Inclusive design – luxury or “must have”?

Philippa Aldrich is the founder of The Future Perfect Company, which promotes and sells good design for an ageing population. Philippa will be speaking about inclusive design at our Agenda for Later Life 2012 conference.

In these cash-straightened times it is easy to dismiss inclusive design as a luxury. If we are finding it difficult to find the money for the most basic of care for our older people, why are we wasting money on re-designing the products we already have? However, inclusive design may actually hold the key to reducing future care costs as well as improving the quality of all our lives as we get older.

At its most simplest, inclusive or universal design means designing for as many people as possible, taking into account the diversity of their abilities.  As many designers have up till now been focussing on younger consumers, the idea of inclusive design is today being used increasingly as a way of encouraging designers to think about the older people who are making up a bigger and bigger proportion of our population.

Not only is there an increasing demand for inclusively designed products, many older people for the first time have the money to buy them. Age UK have predicted that the spending power of people over the age of 65 in the UK is over £100 billion.

But why would people choose inclusively designed products over their mainstream equivalents?

Older people, like any other sector of the population, like products to be attractive and stylish – something that unfortunately cannot be said of many products specifically designed for their use.  And many of the designers working in this area have taken this on board. But more than mere aesthetics, an inclusively designed product can lead to increased and prolonged independence. – something which most people profess to want.  These products can either be small scale such as a teapot with a second handle for easy pouring or large scale such as automatic doors which are easy to open for someone with limited mobility.

There is also something very satisfying and empowering about using a product which is properly designed and does its job well. How much more likely are we to cook or garden if we have the right tools for the job which we enjoy using and which do not strain our wrists?

The best thing about inclusive design is that if you design with the old in mind, the resulting product is easy to use for everyone. It is not only older people who would appreciate another teapot handle,  easy to open doors or well designed garden tools. Think how popular the so-called “pensioner trolleys” in supermarkets have become.

So far from being frivolous, I think inclusive design is becoming increasingly important to the quality of our lives – and is an area which deserves investment in this era of cuts.

We will be holding a ‘twitter conversation’ about inclusive design at 11am on Monday 13 February 2012. If you are interested in design for an ageing population please join us by using the hashtag #ageukdebate

Find out more about Agenda for Later Life 2012

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