Drie lezingen over het ontwerpen voor ouderen; 'Age Design'.

Thema: De vertaalslag
Spreker: James J. Pirkl

Good evening, my name is Jim Pirkl, professor emeritus of industrial design at Syracuse University. I've been asked to speak to you about ''transgenerational design' , a term that I coined almost a decade ago. I have more material than my allotted time so, with your permission, I'll present an overview of the topic illustrated with a number of overhead slides.

As you know , a phenomenal growth of the older segment of the population is occurring worldwide - and this growth is taking place very rapidly. By the year 2000, the world population of those 65 and over will reach over 419 million people - a number larger than today's combined populations of Brazil, France, Japan and Germany.

I want to suggest a new way of looking at who is young and who is old. Ken Dykewald, a leading gerontologist in the United States, suggests that ages 40 to 60 should be labelled middle age, 60 to 80 late adult, and over 80 old age. And he is not wrong. Today's energetic life styles are changing our views of aging. We must view older people than did our past generations. The old way perceived our life span as a linear sequence of activities: we go to school, graduate, get a job, work until we reach 65,└ retire and enjoy leisure for the remainder of life. The new way sees our life span as a cyclical series of activities: education, work, leisure, education, work, leisure, etc. extending throughout our lives. Unlike past generations, today's older people are better educated and, because of increased life expectancy, can participate in a lifetime of learning, work and leisure that will be much different and more rewarding than that which their parents experienced.

Designers must understand that aging does not automatically begin at age 65; it begins with birth and ends with death. Moreover, aging is indiscriminate, irreversible, and inevitable. It will happen to each of us, but at different ages and with different results. We each age at our own rate. For example, some of you at 35 may have an old heart, a young muscular system, and suffer from arthritis. On the other hand, someone age 70 may have a young heart, weak muscles, and no arthritis.

Most young people look at the aging processes according to this particular model: we are born, grow physically and intellectually untill we are about 25 years old (at the prime of our life), and then its down hill after untill we finally die (PIC: Diagram 1 'Two-phase life span model' )

Older people, however, tend to view the life span differently. They believe that after birth we keep improving our physical and mental capabilities until we reach 65 (the magic year we become old). Then our systems atrophy, our health declines rapidly, and we die. This is an equally erroneous view of the life span (PIC: Diagram 2 'Popular conceptions of life span').

A more accurate way of visualizing our journey through life is illustrated by the following model. After birth, we experience a period of rapid functional improvement and growth. This is the period of our formal educations lasting well intor our earluy adult years. Then follows a constant, nearly level period throughout which our capabilities gradually decrease - but only at a rate of about one percent per year. Only then do we reach phase 3, the period of functional decline. This means that in any one de└cade we lose only 10 percent of the capabilities we had in the previous decade. Thus, in reality, we retain most of our capabilties for most of our adult life (PIC: Diagram 3: 'Model of four-phase life span').

When designing for older people, many designers direct their focus on phase 3, the period of functional decline (PIC: Diagram 4 'Design support over the life span'). And over the years they have created a wide variety of important 'assistive devices' aimed at the relatively small population of frail elderly nearing the end of their lives. Few designers, however, seem to recognize that (1) aging is really a life-long process and (2) that most older people are not frail, severely disabled, or in need of suc└h specialized (and stigmatized) devices as walkers, reachers, grabbers, twisters, turners, etc. Today, what we need are new transgenerational designs - products and environments that extend the critical support point further into the future, thereby lengthening the period of independence of people of all ages and abilities, without penalty to any group.

Designers throughout the world have also focused their efforts on designs for people who are severely disabled. In the United States, two million people use wheelchairs, and virtually every design school assigns a project for the redesign of the wheelchair. Now, I am not suggesting that it is wrong to design for people who are severely disabled. What I am suggesting is that to link the population of severely disabled people with the population of older people is wrong. We must make a clear distinction betw└een designing for the severely disabled and designing for an aging population. My message, therefore, is: we should design for an aging rather than an aged population. And there is a big difference between these two concepts.

Consider these statistics. While two million people in the United States require wheelchairs, four times as may people are sight-impaired, and ten times as many people have hearing impairments. Moreover, 40 million people in the United States suffer from arthritis - a disease that becomes prevalent at only age 45. I suggest that we expand our compassion beyond those with severe disabilities and accommodate the changing needs of people of all ages and abilities. If we, as designers, do not consider the prod└uct and environmental needs of a broader range of sensory and physical impairments, we are doing a great disservice to massive numbers of the consuming public.

Only 3 percent of people under 65 in the U nited States need any kind of assistance with their activities of daily living. And of those between 65 and 75 only one in five need assistance. Even within the over 85 group, less than half require assistance - someone to come to their house to help with cooking, washing, cleaning, etc. But what all of them need, however, are products that are sympathetic to their gradual declines in vision, hearing, and movement capabilities. Designers can contribute a lot to ma└ke more people independent and reduce the frustrations that so many of us - of all ages and abilities - experience with products we use.

Many people, including designers, believe the myth of senility, which suggests that all older people are either disabled, decrepit, senile, or tucked away in nursing homes. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my country, only one percent of all people aged 65 to 70 are in nursing homes. And even within the 85 year old group the number is less than 25 percent. This means that, in their struggle to remain independent, most older people use the same kinds of products and live in the same kind of house└s and apartments as the rest of us. They look to the availability of sympathetic products to make their lives much less complicated and frustrating than many of the products currently available to them now.

It is significant to note that there are 106 female babies born for every 100 male babies. The males are the weaker sex, the female much stronger. Als luck would have it, by the time we reach age 25 to 30, there is one female for every male. God created a wonderful arrangement. From that point on, however, because males are weaker, they start dying sooner. And at age 85 and over, there are two females for every one male (PIC: 5 'Sex ratio over the live span'). Now, this has several ramifications. First, it└'s a wonderful arrangement for females because they are destined to lead longer lives. But it's also a wonderful arrangement for the few surviving males - they can each expect to have two females fighting over them. The serious message is, of course, that when you design for older people you are really designing for a population of older females.

We live in all kinds of environments (PIC: Diagram 6 'continuum of environmental support'). If we look at this chart, we see that these range from low-level support environments to high-level support environments. The independent living environments listed at the bottom of the chart provide low-level support; they are designed for independent users without sensory or physical impairments. The dependent living environments listed at the top of the chart provide high-level support; they are designed for user└s who must depend on their environment to support their declining sensory or physical capabilities.

A distinction can also be made between products with low-level support (at the botttom of the chart) called private products, and products with high-level support (at the top of the chart) called public products. In order for us to gain or maintain our competence and independence, our product environment must balance our need for support. Either we must adapt to our environment or our environment must adapt to us.

Private products, (e.g. our residence, auto, furniture, appliances, utensil, etc.) allow each of us to control the level of support we receive. Sensitive choices make private environments safe, comfortable, convenient, and supporting. Insensitive choices make our private environments dangerous, frustrating, hostile or demeaning. Establishing this balance, however, remains our individual responsibility.

Public products are those we share for use in common with others (e.g. taxi cabs, trains, telephone booths, drinking fountains, etc.) Such products are the results of collective decisions by others who plan, finance, design, specify, produce and promote them, and with which we interact daily. Consequently, we must rely on the integrity and sensitivity of these providers to support the functional limitations we acquire as we age. This quite clearly implies that all designers share a large part of the respon└sibility for reversing today's insensitive environmental conditions, and that transgenerational design is a viable means for achieving this goal.

Many who design for older people focus their attention on the frail elderly or severely disabled people confined to their home or to hospitals or nursing homes. Unfortunately, designing for disability has been linked with designing for the aged. But, just because more older people have more disabilities does not necessarily mean that all old people are disabled. It's time to seperate these two concepts. What I am suggesting is that we should design from a transgenerational perspective; creating products a└nd environments that accommodate the changing needs of all of us - regardless of age ability. To repeat, we should design for aging rather than design for the aged.There is a vast difference.

Designers generally accept three professional responsabilities;: an aesthetic responsability, a technic responsablity and a humanic responsability. In recent years, however, our humanic responsibility has expanded the concept of ergonomics to include aging as a human factor. I don't know whether the term 'universal design' has come into the Netherlands yet, but in my country universal design has become a generic umbrella term used to describe three ways to design for people who are functionally impaired └or disabled: accessible design, adaptive design, and transgenerational design. I'd like to describe the distinctions of each.

First, what is accessible design? This movement seeks to make products and environments accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities (e.g. providing access to places of private and public accommodation, commercial facilities, and transportation systems through the installation of ramps, curb cuts, grab bars, Braille signs, etc.) Also referred to as barrier free design, is normally associated with architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design. It was the root cause of the Americans with└ Disabilities Act, the civil rights legislation prohibiting the barring of disabled people from entering any public facility.

Adaptive design are what, in the past, most designers created when designing for older people. They modified or adapted products or environments to the special needs of people with disabilities (e.g. slip-on grips for eating utensils and writing instruments, jar and bottle openers, raised toilet seats, add-on handles and grab bars, Braille labels, etc.). Such products and devices underscore the failure of the original designs they strive to correct. If the original product had been designed properly, t└he new adaptive device would be unnecessary.

Finally, what is needed is transgenerational approach to design - the creation of designs that (1) bridge the physical and sensory changes associated with human aging; (2) respond to the widest range of ages and abilities, without penalty to any group; and (3) preserve the individual's sense of dignity and self worth. It's design that sympathizes rather than stigmatizes.

These are the design challenges as I see them:
(PIC: Schema 7 'the design challenges')
And what can you do?
(PIC: Schema 8 'what can you do?')
At this point I'd like to offer a set of design guidelines that provide additional details about design for aging and the associated declines in vision, hearing, tactile sensations, movement and manual dexterity.

Generic Design Guidelines
1 Provide cross-sensory redundant cuing for all alarms, signals and controls (combine an audio signal with a visual indicator). Design controls you can feel and that combine as many different types of cross-sensory communication as you can.

2 Offer redundant modes of operation utilizing the next larger set of motor movements (finger to hand, hand to arm, arm to foot). Design a door lever, for example, to turn with one's arm if it can't be turned using the hand. And if one's arm can't open it, design it so one can use one's hip. Offer different ways to accomplish the same task using increasingly larger motor movements.

3 Establish consistant display/motion relationships (left to right and forward/up to increase, backward/down to decrease). It is frustrating (and dangerous) to use a product in which similar controls operate differently.

4 Provide definitive feedback cues (control positions should 'snap' into position). When computers were first introduced, some keyboards did not have what we call 'feed-back'. When pressing a key, one could not feet whether or not the key was activated. Looking up at the screen, one often found a long line or eeees on the screen because the finger was held to long on the key. Provide a feedback so people will know when an action has taken place.

5 Reduce the complexity of all operations (minimize the number of tasks). Please! Make things less complicated. Many technologists seem to design every product containing the next higher level of technology even though the product's function does'nt require it, and it complicates the life of the user. Must every product be electronic? Maybe some manual operations are really better than many of the electronic ones now offered.

6 Place critical and frequently used controls within easiest reach (cluster controls on the basis of priority). Auto companies are beginning to accomodate this need in their instrument panels designs.

7 Prevent accidental actuation of critical controls (relocate, recess, or provide a guard). Think safety all times.

8 Provide adjustable product/user interfaces (horizontal/incline, vertical/incline, raise/lower, push/pull). We all come in different sizes, shapes and weights. Make the product adjust to us rather than forcing us to adjust our bodies to the product.

9 Design for use by a variety of populations (male/female, young/old, strong/weak, large/ small). Even pregnant women may use many products we design, male designers, recognize that fact!

10 Design to facilitate physical and cognitive function ( encourage user to practise and iimprove by making operations easy and enjoyable ). How many of you have ever read Dantes Inferno? For years I have thought that Dante should have established a 'designer's ring' in his Hell. If any designer's product raised a blister, caused a bruise, ripped a stocking, or produced any of the thousand things that frustrate us with the products we use, that designer would be assigned to the designer's ring in He└ll and forced to use that product for all eternity. A fitting punishment!

11 Design beyond basic physical and functional need (enhance the user's independence, self-respect, and quality of life). As I've said earlier, create designs that sympathize rather than stigmatize.

12 Strive to make task movements simple and understandable (clockwise for 'on' or 'increase', counterclockwise for off' or 'decrease'). Why can't all products be so understandable that instruction manuals are not necessary? And even if required, let's also make them readable and understandable.

Using these pointers and principles to design products, graphics, or environments can help you bridge the gap between the able and the disabled, between the young and the old. Accomodating the needs of all - regardless of age or ability - should become a priority for alle designers, manufacturers, and health care providers. In the end, however, the validity of a transgenerational design strategy will be proved, not by proclamation, but by the swelling ranks or aging consumers voting with their purchases in└ tomorrow's cut-throat international marketing arena.

Thank you very much.

copyright James Joseph Pirkl 1995. All rights reserved.

The Generic Transgenerational Guidelines and Strategies are reproduced from Guidelines and strategies for Designing Transgenerational Products: An Instructor's Manual, by James J. Pirkl and Anna L. Babic (Copley 1988).
This 110 page spiral-bound manual gives practical design suggestions for accommodating the sensory and physical changes related to the aging process. It features 71 overhead transparency masters intended for use with design students and professionals. It was developed under a grant from the Administration on Aging, Office of Human Development Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC with help from the Gerontology Center and the Center for Instructional Development ofSyracuse Unive└rsity.
To order this book, send $29.95 (US) plus $10 (US) airmail, or $4 (US) surface mail for postage and handling to: James J. Pirkl, 66 Camino Barranca, Placitas, NM 87043 U.S.A. For more information, call 00 1 505 8678555.
A two-color ready reference wall chart, 60 cm x 90 cm, featuring a complete listing of Transgenerational Design Guidelines and Strategies related to vision, hearing, touch and movement, is also available at $16 (US) plus $4 (US) for postage and handling.

The associated schemas (diagrams) are reproduced courtesy of James Joseph Pirkl, from Transgenerational Design: Products for an Aging Population by James J. Pirkl (Van Nostrand Reinhold 1994).
This 256 page hard cover book contains 135 high quality color photos and 40 charts and diagrams. it sensitizes readers to the realities of aging by exploring changes in abilities that occur throughout one's lifetime. It explains how to make intelligent decisions during the design, production, marketing, promotion and selection of consumer products used by an aging population with a wide variety of abilities.
For more information, contact Van Nostrand Reinhold, Inc., 115 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10003 or call 001 800 5447778.

Publications by James J. Pirkl: Pirkl, James J. Transgenerational Design: Products for an Aging Population. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1994.

Pirkl, James J. and Babic, Anna L. Guidelines and Strategies for Designing Transgenerational Products: An Instructor's Manual. Acton, MA: Copley, 1988.

Pirkl, James J. and Babic, Anna L. Guidelines and Srategies for Designing Transgenerational Products: A Resource Manual for Industrial Design Professionals. Acton, MA: Copley, 1988.

Pirkl, James J. and Babic, Anna L. Guidelines and Strategies for Designing Transgenerational Products. Acton, MA: Copley, 1988. Poster, 60 cm x 90 cm.

[ updated 18 March 1996 ]