognitive declines that tend to occur as we age.

Sensory Signatures

Brands that break down barriers of design for boomers who have issues with vision, dexterity and hearing—the sensory signatures of product experience—also leverage the market. When a brand recognizes the strategic potency of good design, the direct impact on financial success is inherent. Those brands have created new product categories, redefined industry standards, built cult-like brand loyalty, exceeded all financial projections and changed markets forever. The success of this exclusive club of highly successful brands is linked directly to its ability to make a meaningful and valued connection with customers. These brands have studied and designed each and every aspect of the user experience—from product to packaging to instructions to their mobile interface—to create a comprehensive model and not just a singular product. They have designed the total ecosystem that surrounds the product and done so in a user-centric fashion that addresses all sensory modalities.

This is the model for not only developing spectacularly successful designs that drive shareholder value, but also for allowing designers to create products that allow people to age gracefully with dignity and vitality.