Think people not patients

The Wednesday evening lecture slot- 7 to 9, post work on a cold night. A hard time to pull off for any lecturer, particularly one tackling that increasingly taboo subject of getting old, to a room full of young creatives. However, Patricia Moore achieved this feat with aplomb (such a great word) for the first of a series of President Lectures for D&AD– her discussion looking at the importance of inclusivity and empathy in design, which she achieved in equal measure in the lecture. Post lecture I had that glowing sensation of being part of something (a rollercoaster of emotion and ambition), mixed with a whole lot of self-questioning.. am I, as part of society, subconsciously ageist?

Patricia Moore, aged 26, in costume

Patricia Moore had put herself in the unique position in the late 1970s of being a 26 year-old in a old person’s body, or as she would rather I say it- she was the same person but just looked older. Her argument being that age is purely relative, it varies amongst cultures but ultimately all humankind wants the same thing- the opportunity to live prosperously, happily and be loved. Unfortunately, this “happily ever after” is not the case for a large number of people, with a shocking number receiving the exact opposite, the horror story ending instead- abuse of the “aged”, genocide of the “old” in China, a passerby spitting in the Patricia Moore’s heavily made-up “elderly” face.

Ultimately, Moore argued- the “elderly” are being stereotyped as just that- partially “disabled”, “slow”, “a patient”. She was critical of society and design not being inclusive to older people– for example, supermarket aisles being to thin, tins being placed too high, ramps designed to exclude and patronise, not to please. Her belief was that design needs to be safe, functional and created for different lifestyles, eradicating the cultural myth that elders do not shop and just do not do. She spoke of horrific incidents in her experience of being undercover, which made me gawp, try and not cry (literally) and also fear- fear because one day I too will become old (32 years is what Americans officially decry as being old) and there are not enough carers, nurses, and it seems kindness, to go round. Being stampled and kicked by a bunch of youths in New York just for looking older is simply “absolutely disgusting”, as my granny would say. And that is where design comes in, Moore had an unswerving faith in the power of design to deliver dreams- a go-get-it attitude to embrace the fear of getting old and transform it into a positive, the only problem being she was unclear about what positive changes this might include.

What really impressed me about Patricia Moore however, was her ability to notice and react to the smallest details. She went undercover to find out what exactly it is like to feel “ancient” in our youth-loving society, and discovered more than she bargained for. This need to tackle this cultural prejudice now runs through all her design projects at Moore Design Associates, but also was forever present in her lecture. Please take heed of her warnings

1) Do not say he is 70 years old. Instead say he was 70.

2) No-one is elderly, only elders or older. Age is relative, do not call people names.

3) Treat everyone as a person, not as a patient.

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