Redefining & Redesigning Aging…By and For Ourselves!

Written by: Sylvia Stein. Posted: October 01, 2013. 


I recently participated in a global design challenge to redefine aging. The Challenge was held on the OpenIDEO website / platform ( where thousands of design-thinkers from around the world participate in a virtual incubator.  They share inspirations, propose concepts and then build them together.  At the end of the Challenge, which usually lasts ~ 3 months, a handful of ‘winning’ concepts are chosen.  During the course of a Challenge a wealth of insights and ideas are generated.  Sometimes, following the Challenge, OpenIDEO participants and others collaborate in person to prototype, test and build these ideas.


Global aging design challenge

The OpenIDEO ‘Aging’ Challenge posed the following question: How might we all maintain wellbeing and thrive as we age?  The Challenge brief elaborates, “…how can we help people understand their options, make informed decisions and direct them toward a state of wellbeing as they grow older? How can we help people thrive and live the lives they wish to live as they age?”


No age limit on design thinking

An OpenIDEO participant, Barbara A. commented on the wording of the brief, and it was her comment that gave me pause. Barbara A. wrote, … “the voice (the "we's" and "they's") and perspective of the [Challenge Brief] assume that the people engaging with this challenge are not old and that younger people will be coming up with the solutions. I hope this challenge is being promoted widely via channels with older audiences so we all get a chance to offer our insights, experiences and good ideas!”

This comment provided the insight for a concept that I posted for facilitating groups of active / retired / mature men and women in the ‘design-thinking’ process so they can design the experience, products and services that will allow them to ‘maintain wellbeing and thrive as they age’ (whatever that means to them) and, in the process, keep their minds active and engaged in their communities and beyond. Put simply, the idea is to create a participatory design movement, where mature men and women are empowered to create their own future (products, services, experiences, communities, etc.)

 Steve Jobs famously declared “… I want put a ding in the universe.” The mission of Ding Design Group (our current working name) is to create a movement of mature explorers and innovators, armed with the tools and techniques of designers to explore, empathize, define, ideate, prototype… and repeat, in order to ‘put a ding’ our own futures.


Pilots being planned

There has been considerable interest in this concept, even before it was chosen by OpenIDEO as one of six winning ideas for this Challenge. 

The Mayo Clinic is facilitating a participatory design process to explore and improve the transition form hospital to home.  We heard from another group in Australia that is interested in starting their own participatory design group.  In New York City, we are holding an initial meeting with a group of ten retirees, who are all ‘aging in place’ in the same apartment building, to begin to explore: What does ‘community’ mean in this setting? Others from the aging community have asked us to keep them posted as we develop this concept and movement.

The Ding Design Group is at the beginning stages of talking to The Tech-Enhanced Life about a possible collaboration in San Francisco in the next few months, so please stay tuned! 


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Key words: 
designers, design thinking, innovation

Last Updated: May 13, 2020.

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