Glen Hougan is an industrial/product and service designer whose background is in the area of user experience, product development, and design thinking. His research and work in the area of design for health and ageing has been covered in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal,. He is a proponent of integrative design and design thinking in healthcare. His research is in the area of ageism in design and a proponent of designing for dignity. In 2010 he was awarded the Sun Life Financial Chair in Design in Health and Aging in Canada, and in 2012 he was awarded a fellowship at the Mayo Clinic’s Center for Innovation in the United States. He is principal of Wellspan Research and Design, a design consultancy focusing on healthcare issues, and Bluezone Design a design studio developing products for an aged population.
Addressing ageism in design: beyond universal design
A common approach designers use when designing for an aging population is to follow universal or inclusive design principles. These principles mainly address the physical and cognitive areas associated with accessibility issues of the older person. The problem is that these principles don’t adequately help identify and address the issues of ageism in our society and ageism in design. Product semiotics says that people attribute meaning and narratives to the look and use of products. So if designers harbour the same ageist beliefs as society as a whole, then the products and services they design for an older population may tend to reflect and help reinforce an ageist narrative.
This session proposes to expand the design lens beyond an inclusive or universal design approach to a new design approach called ‘designing for dignity’ where ageism is also addressed. This session will highlight how ageism is being reflected in design and the main drivers of ageism in design. The session will then provide an overview of the major design principles and frameworks, such as inclusive and universal design, currently associated with designing for an aging population. An analysis and critique of these principles will be presented identifying the benefits and problems associated with using these approaches when they are directed towards designing for an older user group. The session will also provide an overview of the benefits and drawbacks associated with a prescriptive design approach versus a universal design approach when designing or an aging population.
The outcome of the session is a ‘designing for dignity’ proposal in which a new design narrative will be identified and its principles explained. Recommendations for how designers can address ageisms within their designs will given and examples of assistive products from the presenters design studio, Bluezone Design, which will be used to highlight the principle of ‘designing for dignity’.
Designers have a significant influence through their designs in addressing prejudice in our society. The outcome of the presentation is not only to highlight ageism, how it is being reflected in design, and what designers can do to combat this prejudice, but also for designers to start a conversation on ageism and reflect on their own prejudices and how it may influence their designs for an aging population.