As our population is ageing, designers have an increasingly important role to play in innovating new domestic products to promote independence, age in place and healthier lifestyles for this ageing demographic. Traditionally product designers create predominantly for younger demographics, resulting in product offerings that largely neglect or fail to meet complex needs of older adults both in general functioning and in health and wellbeing. This will have to change as our population grows older, basic user needs evolve and change as we age so put simply; so too should our products.
The most fundamental domestic products to health, wellbeing and in the promotion of ageing in place are cooking and heating products. These products play a crucial role in the prevention of chronic diseases through the provision of food and warm domestic environments. The requirement for these products to address Irish older persons needs are increasing with recent research showing that as an nation we are living for longer in ill health (McGill, 2010)
To understand how and why older adults utilise these products in context, P.J. White a researcher in the Department of Design and Innovation at NUI Maynooth has conducted yearlong ethnographic research within the homes of Irish older adults. From this research seven representative personae were developed and lead to the creation of a framework for ideation of product solutions.
Insights from this study were deep and broad ranging, showing the importance and revealing the extent to which older adults utilize these products. Insights from cooking specific needs included the struggles of older men learning to cook for the first time (after their spouse passed away) and the social exclusion and risks of malnutrition/obesity because of this.
Observation into inadequate heating products showed an increase in social and economical issues such as fuel poverty and “spatial shrink” (McAvoy, 2007). There was also interesting links in the use of heating products to alleviate pain associated with arthritis and poor circulation and the use of cooking and heating products as emotional reminiscent focal points within the home. Other important factors drawn from the research specific to older people included safety, cost ergonomic and usability features.
This research has determined appropriate design criteria and features for cooking and heating products for older adults. This information will be used in design conceptualisation and will progress to physical prototypes that will be user tested and validated in the field.
The long term goals from this research are to build a much needed older adult design research presence in Ireland. This research is hoped to attract funding for other design and business researchers and to ultimately grow a design of older person’s centre of excellence in NUI Maynooth.