Slowing down doesn’t mean we’re switching off

Infuriated by patronising advertising? Outraged at impossible to open packaging? You’re in good company, says DICK LUMSDEN

Most mornings I wake up and feel instantly energised, full of optimism for the day ahead and – at least mentally – feel as young and enthusiastic as I ever have.

Yet, at the age of 54, I am already pigeon-holed as being potentially over the hill by a disturbingly high number of brands, organisations and, frankly, people who should know better.

For every company which recognises me for what I am and for what I want to be – there are dozens who can’t see beyond my birth certificate. And in this day and age that just isn’t right.

Have they any idea what it is like to be patronised by companies selling insurance using advertising fronted by fading celebrities in their 70s asking “are you aged 50 to 85?” “Do you want a free pen for asking about our special insurance deals?”

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Do organisations such as Warwickshire County Council really believe that the over 50s need a special scheme to trade in old slippers for new ones to prevent them falling over?

Just because I am over 50, does that really mean I need computers with simplistic menu screens a primary school child would master in a day? No. I don’t think so.

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Lumping everyone over the age of 50 into the same boat is a nonsense. It would be ridiculous for a brand to talk in terms of “the under 50s” as their market – clearly a 10-year-old doesn’t have the same consumer habits and spending power as a 40-year-old? So why have just one message for everyone over 50?

As an interesting aside, some of the findings of the 2008 European Social Study have just been released. 40,000 people all over Europe were interviewed on a whole range of topics – including their attitudes to ageing.

In the UK, it seems, the average age when people think “youth” ends is 36. But “old age” is perceived to begin at 59. I know a lot of people who would take great exception to that.

In Portugal, the feeling was that youth ends at 29 and old age begins at 55, but in Cyprus, you are considered young until you are 45 and don’t enter old age until you reach 67. I wonder what their advertising is like?

But enough of all that.

It is undoubtedly true that there are a number of things which begin happening to your body above and beyond the age of 50.

Deteriorating eyesight, impaired hearing, restricted joint and muscle movements, are all mechanical functions which do start to exert more influence on you as you enter your fifties, and get progressively worse as you get older.

The clever brands (and shops) are those which have recognised this and made moves towards re-packaging, re-positioning and improving accessibility. The not so clever ones still encase their product in impenetrable layers of hard (and sharp) plastic, or throw in an instruction manual which is written in miniscule type.

And here’s a thing... I have poor eyesight, I have a dodgy back and am recovering from a second operation on a knee after years of abuse playing hockey, football and squash... so how much do I hate shops which have point of sale information cards as low as possible on the shelving and with tiny pink and blue lettering on a yellow background? Would it be so hard to lift them, use bigger type and a good contrast of colour?

The term “inclusive design” has been around for some time now, but unfortunately has that kind of politically correct connotation that usually has me glazing over.

But, in essence, good inclusive design means making things better for everyone, not just older people or people suffering from disabilities.

If a designer comes up with ways of making packaging easier to open, or a way of making it easier to move seats to give access to the back of a car for instance, they would benefit everyone. Ditto the information cards in shops and the instruction manuals with virtually everything.

The problem, of course, is that most product designers are young and have no empathy with the issues of ageing.

One group which is trying to make some headway here though is Age UK (the soon to be launched name for the merger between Help The Aged and Age Concern charities.)

They have developed a programme called “Through Other Eyes” and I was lucky enough to be introduced to it by Age UK’s Sue Mottershead earlier this month.

By using different goggles which simulate the effects of glaucoma, tunnel vision or cataracts, they can give young designers a real experience of how difficult it is to make things out. And not just designers. Sue has been working with the staff of some of our biggest name supermarkets about improving the in-store environment.

They also add straps and weights to arms and legs to give the effect of impaired movement, as well as earplugs to cut out sound and specially stiffened gloves to simulate arthritis. All of this is helping people to understand the issues and change the way they design products and the shopping environment.

If only more brands and organisations would pay such attention to their older (but wiser) consumers, more of us would feel less patronised and more inclined to buy.

Now, where did I leave those slippers?

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