Graduate Students Involved in Multi-Generational, Co-Design Project

May 1, 2015

In an experiment of multi-generational design creativity, a group of graduate students from The Ohio State University teamed up with groups of older adults – ranging in age from their 70s to 90s – from two local retirement centers. The groups met weekly over spring semester, tackling design issues together that impact today’s senior citizens.

The endeavor was part of a Department of Design graduate course taught by Elizabeth Sanders, associate professor. The Cincinnati consulting group Link-Age helped make connections between the students and seniors.

The 18 students, from design, business, engineering, arts administration, occupational therapy and public health, first gained background information about issues facing older adults from guest lecturers in gerontology and the Ohio Department of Aging. They then headed out to Westminster Thurber Retirement Community and another institution in Columbus to embark on co-design projects that were to be chosen, researched and addressed by all involved.

“The students and seniors worked together as co-designers on an interdisciplinary team,” Sanders explained. “They were involved in real projects, addressing issues and items that were relevant and useful to the older generation.”

For example, one multi-generational team focused on clothing designs. Another looked at shopping for shoes that work for seniors. Yet another addressed how seniors can be closely involved in making big decisions that could impact the rest of their lives.


Seniors Researching

“We worked together to design a decision-making tool that became a smart-phone app,” explained David McKenzie, a graduate student in design research and development. He said with the practice-based project the older adults had big input into the process.

“It’s important to note that we were designing with them, not for them,” he said. “They really got into the process.” He said the app helps guide the decision-making process for lifestyle changes, and takes into consideration broad areas of focus, from their stakeholders (family) to health, safety and lifestyle.

To narrow their perspective the groups brainstormed, created hands-on visual tools and analyzed themes. “We worked together until specific themes emerged, and identified things that were important, ultimately coming up with a ‘senior-centered decision-making plan,’” said McKenzie.

The next step, McKenzie said as the semester rolled to a close, is to try and garner funding to get the conceptual app moved to reality. Whether or not that happens, he says the whole process was a huge learning opportunity for him and the other students.

“All of my pre-conceived notions about what a retirement community is like were totally wrong,” he said. “It was a very engaging place. All of the seniors had a love of lifelong learning. Though they said they learned from us. . . we probably learned more from them in the long run. I was impressed with how engaged everyone was in the project; we all benefited from the experience.”

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