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The Gray Blues

large number telephoneIn a recent New York Times article, journalist Natasha Singer tells us it’s not easy being gray. No kidding.

She describes an Age Gain Now Empathy System (AGNES) that you put on to simulate the physical sensations of being 65 or 75 years old. It was developed by M.I.T. researchers at their Age Lab.

That’s right, they have an Age Lab and the AGNES suit was developed to help businesses figure out how to design and market products for us aging boomers. Maybe it’s easier than coming to talk to us in person, but I still like the personal touch. Many companies are only now considering marketing products to an older demographic, simply because a giant herd of aging boomers is just too hard to ignore. Thank God for the profit motive.

It seems that one of the major hurdles is to design products that appeal to aging boomers without telegraphing their agedness. Telephones with humongous number buttons are a perfect example of misguided product design. We have trouble seeing small numerals (never mind getting our thumbs to text on tiny cellphone keyboards), so they make us phones that shout, “you’re a half-blind geezer.”

The Age Lab researchers hope they can persuade industries that there’s a new approach to product design, and it’s not the “I’ve-fallen-and-can’t-get-up.” They want to encourage product designs that are older adult friendly without being obvious. The automatic parking feature on some new cars is a great example. Perfect for older drivers who cannot easily turn around to look behind them, this feature is also appreciated by any driver who wants smart technology.

watch for seniors signWhat’s becoming very clear to demographers, product designers and senior center administrators, is that baby boomers are going to be very different from the senior citizens that came before them. They will be more active for more years, will want greater independence, and will be open to high-tech solutions that give them the autonomous lifestyle they crave.

The big question now is will the products and services we crave be there for us when the time comes, or will business and industry wait until the market ripens before they do their homework and develop the products and services we are going to want. According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer expenditure survey, baby boomer households spent $2.6 trillion in 2009. That’s should be a big incentive for businessess to keep us grays from getting blue.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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