Interview: The Age of No Retirement

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We need a new narrative around age

Ahead of our upcoming healthcare events, we have been speaking to our guest speaker and co-founder of The Age of No Retirement, George Lee, to find out what the company is striving for and learn more about its mission to create a world where age no longer defines us.

George was voted as one of the world’s 50 Creative Leaders in 2016, by leading design magazine, Creative Review. A background in design, George founded This is Real Art in 2002, followed by Commonland in 2012, a studio dedicated to using design-thinking to tackle big social issues. Here she met Dr Jonathan Collie and the co-journey to tackle ageism began

1. Can you tell us a bit about The Age of No Retirement?Back 2015 I co-founded The Age of No Retirement as a design-led movement to challenge ageism in our society. Our ambition was to create a more inclusive world that worked for everyone, whatever their age. 

Two years on, at a time when the talk of generational divide is louder than ever, our work shines the light on a more hopeful, constructive future. 

Last year we carried out a pioneering study with people aged between 18 and 99 that clearly demonstrated that common assumptions about age are misplaced. Despite common belief, generations have more in common than what sets them apart. 

The results were staggering - 86% of people of all ages want products, services and environments which are delightful, human, sustainable, which make us feel safe, and easy to use, yet only 16% felt that brands were adhering to those principles. 

There were some other things we learnt from the study:  

  • 83% of us across all ages don’t feel that we are like everyone else in our age group.
  • 83% of us want to mix with people of different ages.

As part of our research, we also tested an innovative methodology to break age barriers in design, the 10 Intergenerational Design Principles, developed in collaboration with Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art. These principles exist to inspire and energise designers and business leaders to design for all ages and let go of stereotypes.

2. What’s your main aim?

Our ambition is to see the Intergenerational Design Principles to become the norm when thinking about new products, services, new environments and even new systems. We want design to inspire this process for when we design well, we all become enabled. 

At a time when we are living longer and generational divides are blurring, this is an opportunity for design and innovation to step in. As Patti Moore, one of the greatest voices in inclusive design says, “design can enable us and disable us”.

3.How are you using these Design Principles for client projects?

We are starting to work on a number of exciting projects. As part of our research we tested our design principles across over 30 sectors — ranging from computers, mobile phones, gyms, white goods, the media and many more to see how each sector fared against our principles and across all age groups. The four sectors which fared least well were healthcare and hospitals, accommodation, transport and banking and finance. It made sense for us to start using our principles in these areas as they are the fundamental foundations to our lives — our health, where we live, how we get around and how we can afford to live. 

We are working with companies such as Legal & General and Barclays to look at marketing material and intergenerational teams within organisations. Really we want the principles to be used as a tool for real innovation in all sectors, to ensure companies are reaching the widest audiences possible. 

An intergenerational approach also makes business sense as age-inclusive design can give a competitive advantage. Intergenerational design allows companies to see their existing customers in a new light, helping them expand beyond their primary market into previously untapped areas. By stretching towards these new users, products and services can be improved and then turned into mainstream solutions. 

4. So what implications do these 10 principles have for the healthcare sector?

It’s fair to say that very few healthcare products, services or environments are created with the user in mind. In an industry where products traditionally were designed by doctors and engineers, the focus has mainly been on ‘function’ rather than ‘form’ or for that matter ‘user experience’. This is ironic, particularly given that no other industry understands human nature better than the healthcare industry. 

In order to serve the needs of the users the industry has to embrace a more human, intergenerational approach. Design is all about empathy. This is what leads to creativity, inspiration and breakthrough solutions to problems. 

5.Camira makes fabrics for a range of healthcare environments – hospitals, care homes and specialist care homes, how do you think healthcare design needs to change?

In an industry where much needs fixing, there are examples of companies like Camira, who clearly understand the importance of design in Healthcare. 

The range of Healthcare fabrics are designed with thought and care. Importantly, they address our human aspiration for things that work well and look good – an aspiration that is rarely addressed in healthcare. The fabrics are beautiful and functional and you can see the real benefits to people in healthcare environments, normally fitted out with functional products which only perpetuate the sense of decline and illness. Yet the market for these fabrics is much bigger. 

Because they are designed so well — functionally and aesthetically — they could be used in so many new markets and across so many age groups: nurseries, restaurants, schools.

5.Camira makes fabrics for a range of healthcare environments – hospitals, care homes and specialist care homes, how do you think healthcare design needs to change?

In an industry where much needs fixing, there are examples of companies like Camira, who clearly understand the importance of design in Healthcare. 

The range of Healthcare fabrics are designed with thought and care. Importantly, they address our human aspiration for things that work well and look good – an aspiration that is rarely addressed in healthcare. The fabrics are beautiful and functional and you can see the real benefits to people in healthcare environments, normally fitted out with functional products which only perpetuate the sense of decline and illness. Yet the market for these fabrics is much bigger. 

Because they are designed so well — functionally and aesthetically — they could be used in so many new markets and across so many age groups: nurseries, restaurants, schools.

6.What do you believe to be the most important thing when designing for a healthcare environment? 

The most important focus is the people. You have to put people at the heart of design. It amazes me every day how few organisations do this. It is just so obvious to us so why wouldn’t you? This means the patients, carers, families, doctors, nurses, management. All of them need to be considered as part of an ecosystem of design. So much healthcare design is cold and sterile, designed from the perspective of the medical profession user. 

Designers often forget there are real people who are at the heart of the environment which their products are being used. It isn’t just about the architecture, but also the design of the consultation rooms which need to acknowledge the often painful conversations which happen here. We must think about these such environments more in terms of how can we make people feel more safe and secure, how can we make them feel they are part of the conversation, how can we make them feel more relaxed, more in control. This is just one small example which I have experienced from a personal perspective. 

There is so much that needs to be relooked at, not just the design of the environment, but the medicine bottles, materials and general association with health and sickness. If you design an environment which tells a story of illness and decline then as human beings we will start to feel this narrative, which does nothing to help our wellbeing. We need to see that design has the power to make us to feel more connected, more in control, more human, happier and increase our wellbeing.

7. Do you think Camera's healthcare fabrics are contributing to the movement of removing the age stereotype, specifically as people get older and are moving into care homes?

As soon as I saw Camira's Healthcare fabric range, I got so excited. At long last a range of fabrics which would look as equally good in a top class restaurant as well a care home or hospital. Camira is putting the people at the heart of the design. The fabrics score highly in our Intergenerational Design Principles. Yes, they about convenience, are safe and easy to use but they are also delightful, accorded the humanity of the user and ultimately empower the users. Bravo we say! 

By breaking down the age barriers companies can create products, services and environments that appeal to the widest range of users. It’s time to take that leap.