Everyone in the UK enjoys the benefits of a modern society. From the infrastructures built to move us between our homes, places of work and to and from our leisure pursuits, the technology we use to communicate further than we can shout and the appliances that help us eat, wash and generally live our lives. The list of modern aids we employ is endless. But through the labels ‘assistive technology’, ‘assisted living’ or ‘enabling aids’, these products or services are marked out as special, something for those that need help to live; the incomplete, the deficient, the elderly!
Why would any of us want something that inferred we were less of a person than our peers, no longer part of mainstream society?
Throughout life we all face changes in our circumstances, from leaving home, getting our own place, becoming married, starting a family, navigating a career and finally perhaps if we are lucky enough, retirement. At every one of these stages we use products, devices, services and structures to help us. None, absolutely none, are viewed as negative, until we call them assisted living this or enabling aid that!
Products and services foisted upon people as assisted living are not the latest smartphone or the newest tablet but narrow designs, aimed primarily at a homogenous population of ‘elderly’ which appear to have the sole aims of marking out users as less able, weaker, not independent or at worst dependent on others!
Then amazingly having designed something to exclude people manufacturers pick up the baton from the designer and market this ‘beige’ thinking to everyone over 50; the 30% of the UK population (and growing) that have been exposed to consumerism the longest: the people that hold 80% of the nation’s wealth and contribute over £300 billion of spending power each year and all set to grow given this same population have over £1 trillion of un-mortgaged equity and copper bottomed pensions they can now access to invest into personal income generating portfolios of rental property!
Do they think we are no longer sophisticated consumers with a taste (and an expensive one if we so choose) for the aesthetically pleasing and the well-formed, eye catching design?
Designers and manufacturers need to understand that the meaning and desirability of a product is important to everyone, especially the baby boomers those of us out there (born between 1946 – 1964), who invented consumerism. Not only did we invent it, we developed it into the animal it is today! Yes, a product needs to be functional and at a reasonable cost but the fundamental point is that it has to be inclusive – designed from a point of view that this is something everyone might use who has a need for it, something desirable, not just for a perceived population of elderly and incapable pensioners! This will however be a challenge as a recent report suggested that designers and manufacturers don’t even think a market exists below the age of 70!
If the design process is to be inclusive, a person with a shared need will be at the centre, resulting in the design, development and delivery of products and services that everyone with this need will want, regardless of age. But far from creating a desirable life enhancing image and something people may want to purchase and give house room, what we would call a Purple product, designers and manufacturers just jazz up walking sticks with flowery designs and feature young people holding ‘beige’ designs in their marketing brochures – why do we accept these token gestures, this patronising approach?
We all have a part to play if we want to change this. If designers don’t radically rethink who they are designing for and manufacturers don’t change their view of customers, from the frail and elderly and the volume hospital buyer then we’re only going to see a small market place of niche designers and manufacturers who get it. Those who value ‘Purple’ design and their customers but have to sell at the high end of the market due to a lack of consumer awareness and therefore demand. Whilst the majority create neglected beige products all with the pervasive whiff of discrimination and the stigma of hospitals and disability.
This won’t be good for anyone!
If we don’t all have access to Purple products more people will be injured through falls or other accidents because they will refuse to use their beige aids. This consequently means NHS resources expended at GP surgeries and hospitals, recuperation and recovery services being employed and the bitter twist; more beige products being dispensed to the recesses of our homes!
We all need to shape up and start to help each other learn more about what is out there. A lack of awareness coupled with a lack of influence means we are letting the uninformed lead the most sophisticated and commercially aware consumers ever in existence to social exclusion from a society that needs us, our spending power and our pathfinder approach, as night follows day they will follow us!
Purple is the colour of protest and celebration so join our Purple Community and whether you agree or disagree it doesn’t matter – just join the debate. Together we can bring to light and celebrate great Purple designers and awesome Purple manufacturers and together change the thinking of not only providers but perhaps ourselves; reclaiming our sophistication and daring once again to be Purple!