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

7 Insights on Designing For Ageing

These are 7 insights on designing for ageing from the UK's Design council.

Photo of Sherif Maktabi
1 5

Written by

See full text here

here is a preview

Age really is just a number

‘This picture is of me and Terry after an hour long spinning class and I think it’s clear who came off worst. After spending time with older men of varying ages and backgrounds, we decided to focus our energies on developing a service for men in the first 1–2 years after retirement.

Regardless of age, this was the period that we kept hearing the same stories from people about. For us that’s when we knew we’d found the opportunity to do something useful.’

The After Work Club

‘When we were doing some of our early user-research around older adults’ cooking and eating habits we were struck by how little use it was looking at age.

Life stages or changes were a much more powerful indicator for us when we developed Meet2Eat.’


Language is really important

‘We put up a thread on Gransnet when we were looking for potential hosts and got a really negative response.

It showed us early on how important it was to get the language exactly right when defining and describing Room for Tea and not to make any assumptions about an older audience.

As our service proposition has evolved we’ve removed all reference to age from how we describe the service — it simply isn’t relevant. ‘Old’ is not how our hosts wish to identify themselves and although we’re interested in recruiting older hosts, we’re interested first and foremost in finding great people so that’s what the language we use reflects.’

Room for Tea

There’s a strong desire to contribute

‘We’ve tried to make it clear right from the start that we want Gusto members to take a leading role in developing and delivering the service. We see our role as being about facilitation rather than management.

A lot of existing provision for helping older adults socialise or connect seems to fall into the trap of delivering services ‘for people’ where they’re passive recipients.

We know that the success of Gusto — both as a consumer experience and as a viable enterprise — depends on recruiting a diverse group of members. That includes recruiting members of the community who want to play an active role.’


Services with a broader audience

‘Initially when we were planning Casserole we were thinking about it as a service where the ‘cooks’ were likely to be younger people or families and the ‘diners’ would be older adults.

We’ve found that not only is this not the case, but even the distinction between cooks and diners is unhelpful. There are older adults who want to cook for others, but might sometimes enjoy being a ‘diner’ too. One of our younger ‘cooks’ had a baby and then asked if she could become a ‘diner’ for a while.

In designing a service that takes particular account of the needs of older adults, we’ve created something that is appealing to lots of different people. It’s great for us as it makes for a richer community of members and also it’s more interesting for them.’


It’s impossible to make assumptions about how people will use technology

‘You can’t really make any assumptions about technology. In our core group of users there are some people who are avid iPad users and others who don’t even have an email address.

Our approach is that this doesn’t matter — the service can be accessed both online and offline and actually we’ve learnt valuable lessons from developing both options. And our older users still expect us to have technology — they want to look us up and see a professional, credible looking website, even if they then call us to register.’


‘We tried testing different ways of introducing guests and hosts to each other — through paper references, a face-to-face introduction or a Skype call.

Our hunch was that people would prefer the face-to-face introduction as it didn’t involve technology but in fact it was the Skype call that worked best. The reason? Hosts felt they got a good sense of the person from a Skype call and it was easier to say ‘no’ to a potential guest they didn’t feel was a good fit than when they had met them face to face.’

Room for Tea

You need a physical presence first

‘The Amazings began with three of us walking around Hackney wearing sandwich boards saying ‘Are you Amazing?’.

It was a great way to start recruiting Amazings but also a great way of having conversations about what we were trying to do.

You have to be able to understand the human experience and the values you need to deliver first, before you can build the technology to support it.’

The Amazings

Invest in building relationships

‘Involving our older early adopters — our pioneers, as they refer to themselves — has been key to our approach.

The focus of our service originates from working with the older adults. While we provided a vision and context, we listened, collaborated, and allowed themes to emerge.

Design your service in a way that allows room for people to shape and adapt it. Community work, building relationships with partners, establishing trust with customers, all that will take time, which must not be underestimated. You’ll spend a .....

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Meena Kadri

Great link – lots of goodness here! I especially like their focus on supporting independence. Hoping to see lots of ideas on that for our upcoming Ideas phase.