Youth is a state of mind

* 3 min read
We’re not as young as we used to be. Not just as individuals; on average the world population is aging. What’s more, with the ever increasing speed of technological advancement no-one really knows just how much life expectancy could increase.

Some argue that it’s not so much the life expectancy of the average human that will increase as the expectation of useful, healthy life (with overall life expectancy hardly changing). Whilst arms, legs and joints can be replaced when they wear out (technology is already able to replace most of our physical attributes) it is the brain that – so far – is proving more elusive. That’s what could hold back extension of overall life expectancy. Whilst we’re waiting for all this amazing technology to appear over the horizon, however, we need to ensure that what we do as brands takes note of changing demographics around the world, changing shopping habits and changing shopping environments.

We need to consider how we as a society are going to help an aging population to make the most of life. What people buy – and how they buy – will change as they get older. A fascinating example of this is the fact that in Japan adult incontinence diapers now outsell the baby equivalent. 28 percent of the population in that country are now senior citizens. As a business that specialises in helping clients to provide consumers with the best branded experience – predominantly through the design of the brand in the hand, commonly known as packaging, this got us thinking about packaging that is appropriate for the elderly.

However, we also know that the elderly don’t want to be reminded of their shortcomings. Going back to the incontinence pad example, nobody wants to be reminded that they are old and infirm; these products could be for anyone who needs a bit of reassurance, so don’t design them specifically to appeal to the older generations. This is the problem with approaching design from the point of view of demographics. The Applied Centre for Gerontology maxim is “design for the young and you exclude the old; design for the old and you include the young.” The point is that we always need to design inclusively, not exclusively for one demographic group over another.

From a packaging point of view this can be demonstrated in any number of ways with poor pieces of packaging already out in the market. It’s not just the elderly who find it difficult to open a packet of bacon, or get an electric toothbrush out of its plastic clam pack. All ages get frustrated by soup in a Tetra Pak that goes everywhere when you try to open it, or by the inherent danger of a corned beef can that you open with a key, leaving a sharp edge to avoid when trying to access the meat inside.

It’s not just about the pack structure either. People of all ages have less than 20:20 vision. Regardless of your age it’s probably difficult to read the copy on the back of a shampoo bottle when you’re in the shower. Judicious use of contrasting colours can help in all sorts of situations where reading small copy could be difficult or the lighting isn’t quite what it could be (in a DIY store for instance, or at the back of a bar).

So as branding and packaging designers we have to be inclusive in our approach to design. We need to think about the needs of all the brand’s consumers, whether young or old, capable or incapable. It’s not about age at all; it’s about designing packaging that works, that helps, that builds a conversation. Even if it’s about adult diapers.