Here’s a topic that veers quite a bit from graphic design, web development, or marketing. But it’s an example about how design––any kind of design––needs to function for its user.
When I was in college in Japan I became aware of the degree to which US consumer goods are largely designed for tall, American men. Tables in public spaces are either too tall or their matching chairs too low, and I’m too short to not feel dwarfed and awkward; subway straps are too high; car seat design makes it hard for me to feel tall enough to see as well as I’d like, computer mice are too big. It’s not that I mind other people being comfortable, it’s just a lack of awareness that there are many of us who are under 5’7″ (I’m under 5’4″) and need to attend conferences, drive cars and use mice.
Design ––any kind of design––needs to function for its user.
But Japan… Japan was a revelation. Things were sized for me! That’s when I started thinking about this. And I think about it every time I go to a networking group, sit at the round catering table feeling like a child without a booster seat, or struggle to see what’s behind my Honda when backing out of a parking space.
Lately a new line of thought has hit me. So now I’m on this about products — normal products –for our aging population.
I recently wrote the following letter to the CEO of Ikea and the president of Ikea USA. I don’t expect a reply, and they probably will never see it, but my question is: why are we not addressing the design needs of a significantly large, aging population? Baby boomers and our parents are a huge demographic. So this is the letter. I’m just going to put it here as food for thought.
Dear Messrs Brodin and Ward:
As a long-time IKEA fan, I always find your catalogs and “Home Tour” features inspiring. But there is something in them I recently realized is somewhat missing the mark for some of us, and I have a suggestion/request, or perhaps we could even call it a design challenge.
While I really enjoy the makeovers and catalog spreads, I do find that they mainly address the needs of millennials, singles, college students, and perhaps young families, which of course makes perfect sense. But let’s consider that thousands of seniors every day are moving into small independent or assisted living apartments, downsizing from 60+ years of “stuff” and unable to use the big pieces they lived with for years.
I’ve been looking for a studio for my elderly mother and I now realize the challenge of moving into a small space that is safe and senior-friendly, as well as attractive with a nice, clean aesthetic. (Not all older people are into fussy or traditional interior design. My mother has always had an eclectic, modern, Scandinavian style.) And no one who has the choice wants to live with institutional furnishings.
The baby boomer generation is still huge, and that means a lot of other people like me helping their elderly parents through this transition. I’d love to see Ikea embracing another demographic and helping us find furnishings that are both pared down and structurally appropriate, perhaps for a ~300-500 square foot studio, with details like:
- furniture that is the proper height for a senior (or any disabled person), with a seat height of usually ~17” (by the way, seat height is not given in the Ikea catalog)
- chairs and sofas that likewise not too deep, with a back that does not lean back too much, with arms to grasp, etc… (this is stuff I’m just learning about!)
- room dividers that won’t topple and perhaps can be reconfigured as things change
- layouts that accommodate room for walker and possibly even a wheelchair to maneuver
- space-saving shelves or cabinets that are multipurpose, but don’t force an elderly person to bend down, and yet also provide places for memorabilia
- and yet without an institutional feel!
I have looked in the IKEA online catalog for possible pieces but the details needed for ascertain appropriateness are not provided. That alone could be a great place to start. I would think IKEA already might have some existing pieces that may work for such a room layout (if not, there’s a cool design challenge for your designers!) I think these sorts of pieces can work for anyone regardless of age or physical ability, especially with growing interest in the “tiny house movement.”
With an aging baby boomer population the need for making small spaces accessible but livable and attractive will get even more widespread. I hope it’s something IKEA will consider at some point.
Thank you for taking a moment out of your busy schedule to read this.
Now back to you. Think about whether you or a parent is having issues opening certain kinds of bottles or jars. Or reading the type on things that should perhaps be more legible. Or getting up from some sofas or chairs. Or driving with so many bright halogen and LED lights on the streets that they feel like a hazard.
I’m just thinking out loud, but what do you think? Is this a severely underserved market?
Me, many moons ago, Nagasaki.