While European (above all Italian) design has always had close ties to the art world, design overseas has pursued a more pragmatic approach, giving rise in recent years to so-called design thinking.
Of course the two traditions have never been ‘pure,’ and even have moments of fertile hybridization. Nevertheless, we should note that the latest trends seem to be revealing a new convergence, which in a spontaneous way has identified clean form as the result of aesthetic research but also of cognitive optimization of fluency of use.
From this standpoint, the new experiences of design for the elderly are particularly interesting, like the No Country for Old Men collection by Lanzavecchia + Wai and, more recently, the bath furnishings designed by Monica Graffeo for Ever, whose simple forms combined with immediately clarity of use are conceived for the needs of a wider user base as well.
What this focus on the advanced stages of life reveals is not just the responsible effort of design to be more ‘inclusive’ with respect to users. Senior citizens, faced with a general weakening of practical and cognitive capacities, represent a true ‘extreme character’ among those utilized by design thinking to force exploration of latent usage possibilities in objects.
The ‘cognitively polished’ finish of age-friendly design, derived from the user-friendly layout of graphic interfaces, provides a response to a need shared not only by the elderly but also by all the ages of the new millennium, exposed to a panorama of increasingly digitalized objects, where the need to establish relations with articles with a clear appearance and lucid conception grows proportionally.
The present evolution of design languages tells us precisely this: that unlike what the technophiles were expecting, the development of the body of the object is not moving towards products equipped with complex and multifunctional interfaces, but instead towards functionally simple objects that may be equipped with digital ‘superpowers’ but also tend to be monofunctional, free of evident levels of complexity, always connected to the backdrop of equally simple and ‘augmented’ objects that forms the ecosystem of reference.
In the scenario that thus emerges, it is not the single furnishing or product but the entire range of objects as a whole that constitutes the environmental interface inside which the objects, like so many icons or apps, are individually simple but connected to an infinite ecosystem of services and functions.
This is the direction of the work of Yves Béhar, effective in the digital realm and the decor, and utterly consistent with the projects specifically designed for seniors, as in the Eatwell tableware set of the young Sha Yao, which helps people afflicted by Alzheimer’s, or the Doll pill dispenser by Quentin de Coster, organized in keeping with the logic of Russian matryoshka dolls.
After all, life is precisely like a matryoshka, where the later phases do not follow but ‘contain’ the previous ages. We can thus understand why Denise Bonapace, with the Senz’età knitwear project, thinks of the garment not as a sign but as an evolving textile structure, age-specific, which ‘includes’ (in all senses) the body of its inhabitant, redefining the sense of habits and postures through the flow of ages.
by Stefano Caggiano