How could designs of the future reflect the demographic and physical realities of aging?
The New Old: Designing for Our Future Selves, now on display at Pratt Manhattan Gallery, examines how innovation and design can reimagine how we live the later stages of our lives. It was originally presented in 2017 at the Design Museum in London and curated by Jeremy Myerson, Helen Hamlyn Professor of Design at the Royal College of Art. “We needed to freshen up the exhibit,” Myerson says. The current exhibit travelled to Poland and Taiwan and arrived in New York City with new additions from five faculty members of Pratt School of Design.
The exhibition presents creative, provocative, and engaging concept designs across six themes: Ageing, Identity, Home, Community, Working, and Mobility. Under each topic, leading design studios developed projects to depict how design can help people lead fuller, healthier and more rewarding lives into old age.
“The original context was Eurocentric. We had to make it more accessible to America,” says Myerson. While Myerson was researching on the web, looking up award-winning American projects, he discovered OATS (Older Adults Technology Services).
“I read some articles online and was interested in the idea that OATS is helping older folks remain relevant by helping them learn new skills. There is nothing like it in the UK,” said Myerson. “In the show- in the section on working- we twinned a story about a BMW plant in Germany and the activities at the Senior Planet Center. Both are about adapting to changes.”
Nick Battis, Director of Exhibitions at Pratt Institute, reached out to Aaron Santis, Program Manager at OATS, to find photos of older people using technology. “I sent him about 10 pictures approved by the Senior Planet brand that showcased members using technology at the center and they selected three.” The exhibit show photos of several Senior Planet members, depicting them learning to use iPads.
The displays are engaging, like Paro the Seal, a cuddly device designed by Takanori Shibata that’s used with dementia patients in more than over 30 countries. Scooter for Life by Priestman Goode is so cool looking it would impress anyone’s skateboarding grandnephews.
Elli Q Spirit, designed by Yves Behar, is an emotionally intelligent robotic companion. It looks like a Kindle Fire and acts like a souped up version of Siri or Alexa. The Aura Powered Suit, also by Behar, (and pictured above) is a life-altering intelligent garment with motion. It aligns with the muscular composition of the wearer, supporting the torso, hips, glutes.
“I follow museum shows,” said Nick Battis, Director of Exhibitions, Pratt Institute. “I was looking for the right match and this hit different marks. Lots of Pratt faculty are dealing with issues of aging in their course work. They cultivated what they were working on for the show- it’s very artistic.”
“Pratt and the Royal College of Art are two top design schools with a mutual love and respect,” said Myerson. He explained that the original exhibit in London in 2017 was an update of a 1986 show from The Victoria and Albert Museum. So the idea of designing for an aging population has been around for decades.
More urgency now
But now there is more urgency. The number of American aged 65 and over is projected to jump from around 52 million today to 95 million in 2060. Using this backdrop of radical demographic change, the New Old asks: what role can design and innovation play to enhance the lives of older people? How can designers intervene to support an ageing society? How will we live out those added years? Will we be independent and mobile? Or will we become isolated?
Visitors to this innovative show can learn the answers for themselves, get a few ideas and inspirations, and see if they can spot the photos of some Senior Planet members in action.
Photo: Aura Power Suit by Yves Béhar, Fuseprojects and Superflex, courtesy The Design Museum, London.