So what do you call older people?

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NPR reporter on aging, Ina Jaffe, recently discussed a poll that asked – what to call the people that she covers in her articles. In summary, there was more enthusiasm for terms that were despised than enthusiasm for any term that people really liked.

The experience of aging has certainly changed, but our vocabulary to reflect that change has fallen short. Life expectancy is increasing along with the quality of life, and retirement is getting pushed to the horizon as “…nearly three quarters of baby boomers plan to continue working during their so-called retirement years.”

Perhaps we should ask the opinion of J.K Rowling, author of the popular Harry Potter series, who might modify her description of Lord Voldemort and offer us the term ” The-Experience-That-Can’t-Be-Named.” The vocabulary may not be available to describe the experience of later life but the opportunities to personalize and redefine it are available and growing. Let’s not stop the transformation and wait.  Keep transforming.


Older Adult – Acceptable with no enthusiasm

Elder – Most respectful

Senior – Fine

Geezer, old-timer, elderly – Obviously despised



Senior citizen – Forget that!

Positive Aging/Successful Aging – Thumbs down

Retirement – On its way out

Your Product Personified

I met Antonella, Ashley and Natasha via a New York Times article, Before Creating the Car, Ford Designs the Driver, by Phil Patton. “Antonella is an attractive 28-year old woman who lives in Rome. Her life is focused on friends and fun, clubbing and parties. Natasha is a “a tech-savvy “social achiever”” and Ashley  is “a cool mom.”

These people don’t actually exist. They are imaginary characters created by Ford Motor Company to capture the personality of intended customers of specific car models. These colorful avatars bring to life piles of statistical research and demographic data to create a shared image for everyone working to create the next hit for Ford. I find this approach is very valuable in articulating and relating to the nuanced, multifaceted demographic data of the over 40 consumer.

Age Well Character

I was inspired to define an ideal composite character for GoodDesignAgeWell.  I chose Ashley as the core character because she is described, according to Ford’s internal research documents, as a mom “who, like the vehicle, represents an update of traditional family priorities. She shops at T. J. Maxx, H&M and Target  and“friends are part of her family.””  The concept van also fits the vision of a family vehicle that is designed well and integrates lo-tech and hi-tech concepts that make daily life better;  built-in hand sanitizer and sunscreen dispensers, storage hooks to transport scooters and strollers, large underfloor storage, constant Web access, and an RFID electronic tagging system to track, via the onboard computer, important items you don’t want to forget or lose.

In addition to Ashely,  I see GoodDesignAgeWell is more than a single character, it is a family of personalities.  Building upon the Ford research I believe Ashley’s family shares similar values and attributes across multiple generations and most notably, family members are also friends.

multigenerational family

I also put greater importance on the role Ashley plays as the family medical manager and wellness coach.  Her focus on safety and wellness is illustrated well with the photo of the concept van with Harry Allen’s International Design Magazine (I.D.) 2009 packaging award winning first aid kit for Johnson & Johnson. Available at for $18.49

Ford First Aid Kit

Other Key Points on the Value of a Persona:

•    Personalizes the ideal buyer
•    Articulates common values and attitudes across boundaries of nation and language
•    Equally effective for concepts and for products in production
•    Importance of pleasure and preference in buying choices vs. older, rational models of buyer behavior based simply on price or other hard factors.
•    Design is critical
•    “We now focus quite a bit on aspirations and dreams.”


43 Year Old Moves Into A Retirement Community

We frequently use the IDEO Method Cards to inspire our curiosity and to refresh our insights in order to bring readers innovative ideas to thrive at home, connect to community and fortify personal independence.


We discovered an excellent example of two user-insight methods put into practice, Try It Yourself and Rapid Ethnography, by Steve Gurney, who at the age of 43 moved into a senior living community to experience the transition into, and the daily life in a retirement community. Even though we would expect, as the publisher of the Sourcebook, a guide to help seniors and their families make important housing decisions, he would have enough insight already. But in order to gain first hand experience, and to better inform his work with families he immersed himself in the experience of the products and services of a retirement community.


Steve Gurney documented his experience at his blog, Everyone is Aging, which also includes video diary entries.

What would it look like if we spent more time using the products or services we are designing, selling, and marketing.  This is an especially important question if you would not normally use that product or service? How can you develop a deep firsthand understanding of the people you serve?

Let us know what methods you used, what outcomes or insights you gained and how it innovated the way you do business.

User-Insights on Hi-Tech and an Ageing European Population

We like this video because it contains the reactions of older adults to technology prototypes for cognitive exercise, social connection and home monitoring.


From our POV there isn’t enough user-insight research available today to understand the perceptions and attitudes of this group toward technologies specifically designed for them.  It is also interesting to note that many of the features of the prototypes are available today in market ready products.  Some examples included; Dakim for cognitive fitness, Kinnexxus for social connectivity and GrandCare for home/health monitoring, cognition and communication.

The user-insights reveal positive attitudes toward technology balanced with realistic expectations on how technology can play a role in daily life, while not being a cure all. This begs the question of why is there a low adoption rate for age aware focused technology solutions and what can be learned from the user-insights?

User-Insight Quotes


“I like it. It keeps my brain working. It opens my brain up. And even though I am quite old I can learn new things.”

“Many people live alone and technology can help.”

“New technologies can be useful. They can help me to fill some gaps. Things that I cannot do by myself, for instance when I cannot move from home, or they can let me know if I have forgotten something.”

“I have just started using these new technologies…these prototypes have been my very first experience using hi-tech. It’s fun but I usually need the help of my grandchild.“

“How many people live alone at home?  Many. We are many.  And we spend lots of hours alone, isolated, without being contacted by anybody.”