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Designing for our Elderly Community (Part 2)

Updated: Jun 3, 2021

Designing for our elderly community


WeCreate Studio believes strongly that the users of the space that we design for, are our co-designers as well. We share the role of the designer with the stakeholders of our project. In order to open up this role, we often have to wear multiple hats, switching between the role of an architect, facilitator, translator, a listening ear, a coffee/tea drinker and friend. Patience and empathy, as we covered in Part 1 of our “Designing for our Elderly Community" highlighted the need for versatility in order to share the designer role efficiently and to bring about the most suitable designs.

In one of our recent projects, together with Participate in Design (P!D) , whom we fondly call our extended family, we had a group Kopi Talk session as part of the community engagement and design conceptualisation process. A 2 hour event where stakeholders representatives from various organisations, not limited to design enterprises, were brought together to discuss their considerations when designing for the elderly. This preliminary ground sensing process placed an extra emphasis on understanding the needs and wants of the elderly community, from the elderly themselves. The primary objective of the Kopi Talk was to understand from the elderly what they wish for in a space that was meant for them and what possible activities they would want carried out in that space.

We started the session by splitting Kopi Talk participants into groups and bringing them on a short tour to imagine the different possibilities of the space. We then invited them to look at photographs, posters, diagrams to help set the stage for our burning questions, and also tease out replies that some elderly might have difficulties referencing with words. Questions like “Any memories of the space that you are in right now?” and “What do you like about the programmes in this neighbourhood? Are there any more programmes you would like to see?”, were used to spark a deeper conversation.

With the insights garnered through this Kopi Talk session, we can definitely say that some previously-held beliefs about the type of space elderly would want and elements associated with that space, were challenged and even eliminated after speaking to the elderly directly! For example, you might think that spaces designed for the elderly need to incorporate nostalgic elements that remind them of their past – perhaps through the furniture used or the aesthetic of the building, so that the elderly feel more comfortable in the new environment. However, contrary to this belief, the elderly shared in their discussions that nostalgia was not a priority for them at all. Instead, they would much rather that the space be functional and easy for them to use. Rather than having furniture that was used in the “old days”, they desired furniture that was elderly friendly, meaning no high stools or chairs with wheels.

Another interesting discussion point that brought different opinions to light was about the incorporation of greenery into the space. While some stakeholders felt that intentionally setting aside spaces to place plants and other greenery would help to add colour to the space and had immense therapeutic effects, others felt that greenery would take up unnecessary space and should not be a priority when planning the spatial design. Hence, as the discussion wrapped up, it was interesting to note how seemingly “small” details – to have greenery or not – were prioritised so differently by different stakeholders, all of whom provided insightful points for the other parties to consider.

Overall, from just a short discussion, one of the greatest takeaways for all the Kopi Talk participants was a greater understanding about priorities. Each stakeholder involved in this conversation had the best interests of the general elderly community at heart, but different priorities could lead to different designs. Hence, through the Kopi Talk session, participants were able to understand each other’s priorities better and refine their own.

And with this, we conclude our very first blog post series! We hope you have enjoyed reading these short articles and we look forward to sharing more of our learning and thought processes as we journey through our projects.

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