Designing a better ageing experience

Chris Finnegan, communications manager at the Design Council, explains how an innovative new partnership between health and social care leaders, social entrepreneurs and the public could relieve pressure on stretched services and improve the experience of later life for everyone.

Today, for the first time in history, Britain’s over-65s outnumber people under the age of 16. What’s more, it’s predicted that almost half of the adult population will be over the age of 50 by 2020. It’s not just that people are living longer; people are living longer with increasingly complex health conditions. This creates pressure on an already stretched health and social care system, while the number of people of working age will stagnate or shrink, causing gaps in the job market and further pressure on public finances. In short, one of the triumphs of the previous century – a vastly improved life expectancy – looks set to be one of the great challenges of this one.

Established more than 70 years ago to improve the industrial output of Britain, much of what Design Council now does is centred on how design can help to improve people’s health and well-being. Transform Ageing is Design Council’s new, cross-sector initiative. It brings together people in later life, social entrepreneurs and health and social care leaders to define, develop and deliver innovative new solutions that support the needs and aspirations of people in later life. Ultimately, its goal is to help design a better experience of ageing, for everyone.

To meet this challenge, we need to broaden the notion of ‘care’. It's a challenge of wider collaboration between individuals and carers, family and friends, neighbours, volunteers and professionals. New solutions are required to support the delivery of effective products and services that meet people’s needs and tackle causes rather than symptoms. We must create a system that is more personalised, more connected and, above all, more preventative. This more radical approach requires real imagination.

Transform Ageing
Last summer, the Big Lottery Fund recognised the potential in our ambition, and the Transform Ageing programme was awarded £3.65 million under its Accelerating Ideas programme to be delivered in Devon, Cornwall and Somerset.

Since then, Design Council has worked alongside UnLtd, the South West Academic Health Science Network and the Centre for Ageing Better to launch the programme in Cornwall, Devon and Somerset. Together, this partnership brings unique expertise and a collective track record in supporting community-led responses to ageing challenges. We are now recruiting delivery organisations in those localities to get the programme off the ground, directly connecting with local people to help shape and design solutions.

For innovation to take root, we need the belief that change is possible and the confidence to commit to a process. The success of this programme depends on the creativity of individuals to inspire change, determination of local communities to embrace change, and recognition from health and social care leaders that change is healthy, necessary and sustainable.

We hope that Transform Ageing will inspire creative ideas, ranging from new services, products, environments – or perhaps something else entirely. Anything that could make a real and lasting difference to the experience of later life will be considered.

Why design?
In 2014, we saw the proposal to appoint a head of design in every UK government department and a chief user officer on all large government infrastructure projects. The use of strategic design is becoming intrinsically linked with good foresight and managerial skills.

Through first-class research, collaborative working and rigorous design, Transform Ageing will help local communities to influence how their care needs are handled. By directly engaging with local people, we can identify the key health and social care challenges they face. In turn, care leaders and social entrepreneurs can combine to generate tangible, creative and lasting solutions to meet the needs of the south-west. These, we hope, can then be adapted and rolled out elsewhere in the UK – and even beyond.

We must start by breaking down the barriers between different stakeholder groups and involving everyone from the outset. This creates collaborative environments that encourage a user-led approach. Not least, we must help health and social care leaders find opportunities to try new ideas while managing risk, and help them to understand the core design principle that ‘iteration’ does not necessarily mean ‘failure’.

The programme has been welcomed by health and social care leaders as an important step in improving services for people in later life.

Professor Paul Burstow, former Minister of State for Care, said: “Transform Ageing offers a practical approach to making communities in the south-west more age-ready. Using design innovation that starts with the experience of people in their later lives and taps into the energy of social entrepreneurs and the insight of health and local government to devise practical solutions.

“Above all, this programme has the potential to deliver new, scalable and sustainable solutions that meet the needs and aspirations of our ageing communities across the UK. It could make a real difference to people in their later lives.”

Strategic partnerships and preventative services

It’s essential to support commissioners to feel more confident in incorporating new services and interventions into mainstream care supply chains, and social entrepreneurs to scale their solutions and provide evidence of their impact to enable them to be commissioned. In order to do this, local communities, individuals, carers, family, friends and professionals in each of these regions need to be at the heart of the process.

People who are closest to the issues faced in our ageing communities are often best placed to identify the challenges that need to be addressed. By reframing these challenges, we hope to identify the specific challenges and support innovative solutions to help provide everyone with healthier and active later lives.

It’s Transform Ageing’s job to work with local organisations to make that happen. That’s why the partnership’s first steps are to recruit up to four delivery organisations (or consortia of organisations). Ideally, we will recruit one each in Cornwall, Somerset, north-east and west Devon, and south Devon.

Over the coming months, the partnership will be engaging local health and social care leaders, VCSE organisations, social entrepreneurs and people in later life and their support networks to become involved in the programme. We are looking for committed groups and individuals who would like to support new thinking and approaches develop new and exciting products and services that will transform people's experience of later life.

Time is of the essence. We want the best health and social care innovations, services and products to reach people in later life as quickly as possible. Working together, we can achieve just that. Our vision is that by creating services better aligned to real-life needs and issues, everyone’s experience of ageing will be improved.

If you would like to find out more about Transform Ageing or get involved, contact

Designing a better ageing experience

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