Transgenerational design is a manufacturing concept for products that are useful for people of all ages and the design also ensures that older individuals will be able to use a product even as they age and their circumstances change.
Some years ago when my husband’s mother was recovering from a stroke, she made it clear to everyone that she wanted to return to her home. My husband and I were newcomers to the aging parent support scene, so when the social worker and physicians at the hospital suggested that we give Mother a personal safety device that she could wear around her neck, we readily agreed.
When my mother-in-law recovered enough to go home, we signed a contract with a company that worked with the local hospital, and we showed her how to wear the device. She accepted it and seemed to wear it most of the time, but sometimes we noticed that she was not wearing it, especially when we dropped in unexpectedly. Over the next few months, Mother wore it less and less, commenting that she did not need it, but when we sat down to have a conversation about it, she pointed out that it was ugly. “Why can’t it look like a piece of jewelry,” she wondered. “Then I’d be happy to wear it all the time.”
I’ve thought a lot about this over the past several years, but it wasn’t until I read the article about transgenerational design, that I totally understood what my husband’s mother was really saying. She did not mind the device. She did mind that the device was ugly, and people who saw it quickly inferred that she was old and somewhat helpless. The device was designed to label Mother — ageism at its worst — and she did not like it!
When the OXO company first came out with their chunky-handled, “Good Grip” kitchen utensils, I was immediately amazed at the comfort they offered me, and I was nowhere near retirement. At my house we quickly replaced all of our older potato peelers with their newer, easy-to-use models, and over time we replaced just about everything with a thin handle. Initially these products were designed because the company’s founder had noticed how difficult it was for older adults to use poorly designed handles, The products were transgenerational because people of all ages liked the products better and bought them, though some of the features accommodated the needs of aging adults. Now wide chunky handles have gradually become standard.
Another example of transgenerational design is the the way car manufacturers are adding safety features that are useful for everyone, but crucial for older drivers. These features include cameras — some can identify images 360 degrees around the car — and always useful when parking. Newer cars also have audio signals to indicate when cars are in a driver’s blindspot or when someone or something is behind the vehicle. Nissan is leading the way with camera technology in it’s Rogue model.
My mother-in-law was spot on. A personal safety device designed to look like a piece of jewelry would have made all the difference in the world. In the next decade, companies that figure out how to develop products with transgenerational design and function will have a head start when it comes to business success and with aging customers..