Designing For An Aging Population

With birthrates decreasing and life expectancy increasing at a rapid pace, approximately 25% of the US population will consist of senior citizens in 2030; traditionally, seniors encompass only 3% of the population. As a result, the US and much of the world is undergoing a major demographic shift that will require big thinking to address the coming societal challenges. In Systems Workshop, John “Pip” Pipino of Doblin challenged our class to apply a structured planning process to develop the system of products and services that are needed to support the “gray migration.”

Systems Workshop Group Presentations. © 2012 Douglas Radecki

Systems Workshop Group Presentations. Copyright © 2012 Douglas Radecki

Problem Definition, Solution Requirements & Context

Through a process of small group work and large group sessions over a 16-week period, our class researched and interpreted the context of our work, defined key terms and our scope, and judged our design efforts against our system requirements.

We repeatedly revisited our scope to ensure that our research and designs were aimed towards those who needed them. Four areas remained cornerstones of our work and groups organized themselves based on mobility, financial considerations, dwellings and social needs. I spent significant time researching population-level demographics and how economic change and shifting familial expectations were changing the role of family in seniors’ lives and living situations.

This information and more provided by my colleagues enabled us to develop functions, or key requirements that would support a high quality of life.

Systems Workshop Planning Functions Concept Map

In a new working group, I analyzed the role of financial literacy, caregiving and the distribution of assets after death in planning to age. Typically, seniors were faced with many major choices about their financial assets and they didn’t have enough information on how to make the decisions most appropriate for their families and personal preferences. Seniors commonly spent down all of their life’s savings to pay for medical bills and families turned to government social services to provide assistance at the end of life costs.

Developing Solutions

After vetting by the full class and the agreement that the functions supported each activity and mode of the system, my small team worked together to develop solutions that met the system’s requirements in each category. We scored each solution to all of the system requirements in order to find the strongest solutions that met the most requirements.

At this stage, I developed the concept of a Community Activity System which optimized the current community spaces frequented by seniors and build upon a ubiquitous transportation network. By linking together schools, senior centers, community centers and local businesses, seniors could get access to the activities that most fit their lifestyle and location. In addition, central registration and senior needs’ surveys would ensure that joining such activities was seamless and simple.

Community Activity System Details DraftCommunity Activity System Details Final

Communicating Our Work

In the final two weeks of the semester came time to compile a final document that succinctly described our user narratives and scenarios,  solutions and process. As one of two communication designers on the design team,  I populated our report templates and facilitated content sharing between  the editorial to the design team, while the rest of the design team was responsible for the beautiful illustrations.

View the final PDF report here.

Systems Workshop Final Report Cover