At a recent Ageing Better by Design event, we asked an expert panel why so few products and services are appropriately designed for older people.

The conversation raised some of the big questions about what it means to grow older with dignity, engagement and self-esteem – and showed how design can develop some of the answers.

We need to address perceptions of ageing and what society, as well as products and services, will allow us to do as we get older.

The mainstream market for products and services which are easy to use, attractive and readily available for older people is largely underdeveloped. Businesses tend to treat the older market homogenously and there is a real lack of trusted consumer advice and well-targeted marketing, making it difficult for consumers to find the few appropriate products and services which are available.

We all want access to well-designed products and services that fit in with our lives, help us to stay connected and which please and delight us – it is here that design can help.

Much of the current debate around ageing relates to ill health and social care funding, particularly in light of the Dilnot Commission. It is of course true that the proportion of older people is increasing. But as everyone knows, we are all ageing – all the time. A key message from our event was that we need to address perceptions of ageing and what society, as well as products and services, will allow us to do as we get older.

At the Ageing better by design event we heard from designers, researchers, policy makers and healthcare practitioners about the ways we can develop products and services which include and engage older people, as well as offering support where needed. Our speakers addressed some of the big questions about ageing and shared their experience of developing design-led solutions.

How can we develop user-centred products for older people and improve market infrastructure?

Dr Nigel Harris Director of the Bath Institute for Medical Engineering discussed the process of developing products which are user-centred and address unmet need as well as the importance of better branding and routes to market.

What does a banana have to do with mobile phone design?

Adrian Westaway, co-Founder and Director of the design studio Vitamins showed us how they set about designing more user-friendly mobile phones through the Out of the Box project for Samsung – starting with bananas and ending with a playful and comprehensive user experience.

How can we challenge society’s response to ageing using design?

Jackie Marshall-Cyrus, who heads up the Assisted Living Innovation Platform at the Technology Strategy Board, challenged commonly held stereotypes around ageing, emphasising the ways in which design and technology are changing what it means to get older and feel connected.

How can digital public services enable us to support older people?

Natasha Innocent, who leads on Demand Stimulation and Broadband Delivery at the Department for Culture Media and Sport, talked about the barriers to getting older people online and how the Go On UK charity and the government's Broadband Delivery programme are working to widen internet access.

What does the older market mean for big business?

Matt Taylor, Head of Futures at O2 talked about how an innovative brand can become more commercially relevant to older consumers and the growing market for connected health products like Glowcaps.

What does this mean for the Design Council?

Ageing better by design is an important area of Design Council work. We continue to look at how design can help us to get better at getting older, by contributing to policy debates and bringing together the leading experts in the field. We also want to build on our experience helping create new products and services for older people through our open innovation Design Challenges.

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