Updated: Jun 3
DO WE REALLY KNOW WHAT THEY WANT?
Singapore has one of the most rapidly ageing populations in the world. It is estimated that by 2030, one in four people will be aged over 65 years and that this will rise to almost one in two by 2050. As the society moves towards an ageing population, as designers, do we always know what our elderly community’s needs are, to serve and design for them most appropriately? How can we design spaces that continue to enable our elderly community to live in dignity and independently as they age?
Who would you turn to, to seek guidance? Would it be the guidelines from the authorities or the social service agencies (SSAs) that provide specialised care and resources to meet the needs of our elderly communities? As we continue to think about how we can create safe places and spaces in Singapore that support ageing, we must ask ourselves – have we tried to understand the very subjects of our design, the elderly, and caretakers themselves? They could easily be our grandparents, our neighbours or even the elderly who we often see chatting at the void decks and coffee shops.
Continuously engaging our stakeholders in the design process is the most sensible methodology, in order to best collate the needs and wants and develop the insights that informs the design that suit most appropriately the needs of the community. Designing for our elderly community, likewise, is the same process. Our elderly community, for all the years and experiences that they have been through, usually knows what they want and do not want. Some may not be able to articulate their needs or the fear that their words may be shrugged aside as being inadequate for the current times, but they do know what they want.
“To design for the sea, talk to the fishermen. They will be the best resource that one can have.” – Ar. Trecia Lim, Principal Architect, WeCreate Studio
Patience and empathy would be the fundamental skill sets needed to approach this design process. There will be times, when this same patience and empathy that motivates us, may go unheard or even pushed away by the communities that we are trying to assist. But with authenticity, perseverance and a little ‘charm’, usually the communication barrier dissolves.
No doubt, the questions asked throughout this article are difficult ones and there is no perfect answer. However, the questions are important in reminding us that we need to challenge our design processes and continually refine them. The questions not only safeguard us from making assumptions about the demographic we are designing for, they also encourage us to involve the elderly throughout our design process, from conceptualising ideas for the space to the final testing of the actual space.
As we conclude the first part of this two-part series about 'Designing for our Elderly Community', we hope this article has been a thought-provoking read that has encouraged us to think about how we can better design for our elderly, beyond the norm. And, how exciting is it to think that our elderly can be more than just a statistical data, but our collaborators in the process as well!
Photo Credits: Jacob Lund