What the New Old exhibition tells us about engaging an ageing population.

We take a trip to the London Design Museum.

What the New Old exhibition tells us about engaging an ageing population.

According to the Office of National Statistics, over 500,000 people in the UK are 90 or older, with Age UK reporting that half of people over 75 live alone – 36% of which speak to less than one person a day. Our population is the oldest it’s ever been, meaning there are a new series of behaviours, needs and purchase motivations that we need to understand as creative communicators to effectively serve this audience segment. We can look to the design industry for inspiration to help with this understanding.

We are living in the century of the centenarian and the pace of change now guarantees those who are reaching retirement age now will live in a very different world by the time they’re 90. The future of design in the home isn’t going to be full of plaid furniture and lace curtains, instead technology and innovation will be at the forefront, tackling the issue of isolation and improving our quality of life as we get older.

A vast number of people who are retiring now don’t match the stereotype of moving to seaside towns and living the quiet life. These retirees are the rock ‘n’ roll generation. They have grown up with punk, have seen more rapid technological advancements than any generation before them and many have disposable income to spend. Brands can no longer think or talk about the ‘65+ audience’ as a single customer profile. They need to understand the needs and behaviours of different groups in retirement and create communications strategies to fit those requirements accordingly. This is the upcoming generation of 90 year olds and they are going to expect and be open to more.

New Old is an exhibition at the London Design Museum that looks at how designers can explore ways of providing for this upcoming generation, enhancing the experience of our later lives and bring worthwhile technology into the home.

Jeremy Myerson, the exhibition’s curator, says “our way of thinking about the elderly has shifted radically. The change is not just in terms of what’s possible technologically, but how we think about ageing. People are staying active in society and in the workplace for much longer, and it’s about time our products and services caught up. They know about design and they’re demanding more.”

Here we look at three examples of design from the exhibition to see how they are addressing this ‘demand for more’, what they tell us about this audience and what lessons we can learn from them as creative communicators.

ElliQ by Intuition Robotics

Israeli start-up Intuition Robotics has designed ElliQ, the ‘active ageing companion’, in partnership with designer Yves Behár’s Fuseproject group. This digital assistant uses body language replication and natural movements to tackle isolation in old age by alerting the owner when their family have posted on social media, giving medication reminders, suggesting activities to keep them busy, responding to messages and bringing up video calls. It might not seem like a substitute for human interaction, but, as ElliQ bobs its head to and fro, there is an element of warmth to its movements and a reassuring human quality.

We may be dealing with an upcoming generation that is largely tech savvy, but we must remember that technology plays a role in a life otherwise full of people – colleagues, family, friends etc. They value human interaction, face to face conversation and a balance of technology with human sensitivity.

When communicating with this audience, we need to remember that we are communicating with human beings. As great as technology is as the vehicle for the message, as communicators we have to remember that our job, essentially, is to understand people, identify their needs and then talk to them on the right channels, with the right messages and in the right way. As ElliQ highlights, we cannot lose our human touch.

The Aura Powered Suit by Superflex

Yves Behár’s other collaboration at the exhibition was the Aura Powered Suit designed in partnership with robotics company Superflex. This undergarment utilises military technology, designed to help soldiers carry heavy loads, to enhance physical ability for the elderly. Sensors and meters pull cords in the suit’s fabric to give extra support to body movements and muscle power, creating a boost when standing or sitting. The design is about comfort, performance and style, separating itself from ‘a clinical and sickroom aesthetic’, and allows the wearer to move about the home and the outside world freely. The wearer can continue to live actively, engaging physically, socially and emotionally with their surroundings. This is a great example of how technology can solve real life problems and genuinely contribute to an increase in living standards.

This upcoming generation of 90 year olds, more than any before it, will embrace technology and are more likely to look to the most innovative brands to solve the physical problems associated with old age.

A successful communications strategy has to sensitively address a specific lifestyle and emotional need of a target audience. For this upcoming generation of retirees there’s an opportunity to identify the emotional needs that a product can solve and communicate the positive lifestyle changes that investing in this product will bring. Technology will play a growing role, not just in meeting these lifestyle needs, but in communicating how they’re met.

Amazin Apartment by Future Facility

In collaboration with industrial designers Sam Hecht and Kim Colin, Future Facility has created the Amazin Apartment, heightening domestic simplicity by reducing appliances to their most essential interfaces. The apartment imagines that you have surrendered all your data to a technology company – the contents of your fridge, your washing cycles, your heating levels etc. – and in return they maintain your daily life for you by robotically serving your appliances from behind your walls. Your tumble dryer will only have one button. You will never realise anything has broken, because it will already have been fixed. The anxiety about maintenance and how to work anything is removed.

With Google and Facebook already turning their hands to property development, the design represents a tangible scenario – and home-tech is already here. The challenge that brands face with this upcoming generation of retirees is to build trust in the technology through their products. Although many older people are tech literate, there’s still mistrust and uncertainty with few willing to surrender all their lifestyle data to a brand, or indeed their lives over to machines.

This tells us that when it comes to marketing to future 90 year olds, brands need to ensure that their communications strategies are conscious of the shifting value exchange of data, how much consumers trust data in the hands of brands and the evolving balance of the media diet of future retirees. Striking and carefully managing the right balance is a route to building trust and reinforcing credibility.

The New Old exhibition tells us that the 90 year olds of the future are going to turn to technology and innovation to tackle the physical and emotional struggles associated with old age. As creative communicators, like with the products we’ve discussed above, we will need to strike a balance between technology, data and a human touch to effectively and sensitively communicate a brand’s message to this audience. Whereas technology is the future, we must keep the day to day human needs, wants and feelings of the consumer at the centre of our campaigns in order to create a meaningful and effective impact. The key to engaging future 90 year olds through creative communications will be to stay human.

Want to learn more about unlocking the value of homemovers, discuss this exciting new technology and speak to a member of our Propagation Hub? Give us a buzz on 0121 627 5040.

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