OpenIDEO is an open innovation platform. Join our global community to solve big challenges for social good. Sign Up / Login or Learn more

Tips for Ideas: Design for People, Not an Age

Photo of Gretchen Addi
5 0

Written by

Gretchen Addi is an Associate Partner and currently a business lead at IDEO in the Bay Area. She also provides mentorship and guidance to the Design Research discipline. Gretchen is passionate about the power of empathy and design and the people who make it happen, as well as the author of an internal point of view to better understand the needs of the ageing population.

What’s new about old age?

The view of adulthood is shifting – '60 is the new 30,' proclaim the headlines. Given our extended life expectancies, being 60+ truly encompasses multiple generations.
We are experiencing a broader diversity in life stage – for instance, some families start in their twenties and some in their forties – and in work stage, with many choosing not to retire but to continuing to work and grow on their own terms. Life’s events and genetics are not yet predictable, but how we choose to spend our 3rd Age is as varied as we are.

What’s the opportunity?

There are 100 million people over 60 in the U.S. alone – and their needs must be seen as an opportunity and not a financial burden. The longevity economy is a huge opportunity to develop meaningful and relevant relationships with this population via products, services and experiences. We are beyond the WHY and must now address the HOW and WHAT.

So what does all this mean for design?

How does one design for such a broad spectrum of diverse people that are 60+? The answer is: don’t! Design for people, not an age group, as age is no longer the default indicator of behavior. Older people are more diverse, less easy to typecast, less predictable, and are often moving in and out of various markets as their needs, interests and lifestyle change. Look at it through the lens of activities, emotions, culture and context – let their experiences guide your design and put people first.
At IDEO, we like to think about it in 7 key ways that channel our human-centered approach and their voice:
Agelessness: I am still very much the same person at heart and I certainly don’t identify with my age. So, accommodate my changing needs, but appeal to my interests, my lifestyle, my values, and not my age.
Authored Experiences: I am unique and I want choices, but it’s the quality of the experience I value, not just the transaction. So, offer me creative experiences that allow me to enjoy personally relevant choices.
Trusted Advice: I’m facing some difficult issues, I need someone who knows more than I do, but who also shares my values. So, work with me and help me discover and tailor the right solutions for myself.
Consciousness: Remember, I’ve shopped a lot. I recognize quality. I want to do well for myself and do good, too. So, offer me well-crafted products and services that embody socially and environmentally sustainable values.
Future View: I’m actively investing in my future quality of life – I want to maintain my current lifestyle for as long as possible. So, I need support for independence that doesn’t compromise on quality and style.
Balance & Meaning: I’m still discovering who I can be and continuing to grow as a person creatively, intellectually and spiritually. So, I need products and services that support self-discovery, life-long learning and personal development.
Connection: I appreciate and value links with my origins, my peer network, and the generations who will follow me. So, provide ways for me to connect with my past and across generations.
The key take-away from all this is to design for people, not for an age group, and get to know more and deeply about their life stages, what they are struggling with, and what they are interested and passionate about. Understand the emerging themes, patterns and opportunities to support them in better ways and develop products and services that support their experiences in the best way possible. 
Cheers, Gretchen, for your take on designing for a new old age. How might you design or refine your ideas to take Gretchen's tips into account? Head over to the Healthy Ageing Challenge Ideas phase and let us know.
11k 5
Healthy Ageing Challenge , IDEO Experts


Join the conversation:

Photo of DeletedUser


Dear Gretchen, This is such an inspirational idea, "Design for people, not an age group". Breakthrough of stereotyped thinking and encourage people to look through "the lens of activities, emotions, culture and context". Yes, you're absolute right when stating "let their experiences guide your design and put people first". Thanks Gretchen!

View all comments