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Experiencing Aging to Enhance Design Solutions

  • McDonagh D
  • Woodcock A
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Healthy aging is defined by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention as the “development and maintenance of optimal physical, mental and social well-being and function in older adults.” Healthy aging is likely to be achieved when physical environments and communities are safe, and support the adoption and maintenance by individuals of attitudes and behaviors known to promote health and well-being, and by the effective use of health services and community programs to prevent or minimize the impact of acute and chronic disease on function (Satariano et al., 2012: 3). Our demographics are changing and accessible transport is a critical contributory factor for all generations of our community, especially for elders. Satariano et al. (2012) identified at least 4 public health burdens associated with limited or restricted mobility in older populations. 1, limitations in walking and driving reduce access to goods and services, which leads to poor health outcomes; 2, Limited mobility is independently associated with health problems and injuries; 3, older adults with mobility difficulties are less likely to have regular social contacts; 4, older adults without access to different forms of mobility are less able to take part in civic life, adversely affecting both themselves and their community. Designers have a key role to play in ensuring independent mobility in later life e.g. as urban, vehicle, transport and user experience designers. As design educators, we are forced to acknowledge the knowledge and experience gap between the young design students and the individuals they will be designing for. Empathic design research approaches provide a way to sensitise young able-bodied design students to experience the experience of others who they will be designing for. A collaborative project between transport expert and design educator has developed a framework (and methods) for increasing the empathic horizons of designers, with the aim of raising the felt awareness of aging and ensuring that design outcomes are more relevant and impactful for all. This experiential and interactive session introduces the audience to low technology empathic tools and the higher technology system known as the GERT aging suit. Participants will work in a series of groups using experiential prototypes to complete everyday tasks. Reflecting in, on and through the experience, the final part of the session will challenge the participants to apply their knowledge to the design of more inclusive transport systems.




McDonagh, D., & Woodcock, A. (2018). Experiencing Aging to Enhance Design Solutions. Journal of Transport & Health, 9, S5–S6.

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