Product design and the ageing population

Usability | April 2018

cool granny gives sign of the horns What does the demographic shift mean for your business?

The ageing population across the Western world is bringing significant changes in shopping behaviour, product demand and preferences. Far from being a threat, the shift gives businesses an opportunity for new competitive edge. The role of UX in product design is key, informing improvements for staff, customers and commercial performance.

The UK population is projected to increase by 3.6 million (5.5%) over the next 10 years, from an estimated 65.6 million in mid-2016, to 69.2 million in mid-2026.
Similar population growth is forecast throughout the Western world.

In previous articles we’ve considered related issues including the impact of having five generations in the workplace, and the business case for digital and physical accessibility in retail. This time around we’re focusing on the business case for user centred design (UCD) for an older demographic.

The power of the Grey Pound

Not only is the UK over 50s population significantly larger than 16-24 year olds, but this older group also holds over three-quarters of the nation’s financial wealth.

These so called ‘Grey Pound’ shoppers account for:

  • 47% of the UK’s consumer spending (roughly £320 billion per year)
  • The majority of spending on travel and tourism (£37 billion per year)
  • £861 billion in pensioner property wealth
  • 37% higher spend on hospitality and leisure (pensioners versus 18-64 year olds)
  • Are the most frequent visitors to museums, galleries and theatres
  • Spend a predicted £54.6 billion on food and non-alcoholic drinks by 2018 (Centre for Economics and Business Research).

Driving growth

Over the next six years, Conlumino (now part of Global Data) anticipates that the over 55s will contribute almost two-thirds of retail spending growth. Older people are becoming increasingly tech-savvy and active online, with 86% of over-55s regularly buying online.

Organisations need to rapidly adapt to changes in shopping behaviour, product demand and preferences. If they continue to design for and market products to younger demographics, or maintain antiquated stereotypes of older people as being non-tech-savvy, they run the risk of designing out and/or alienating those older users – and their increasingly significant spending power.

Using UX in product design to create products and services that meet the needs of the older population, offers obvious rewards. But it’s not just about encouraging spending by older people with higher disposable income – innovative, user-friendly products will offer benefits to younger generations, too.

UCD: the case for targeting the older population

Several businesses have already recognised the huge potential of applying UX in product design for an ageing population. They have employed universal design and/or inclusive design strategies to identify and implement unique selling points (USP) that appeal to the old and young alike.

Universal design

Universal design refers to designing mainstream products to meet the needs of as many people as technically possible. The concept originated from the design of the built environment and websites, but has also been widely adopted by product designers.

Indeed, OXO founded its globally-successful business on this ergonomic design philosophy. OXO’s Good Grips brand focuses on designing kitchen tools that are comfortable and easy to use for everyone. The brand’s achievements have set a new industry standard, and mark it out as a transgenerational market leader; everyone can use its products with ease and enjoyment.

Inclusive design

Inclusive design refers to extending the reach of mainstream products by designing for a particular target market. Product designers are the pioneers of this important design principal.

For example, the huge success of the Ford Focus was largely down to Ford focusing on the needs of older people. It boosted headroom, increased the front door size, raised the front seats, and enlarged and clearly differentiated the dashboard controls. Harnessing UX in product design made it easier to get in and out of the car, and made the controls easier to locate, grip and operate.

These design features were extremely beneficial to everyone; not only the older generation, but particularly those getting small children in and out of the car, as well as people operating the controls while wearing leather gloves in cold conditions. This inclusivity has seen the Focus regularly feature as the UK’s top-selling car, with competitors adopting similar tactics in order to vie for top spot.

Accessible design

Accessible design refers to designing specifically for the needs of people with disabilities to ensure that products, services and facilities can be used independently by people with a variety of disabilities. Designing for older people often helps to improve the accessibility of products, because older people often have one of more age-related physical or cognitive impairment, such as reduced mobility, dexterity, eyesight, hearing, cognition, attention or memory.

Accessible design also has benefits for the wider population. For example, increasing the font size and contrast of text, and using clearer language to suit older people, is good for all customers. Similarly, marketing features of products in a new way that’s relevant to older people can unlock new revenue streams. For example, our recent research with stroke survivors revealed the accessibility value and social connectedness that the Internet of Things provides people with dexterity issues.

UCD: a smart business strategy for all

These design strategies all rely on a user centred design (UCD) approach – a principle that’s central to our work here at System Concepts. Employing user experience techniques to observe and listen to how older people interact with the world, understand the challenges/barriers they face, and identify their requirements and desires:

  • Creates opportunities for meaningful improvement.
  • Promotes innovation and thoughtful design.
  • Improves design from the outset.
  • Focuses the development process.

Conducting usability and accessibility research in this way has benefits for everyone.

In essence, designing primarily for, or making product or service adaptations to meet the needs, of older people (including those with age-related physical and cognitive degeneration) has benefits for a wide audience, and can hugely impact a business’ return on investment.

End-product value for all Value for older generation Business
  • Ergonomic
  • User-friendly
  • Accessible
  • Inclusive
  • Intuitive
  • Simple
  • Efficient
  • Practical
  • Reliable
  • Transgenerational
  • Comfortable
  • Independence
  • Improved quality of life
  • Enjoyable
  • Happiness
  • Confidence
  • Empowered
  • Higher revenues through increased sales, fewer returns and more repeat business through customer loyalty.
  • Increased business growth through innovative USPs and popularity amongst under-served markets.
  • Reduced development and support costs in the long-term.

Why we’re in a unique position to help

Our three core business strands mean System Concepts is uniquely positioned to help your business utilise UX in product design. Our consultants provide powerful insights consider how you can tap into this important, yet frequently overlooked population demographic.

  • Our user experience team can support you in applying UX in product design: understand changes in the context of use and the needs, desires and preferences of your changing target users.
  • Our ergonomics team can evaluate the physical changes in the population and help you to understand the impact that these changes may have on your physical products, environments and services.
  • Our health and safety team can help you to assess how well your built environments and work environments meet the needs of older users employees, then help you to improve these.

Speech bubbleMake improvements for your staff, customers and profit margins

Contact our team for expert insights on UX and the ageing population

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