By Anne Marie Kilgallon
Enterprise Strategy and Innovation
At AARP, we know technology holds great potential for improving the lives of people aged fifty and over,but we also believe that innovations intended for everyone should extend to a product’s design. So, in addition to seeking technology solutions for our members, we also advocate and explore opportunities for universal design.
An approach that considers how a product or service can be used by people of any age or ability, universal design is often attributed to industrial designer and gerontologist Patricia Moore. In 1979, at the age of 26, Moore set out to study the life experiences of the elderly by traveling throughout North America dressed as a woman in her 80s. To fully immerse herself in the study, Moore also used prosthetics and other devices to limit her movement, vision and hearing.
The experience of the physical disabilities, as well as being treated with dismissal and even cruelty by others, opened her eyes to the need for improved design. Shortly after, Moore established her own design firm dedicated to creating products that consider everyone.
“Design has morphed into the cornerstone of equity, culture, and socialization,” Moore said. “It’s about bringing resources to people who don’t have them. The power of design is to look at each individual, their home, their community, and the infinite small things that make for success or failure of interaction in those realms.”
At AARP, we couldn’t agree more. We believe there are many opportunities for universal design, and not just for people aged 50 and older. Products that assist with emergencies, health and fitness, and communication with loved ones all have benefits for people of every age. But too often these are designed with features that make them less accessible for universal use. That limitation also makes products less marketable, not only to the over 100 million seniors in this country, but also to their children and caregivers who are looking for life-stage solutions, or devices for multi-generational use.
In our own product innovation, AARP always emphasizes the customer first. To adhere to that, we listen. We make it a priority to engage with our customers throughout the entire innovation process, from concept to launch and beyond. Not only does this approach help us identify potential solutions to build, it also ensures we are innovating with everyone in mind.
Starting with research, we invite our customers in to talk about their lives and needs while also walking them through questions that help us identify where opportunities may exist. We then check our work with experts who can provide the necessary insights to test our hypotheses and make sure we’re on the right track.
After ideas are developed and analyzed, we go back to our consumers again for the true test of whether something is worth developing, and again and again throughout the build process. We never want to guess and it’s only this process of co-creation that gives us the confidence that our solutions will be truly beneficial to everyone.
So while Patricia Moore’s work has led designers to create more usable products – things like OXO kitchen utensils, digital thermometers and rocking light switches -- Universal Design based on customer testing should be a priority for all product developers.
With more than 20 years of professional experience as a forward-thinking business leader, Anne Marie joined AARP in 2013 and has been in her current role for a little more than a year. As Vice President Enterprise Strategy & Innovation at AARP, Anne Marie is responsible for executing enterprise-wide innovative product development and education programs that drive revenue and value for AARP. Previously, she developed, launched and sold AARP’s first retail and technology product called RealPad™ – an Android tablet designed for 50+ Tech-Shy users.