[EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out Gary Drevitch’s outstanding blog post at Forbes.com inspired by this post.]
On Monday September 16, ChangingAging is supporting the 3rd annual Seattle Design Festival (#sdf13) where I’ll be moderating a panel discussion “Enlivening Design For Aging” on the role of design in enabling or compromising our ability to thrive across the lifespan.
We’re taking a big picture approach and tackling diverse design issues ranging from technology, products and services to re-imagining environments and communities for aging to re-designing the human lifespan. Our panelists include Carina Ngai of Inflection and formerly Samsung exploring different perspectives on product design; Cara Lauer of Seattle Senior Services on redesigning long lives and the challenge of thriving in the context of physical decline; and the vaunted frog Design team demonstrating new technologies and new ways of thinking about empowering aging-in
I’m excited to moderate the panel and help facilitate a provocative discussion about how design can enable or compromise our ability to thrive no matter our age or physical condition. Influencing and critiquing the design and innovation world is just as important for changing aging as going after mass media and marketing. Both are intertwined and subject to the same corrosive powers of ageism that permeate our society.
In preparation I’ve been thinking about how ageism impacts design and I came across a video in which Craig Ferguson perfectly captures my theory. In short, it’s called Why Everything Sucks:
I have to credit ChangingAging’s lead designer, Jonas LaRance, for flagging this. Jonas is one of the greatest design thinkers I know.
Ferguson deftly and succinctly skewers our culture for its obsession with youth and what I’d call inanity — stupidity in the context of being silly and irrelevant. The way our culture views and treats age is silly and irrelevant. And in turn the way we design, market and sell products and content is silly and irrelevant.
I love that Ferguson tries to put this in historical perspective — and he’s largely correct. I recently spent some time with social historian and researcher Rich Luker who confirms Madison Avenue’s corrosive legacy of ageism AND sexism. Luker traced the roots back a bit further to the aftermath of World War II. Returning soldiers taking advantage of the G.I. Bill and re-entering the market place represented a significant new consumer market. The “boys” on Madison Avenue made it a priority to market products towards the “boys” returning from war and thus was born the coveted 18-34 male demographic.
Here we are, nearly 70 years later and guess what — the “boys” still dominate all industries and for some INANE reason they are still obsessed with selling products to other “boys”. Young men age 18-34 remain the most coveted demographic despite these facts:
- Women beat men age 18-34 in technology adoption and purchasing power
- Woman make up 75 percent of primary shoppers for their households
- Fleishman-Hillard Inc. estimates that women will control two-thirds of the consumer wealth in the U.S. over the next decade
And most irrefutable is the fact that older Americans have vastly more purchasing power than the young:
Older adults are rapidly becoming the largest market segment in society and will possess the most purchasing power of any demographic, according to a task force at the International Longevity Center in New York.
Here is the key point and why this is relevant in a discussion about enlivening design for aging. When the marketplace is obsessed with youth and is heavily biased towards men’s tastes, (nearly) Everything Sucks (to some degree). Popular culture, mass media, products, services, the environments we live in and our quality of life all suffer when ageism and sexism permeate our culture.
That’s my theory on Why Everything Sucks (thank you Craig Ferguson for articulating is so well). What do you think?
Next I want to talk about how to fix it. I’ve spent a lot of time as editor of ChangingAging fielding pitches for new products and services in the aging sector. I’ve developed some theories on why most products “designed for seniors” also suck. It’s closely related to the central theory of Why Everything Sucks in general, but I need to flesh it out some more. Stay tuned.