The Design Squiggle & The Route of Aging: Part I
In our last few posts, we gave you a little peek into what we’ve been up to over the past couple months with our aging in place prototype. We started with some of our most recent changes to the Aging in Place portal in our blog Dive into Prototyping: AIP Portal 2.0. In Prototyping, What is it?, we talked a bit about what prototyping is and how you might go about it. And, in our third blog of this series, The Power of Design Challenge Questions: 3 Tips for Setting Your Innovation Intention, we shared some tips and tricks for setting your innovation intention and focus using “How Might We” questions and how to use systems maps to generate new insights.
Today we want to take you back to where the concept for an Aging in Place portal emerged and tell the story of how a design question can lead you on a prototyping journey that feels nothing like a straight path!
The Route of Aging Team
In 2018, NS GovLab launched its first fellowship program and participants were brought together to learn about human-centered design and issues related to an aging population. In the early days of that first fellowship program, participants formed teams based on personal interests and common ideas that aimed to tackle one of NS GovLab’s two overarching design questions:
The Route of Aging team was drawn to the idea of prototyping or experimenting with ideas that attempted to get at, “How might we create a province where people can age at home and stay connected to their communities?”. In turn, they set their intention by framing their first design challenge by narrowing in on,
“How might we …evaluate if and how to enable people to remain in their homes as they age?”
With their first How might we question in hand, the team began moving through the human-centered design and prototyping process. And while our blog on prototyping presented a few key steps to get you started, we would be remiss not to mention that the experience of designing and prototyping is anything but a straight line. Rather, designing and prototyping in complex systems is more like this squiggle, with turns and twists — it’s inherently messy (The Design Squiggle, thedesignsquiggle.com). The squiggle looks messy because the journey of researching, uncovering insights, generating creative concepts, iteration of prototypes and eventually trying a single designed solution can feel like this. But, in the end we hope we come out the other side with a prototype that is focused and can teach us lots about the systems we live in.
Set the Intention (Step #1)
The Route of Aging team started by examining similar programs that assess the home such as the work of Efficiency Nova Scotia and their Home Energy Assessment/Audit process. They also did some initial research on current programs in Nova Scotia to help seniors adapt their homes and explored the National Association of Home Builder’s requirements to become a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. This research provided the team with preliminary information on how other home assessment programs operated and offered some understanding of the types of physical adaptations one might want or need to consider as they age. But they still needed to talk to folks to go a bit deeper.
Explore and Engage (Step #2)
The team quickly set out to Explore and Engage in human centered research to broaden their understanding of what else seniors might need to age in place. They spoke with seniors, ranging in age from 70 to 98, families who were caring for seniors, as well as professionals, organizations, and contractors working to support seniors to live in their homes and communities longer.
Make Sense (Step #3)
Following the initial research phase, the team brought their findings back to a synthesis workshop and each team member shared what they had heard and the observations they had collected across the group. This process of downloading their findings, helped the group Make Sense of their research together, generate new insights into their design challenges and see their design challenge from a new perspective. These conversations also allowed the team to test some early assumptions and led to some important insights:
- Pride and independence of people as they age, drives decisions about how and where to live even if the costs to adapt a current home are high.
- For those working in the space of home adaptation, that empathy and training is required to properly retrofit a home so that folks can age in place and that in NS, this empathy and training is significantly lacking among trades persons and contractors.
- That aging at home often requires a lot more than a few retrofits/adaptations to the physical building or home. They learned that services are also required to support folks as mobility, fitness, and health may decline over the years. Services such as contractors, homecare, personal care, snow clearing, gardening support, and others are offered by a range of organizations and entities but when services are offered by public institutions or when financial support is for these services are offered through publicly funded programs, citizens find it difficult to apply, find information and the organizations providing these supports are often very disconnected.
Imagine Possibilities: Step #4
With some human centered insights in the mix, the team re-framed their design challenge questions and began the process of Ideation. They were curious to dig deeper into ideas and prototyping that focused more on a holistic concept of support rather than solely focusing on home adaptations and retrofits. The Route of Aging asked,
- How might we create a culture that normalizes supports and services for aging in place in a way that is attractive to users and providers?
- How might we better connect existing services and create a more navigable and cohesive system of services and supports?
- How might we create and promote awareness and reduce stigma for those providing supports and services for seniors?
The team got busy Ideating and generated a long list of wild and interesting ideas. They built on each other’s ideas, debated vigorously, and ultimately voted on which ones they felt were most innovative and most likely to succeed. They then moved on to Building it Out with Lego, art supplies and toys at their first Prototyping workshop and a preliminary prototype around the idea of creating a holistic Aging Hub was born.
Pausing for a Reflection
When Prototyping, it’s easy to fall into the mindset of wanting to succeed. After all, most people want to do a good job and do good work that will help others. And no one loves to fail. However, in social innovation, we know that failure is key and getting comfortable with it, learning how to work productively from failure is essential in this work. Hear us out … Often when just starting out on your prototyping journey, it’s good practice to go with the idea you feel will teach you the most about your design challenge, even if you are not so sure about its potential for success. This is because failure in the innovation space is a tried, tested and true path forward. As humans we have evolved to pay attention to our failures more than our successes and it’s often the quickest way for us to learn so that we can improve our ideas, solutions, and programs faster. If this sounds counterintuitive that’s because it is! So the next time you are prototyping, think: which of these ideas has the greatest potential to teach me something; you might be surprised at what ideas you choose to run with!
How have you handled feedback and failure in your design efforts in the past? What would you do differently in the future? If you have a good “failure story”, the kind that taught you a lot about your challenge or the system you were working in, drop us a note below.
The NS GovLab team would like to thank Dennis Pilkey, Stephen Amirault, Kenzie Finlayson-Buck, Aileen Nasager, Michele Banfield and Jon Kincade for all of their work and contributions to this prototyping journey. Their openness to sharing their learning process so that both our team and others can learn from the work and time they’ve contributed is invaluable. Stay tuned for Part II where we follow the Route of Aging’s second iteration of this prototype in the coming weeks.
The Design Squiggle. https://thedesignsquiggle.com/