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Designing our Future

6 November 2012

This year I’ve been thinking a lot about ageing – not so much my own accumulation of years but the fact that our life expectancy is increasing so much in the UK. World Bank data indicates an increase of nearly 10 years average UK life expectancy during my lifetime.

While I like to imagine that the human race is evolving genetically, our bodies rapidly adapting in order to delay decrepitude, I have enough science to know that if we live longer it is because of the food that we eat, the accidents we are protected against and the high quality medical care that we enjoy. We have designed ourselves a longer life.

We have designed ourselves a longer life, now we need to design a more enjoyable, aspirational one.

So what confuses me is that this marvel of human ingenuity – an increased lifespan – is viewed with relative doom. Very few people look forward to their later years. The simple fact is that we have too few enterprising and innovative souls helping us to re-imagine and re-invent the experience of later life. We have designed ourselves a longer life, now we need to design a more enjoyable, aspirational one. After all, this current generation of 50 plus folks is the most demanding and affluent ever – this is a significant commercial opportunity.

One view is that as our needs change our consumer values should not. So if we suffer from aspects of ill health in later life then at least make associated products and services as attractive as the products that I use when I am healthy.

A new brand Sabi is exploring this space through pill and vitamin dispensers that help me to feel that they are part of a normal, even vital life.

Another view is that any support that I receive to live independently should keep me vital by allowing me to contribute in ways that I can. Casserole is a new service being created by designers FutureGov that allows communities to support each other through food. If I cannot cook for myself I can get a meal; if I can cook then I can provide for others.

And a final view is that innovative products and services are all very well, but what of the older generation actually being the entrepreneurs? The Amazings is a new service that allows those close to retirement, or just retired, to create amazing experiences with the skills, knowledge and passion they’ve picked up throughout their life.

What else out there uses great design to create a new reality for older consumers? The Technology Strategy Board is hosting a conversation on to gather views, stories and examples for this vital new marketplace. And meanwhile visit our Challenges pages for news of how The Amazings, Casserole and 5 other beautifully designed services are heading your way.

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