Guest Blog: Aspirational products for older people: What are we waiting for?

The guest blog is written by Anna McConnell, a Product and Service Research Associate with Engage Business Network, Age UK. She is working on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership between Brunel University and Age UK.

Assistive living products are devices or systems that allow a person to perform a task that they would otherwise be unable to do, or increase the ease and safety with which the task can be performed.

Recent focus groups conducted by Coventry University, Age UK and Grandparents Plus as part of CoModal: Consumer Models of Assisted Living, a research project that explores the development of a consumer market for assisted living technologies suggests that many users, carers and prospective users believe that these products are often unattractive, stigmatising and expensive: ‘Some people find them embarrassing… my sister has one [raised toilet seat], because she’s got arthritis, but if she’s got visitors she takes it off.’ ‘Absolutely disgusting.’

The focus groups suggested that there was an overall perception that assistive living products were too expensive. Some participants felt that these products reminded them of the things they could not do whilst others felt that designers were not in touch with the real users of these products; ‘Sometimes the people that design the equipment don’t experience the use of it.’

Until recently, assistive living products have been predominantly supplied by local authorities and care providers, but government cuts are forcing a change to users buying products themselves. This shift introduces the element of customer choice – which is likely to make customers more demanding and discerning and will hopefully force providers and designers to step up their game!

Products are starting to emerge that demonstrate both greater user understanding and a modern and desirable aesthetic, but they don’t come cheap – and therefore remain out of reach of many who need them. But perhaps like other advances, this is the first step towards change; innovation with a big price tag, followed by a trickle of more affordable options? Building on a previous blog by Matthew Norton of Age UK (Technology in the Care of Older People), I believe that if these products are to become more widely accepted amongst older people, designers will need to gain a greater understanding of not only the impairment but also the lifestyles, aspirations and desires of those they are designing for.

The Engage Business Network, as part of the CoModal project, will be running an interactive event in September looking at Inclusive Design, the ways that designers interpret the client brief, and how products can excite and delight users of all ages and abilities.

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