The world is aging. By 2030, nearly 20 percent of Americans will be over 65. By 2050, about a third of China will be over 60. The same goes for many other developed countries. Yet we don't spend nearly enough time thinking about how to make life easier for the elderly—despite the fact that all of us, if we're lucky, will go through it.
Ideo, the international design powerhouse known for its work on everything from industrial design for Apple to in-car UI for Ford, also devotes a significant chunk of its employees' time to speculative projects like Designs On, a recurring series that takes on a different topic every issue—with design concepts ranging from product design to infrastructure.
The most recent topic? Aging. Below, check out seven concepts dreamt up by dozens of designers in cities all over the world—you'll be surprised how universal they end up being.
The Grey Mirror
According to José Colucci, scientists have found that young people are more likely to plan and save for retirement when they're confronted with faux-aged photos of themselves:
It is difficult to convince young people to take actions now that will benefit them in the future — even when they understand the benefit at an intellectual level. This gap between belief and action is a risk to their financial well-being and health in later years.
The Gray Mirror is a tool that can be used to encourage young people to empathize with their future selves and to perceive elders in a different light. The screen shows positive messages associated with aging and can be customized for the service being offered.
Within the next 35 years, a third of China's population will be over 60, according to designers Hei Cheng, Nancy Xu, Gregory A. Perez and Bosung Kim. "What kinds of stories and memories live in those years that we could learn from?," the group asks. "How much of that experience has already been forgotten?" Enter the Storybox:
The Storybox bridges the gap between physical personal objects from the past and virtual memories for the future. A wooden box contains a curated set of small tokens of your life that can be passed on to family members. Inside, a small digital touchscreen provides a way for family members to scan, share and view photos or films from your life. Record your thoughts, stories and conversations straight into the box. An accompanying digital portal lets family members see and experience the uploaded items from anywhere. The Storybox captures a snapshot of China's history that could otherwise go undocumented and gives families a way to share and celebrate their elders.
Part walker, part tricycle, completely goofy but also brilliant. Trikka, by Martin Meier, Franziska Mayer, David Mallard, Joel Derksen and Karl Jönsson, is a Bakefiets-style walker for the aging cyclist:
Trikka helps keep walking and cycling a part of your independent, everyday life. To minimize daily hurdles, Trikka has big wheels and can easily switch between walking and cycling modes. Don't be surprised if a few youngsters ask for a ride on your handlebars.
What if a little elder care could be tacked onto existing infrastructures? Accroding to Dave Russell and James Moed, they can: Their proposal is to provide the elderly with an opt-in service of qualified caregivers who pop in for a chat or a check-in while delivering a package:
Today home delivery is available for almost everything, but with speed the top priority, most couriers are paid to drop and go. There's no time to help you with fiddly packaging, much less chat, or share a cup of tea.
Overdelivery provides customers a few minutes of care and conversation, paid for through a mix of recipients, senders, and even local governments. Background-checked and working on behalf of multiple delivery services, our Overdeliverers are friendly and familiar, offering help with simple tasks like unpacking heavy boxes or figuring out how that new toaster works.
The Pill Necklace ensures that the daily medication regime is always with you and easily accessible. A simple divider separates the pills into morning, lunch, dinner, and night. Wearing the pills around the neck keeps family and friends in the loop, allowing them to remind their loved one, if necessary.
Instagran connects the people over-sharing about their life through Instagram with the people most interested in seeing the output – grandparents! This simple tool pushes a photo feed to the Instagran channel on an older relative's TV. Now, photos can loop in the living rooms of the offline generation eager to see what their favorite relatives and friends are up to.
Pit Stop Posts
What about the elderly living in cities? IDEO Singapore has a simple upgrade to street furniture that would make all the difference:
Pit Stop Posts is a line of street furniture designed to help seniors and those who are slower in pace find a place to rest in busy urban areas. Resting posts that appear as walking sticks allow seniors a moment's pause or a place to hang shopping bags while they stand at traffic lights and navigate public transportation systems.
Most single family homes, inevitably, become too big as the years go by. At IDEO Singapore, a team proposed adapting Airbnb's business model to late-in-life homeowners:
Care BnB is an architecture, build, and management service that converts your home into separate apartments so you can age in the place you love. Live in one (go ahead, pick the best for yourself!), while leasing the other to a nurse or eldercare specialist, or simply to someone happy to check in on you from time to time. Care BnB manages everything from renovations to contracts, so you can trade stress for a friendly neighbor and peace-of-mind.