How to design for the aging population?Part one


Design for the aging population, gerontodesign

Geronto… what?… this was one of the questions that so many people ask when the research began. We live in a aging world, altought the botox and new treatments anti aging, if we would lucky all of we will be elders. Actually the sociodemographic situation is defined by the lack of births and the increase of life hope expectancy, this aspects lead us to a world with less childs and more adults.

Is coming, is right here, the chages are in front of our noses, we will be experience a new way of living, may be a new economy system, the aging planet will be the new world. Now the real question is: As a designers we are prepared for the gerontodesign?… Is this population attended by the designer?

What is gerontodesign?

Is the union between the gerontology with the design,the purpose of it is to transform the existent products and systems, projecting them and developing them exclusively for the elders, the goal is to bring to the elders an optimus life quality. Also, the gerontodesign is the conjuction of the emotional and universal design ( that are involve by the sustainability), these designs complete the functional and emotional product development.

You could call gerontodesign as many names it has, like design for aging o design for elderly or anothers ones. It is really not important the name, but the things that we do.

It is important to say that design for elderly topic is a wide one and also is important to remark that its history begins in the earlys 50’s with Lawton and Birren. The name gerontodesign was taken because its roots, the PhD Joaquim Parra Marujo, talks about it from the Anthropological perspective.

How could I design for the elderly population?

The gerontodesign makes use of the anthropometry, ergonomy, and functionality also involves the cultural and social aspects of the person. The person is the most important aspect, first the person, second the person and third the person. The person is the center of the design. When we have this idea clear as water, we will know that all the info that we’ll found will be cuantitative and cualitative, if we only have one type we are wrong.

In order to obtain the cualitative information we could apply techniques like: deep interviews, observation and ethnography.

The thing that I used to call gerontodesign it is supported in nine design strategies that if we see it closer, we will know that are very basic and easy to understand, here we talk about two of them:

Design for aging strategies gerontodesign

The first strategie is based on the User Centred Design, we could think that is obvious that we need to know the user, but sadly in the design field, there is always a big confusion between the design and the Art.

Very often the design students and the young designers think that the Art is the same to the Design. We need to accept it, the designers want to plasm our essence in our designs, and thats when we forget the user. There are so many ways to know the user, one of them, in our point of view the best, is to be empathic with the person. In order to generate the empathy to not only know the person, to comprehend him, is the user centred design technique one day in the user’s life. We will use an “empathy suit”. This suit could make it in an easy way, all the designers are able to made it. The cost of a basic suit is between the $1,100.00 and $1,500.00 mexican pesos (like 100 to 150 usa dollars). The cost depends on the characteristics or special features that we could put it on. There are to many aging suits  AGNES is the most popular by the AgeLab from the MIT but we talk about an aging suit that fits the economy of the majoriy of designers and caregivers.

Aging Suit for allAlso, we recommend to make some deep interviews to the user and obtain life tales that will help know the person in the deep.

The observation, the casual chats, the stories that the person gave to us will be the best information that we could obtain. Because we are now being more than a simple designer, we are researching the mind, the culture and the emotional aspects of the person. May be this strategie is the most important of all.

2 stretegie design for elderly design for aging gerontodesing


design for aging vision optimisation

Elderly vision types design for aging

As shown in the picture above, the vision of a human being can present various problems, problems that over the years tend to be much more common.
In order to optimize the vision of a senior we propose the
following recommendations:

1-Visibility ranges rather than peripheral, everything must be displayed within 90 degrees of vision.

2-Point lights and adjustable in areas of specific tasks.

3-Use of natural light (this favors the circadian process, improves mood and can be used to achieve smooth transitions from areas of direct light to diffuse)

4-Use high contrast and color pats.

5-Use recommended lighting levels. In accordance with IESNA (Recommended Practice for Lighting and the Visual Enviroment for Senior Living), Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, low light levels are:light levels in a aging facilityREST ZONES FOR AGING design for aging

We recommend using high seats at the hip of the elderly, as well as the implementation of guardrails on the trajectories of the individual.

Rest areas can be found in an object or a space. In an object are those relating to product ergonomics and space are those that refer to certain results of tests related to motor function of the elderly, for example, know how much distance in meters can walk an elderly without exhausting it would be an for aging audioThe sounds emitted by feedback action must be submitted in the following ranges according to decibel hearing loss (Villafañe, 2004): 

<20 dB: Normoacusia (normal hearing) 20-40 dB: mild hearing loss 40-70 dB: moderate hearing loss 70-85 dB: severe hearing loss > 90 dB: profound hearing loss.

In interior design suggests the use of carpets on the floors or wood floors, because are more safe in the present of an unfurtunate event of a fall and promote good acoustics. The use of panels to maintain the sound within the room is desirable, these can be placed on the walls and ceiling.fatigue in aging, design for aging gerontodesignWe have compiled a series of anthropometric data that will be applied to decrease the physical fatigue. The following measures are of mexican elderly people, taking 5 to 95 percentile. IMPORTANT! this measurements are from MEXICAN ELDERLY. 

The maximum weight to be to support an object that is under the body pressure of an elderly mexican will be 95.5 kg.

The height relative to the range of vision of a mexican elder will be between 1351 mm. and 1405 mm.

The scope of what the elder need to take in standing position will be between 941mm. and 952mm., considering that the elderly have difficulty in raising his arm from the elbow level.

The minimum front scope of a mexican: 508 mm.

The minimum lateral extent of a mexican senior: 409 mm.

The maximum range portrait of a mexican elder is 1675 mm in the case of women and 1816 mm in the case of men.

The seats shall be placed between the height of the hip of a mexican elder which ranges between 759 mm. and 884 mm. and height popitlea area which is between 411 mm. and 406 mm. This height is taken to prevent motion in commonly affected areas such as osteoarthritis in the lower back, hip joint, knees or femur.

The minimum sitting height of a mexican elder is 465 mm.

The minimum diameter of the grip of an mexican elderly of 36mm.

Besides taking into account these measures we must consider all actions to be taken shall be effected in more than one joint, such as being able to write with your elbow instead of your fingers or use the upper limbs instead of the inferior.

In order to reduce the movement (sometimes) painful in the joints, we must avoid placing shelves, exceeding the range of motion of the shoulder joint of the elderly. Focus on movements only 90 ° or below the range, likewise we would not forget to avoid unnecessary bending of the knees and lower back, this can be avoided by not placing objects in inaccessible places.

Regarding the degree of comfort that a designer must know, we propose a variation of + / – 20% in these, in order to reduce the physical fatigue. Here are measures related to the elderly in Mexico:design for mexican elderly populationMexican elderly antrophometrics design for aging


Text based on:

Maya-Rivero, A. 2012. Gerontodiseño: conceptualización y formulación de sus estrategias para una mejor calidad de vida del adulto mayor. Caso de estudio: Problemas del adulto mayor mexicano en la preparación de alimentos. Maestría, Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México.


Publicado por Annika Maya Rivero

Fundadora del blog para personas mayores: Mayores de Hoy. Diseñadora e instructora de karate do. Escribo sobre envejecimiento, gerontodiseño, diseño y demencia, prospectiva, vejez. Las artes marciales, el deporte y la vida saludable y sostenible me apasionan.

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