Guest Blog – Motion. Design for graceful ageing

After attending our Independent Living Breakfast Briefing, which took place on 18th July, Rob Etheridge from Motion.(Motionspot Ltd.) wrote this interesting blog post.


Above: The Rover James: An (admirable?) attempt by BBC’s TopGear presenters to create a product for the automotive world. Beige, anyone? Image: BBC

Design for graceful ageing

Back in February, the presenters of TopGear took an unusual break from their caravan smashing routines to create a car specifically for the senior market. The underlying message was that mainstream cars don’t fit the bill as we grow older. However, this was easily ‘solved’ with the addition of oversized foam bumpers, a couple of Shackleton easy chairs and a coat of beige paint.

Although amusing, the bungled ‘Rover James’ project highlighted a few unfortunate trends in the way products for the senior market have been designed.

Continuing the BBC’s beige theme, this WC setup features an unappealing plastic support with very limited appeal. Not only does it lack design inspiration, it’s also being displayed on an offensively dated backdrop. Is this how we are expected to live as we get older?

Well it shouldn’t be. According to the industry experts, the ageing population is a growing one that demands the choice of products of younger contemporaries. On average, people have a mindset 14 years below their actual age and buy products accordingly: “they want beautiful things that work”, says Gabriella Spinelli, a Lecturer at Brunel University.

Below Left: The beige intensifies. Not the most appealing and not uncommon in this space.
Below Right: Ben Clarke’s Otto

Thankfully, young designers are sitting up and listening to this, and the latest offerings from Brunel’s ‘Made in Brunel’ portfolio are refreshingly contemporary. Inspired by James Dyson’s belief that ‘we need to harness [creativity, inventiveness and competitive spirit] to develop products that create nationwide wealth’, Brunel’s students are designing to make lives better.

It’s also great to see that designers are responding to less apparent but equally challenging conditions. Weixin Jin devoted her final year project to develop a spoon for adults with reduced muscle strength.

Below: Weixin Jin’s Spoon design

Weixin Jin Made in Brunel 2013 Book Page

The alternative spoon design. An attractive alternative, but is wood the most durable?

Not only is the spoon designed to prevent spillage, but a ‘satsifying’ wooden handle gives it a more mainstream and appealing appearance as well as a tactile feel. It would be interesting to test the product in the long-term, as wood may limit its durability and use within the care sector A stylish dishwasher-friendly version would be a potential development.

Similarly, Lynette Smith has tackled what she describes as the ‘unspoken needs and aspirations of users’ with her deodorant applicator. It promotes independence and has been designed to accommodate a number of reach and grip abilities, making it a great example of universal design.

Below: Lynnette Smith’s Deodorant Applicator

It is reassuring to see a generation of designers who are aware of the challenges faced by their users and using this knowledge to create products which fully meet the needs of the widest range of people.

The challenge now is making this mindset the accepted benchmark for all product design, ensuring it isn’t lost to red tape as production starts. However, the obvious passion and dedication of just a few students suggests that on a larger scale the design landscape will change for the better as people age.

Written by Rob Etheridge