An exhibit now on view at the Design Museum in London explores the role design can play in improving later life.
Titled New Old, the exhibition rethinks what it means to be “old” today and investigates what aging looks like in the digital age.
Simple, everyday hacks (such as electrical plugs and magnetic buttons for arthritis sufferers) are showcased alongside advanced technologies. ElliQ, a robot companion, is one example of the latter. The device uses artificial intelligence to encourage sociability and address loneliness in older age. As well as helping older adults to connect with loved ones through video chats and social media, the robot suggests suitable physical activities, sets medication and appointment reminders, and recommends audiobooks and music to users.
“I do think that smart technology has a role to play,” Professor Jeremy Myerson, curator of the exhibition and Helen Hamlyn Chair of Design at the RCA, tells JWT Intelligence, “the next generation of older people will have grown up with digital.”
Our ease and comfort around technology may work to our advantage in the future, particularly when it comes to care. “We did an Ipsos MORI poll and we asked people whether they wanted to be cared for by a robot or a human in old age, and a quarter of people said a robot. That rose to a third amongst younger people,” Myerson says. The reason for this may come down to the fact that a robot will not pass judgement, Myerson suggests. In this view, technology could help solve the problem of feeling burdensome in older age.
Other innovations on display addressed mobility issues. A foldable scooter that doubles as a shopping trolley aims to redefine movement and independence, while increasing intergenerational interaction. The Aura Powered Suit, a lightweight, full-body wearable, works to improve physical abilities and support movement. Walk With Path, an insole and shoe attachment, also functions as a wearable and reduces the risk of falling.
Apart from highlighting innovative design, the exhibition suggests that aging should be an important consideration for brands, pointing out that half the population in Europe will be over 50 by 2020. In many countries, as our Elastic Generation trend report on the UK boomer consumer found, the over-50s also have the most spending power—77% of financial wealth belongs to this age group in Britain.
A piece from advertising agency Karmarama at New Old demonstrates how advertising can help dispel stereotypes and redefine what it means to be old. Responding to a brief to reposition aging as something desirable, the agency created a library filled with books by a fictional author, highlighting the wisdom acquired with age. Titles ranged from Heartbreak Vol I and Vol II to Failing in Style.
Another piece from agency Mother repositioned age as aspirational, likening older people to fine wines and spirits. With valuable bottles numbered from 50 to 90, milestones of aging are celebrated as desirable. As Myerson puts it, the “elixir of youth becomes the elixir of age.”
Previously, JWT Intelligence identified the concept of aging as something enviable and aspirational in our Elastic Generation research, which suggested that this “cult of elasticity” compares with the cult of youth. This generation is not yearning for their younger years; instead, they feel a stronger sense of confidence and freedom to be themselves than ever before.
“Advertising has been guilty of a lot of stereotypes of older people,” says Myerson, “but advertising has the wonderful capacity to reposition aging in a more positive way.” Current approaches are not working: our research for Elastic Generation found that 82% of boomers in the UK don’t recognize themselves in ads.
As the older population continues to grow, the time to reposition aging is now. It’s time to listen to older adults and represent them in truthful and authentic ways.