Designing for Seniors – The Dirty Little Secret

by Jeff Weiss

One of the questions I am frequently asked is, “What would this product or service look like if I was targeting older consumers?” It seems like a reasonable, insightful question that should have a definitive answer. But on further reflection, it’s a question that gets to the heart of many issues marketers face when thinking about Active Aging consumers.

The simple answer to the question, if it wasn’t obvious, is that successful products targeting older consumers shouldn’t look like they are targeting older consumers. Almost anything that is overtly designed or marketed for a “traditional” old person is destined for failure. It’s the kiss of death as many older consumers would rather forgo convenience and functionality (and even security) for dignity.

Example: Personal Emergency Response SystemsTake traditional Personal Emergency Response Systems as an example. They’ve been around for years and while acceptance rates have been decent, only 25-50% of people who have them actually wear or use them properly. So why is compliance such a big issue? Perhaps it’s the fact that wearing a big, clunky device around your neck just screams “I am old, so ignore me.” Or maybe it’s because the ergonomics and design don’t fit with what the end user is willing to wear. I witnessed this firsthand when my then 88-year-old mother wouldn’t even consider such a device as an option, even after she had fallen and was barely able to get up!

There are several reasons why so many products intended for older consumers aren’t well-designed:

  • The designers (who are often much younger than the target) don’t have a good understanding of the Active Aging consumer — with stereotypes and stigmas shaping their thinking and subsequent design;
  • There is a belief that people lose interest in aesthetics or sense of discovery as they get older — the reality is that beige and bland colors, dumbed-down design or over-sized buttons aren’t big selling features;
  • There are few to no insights captured or user testing conducted with the end user to understand how the products will actually fit with and enhance their lifestyle.

So what is this Dirty Little Secret?

The reality is that older consumers do want products that are easy to use, affordable and compelling. Sound familiar? It’s basically what consumers of all ages want: products and services that meet their needs as consumers, not because of their age.

And if you design a product that is going to meet an Active Ager’s needs, without telling them that it’s for them because they are old, you are most likely going to attract and appeal to younger consumers too who often have similar needs and desires.

Example: FitBitMany smart designers – and we’re seeing positive examples in industries ranging from automotive to furniture – are able to marry design and functionality so intuitively, seamlessly and naturally that the products appeal to both older and younger users because time was taken to get inside how and where they will be used everyday.

If design is done well, addressing age-related issues like mobility, accessibility and comfort will result in products that seem age agnostic but which will win over the older (and high-spending) crowd.

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