Optimising co-design to create better life outcomes
The UK needs to design products with older people, carers and communities in mind rather than retrofitting to poorly understood needs.
Dr Stephen Feast, founder of Steve Feast Ltd. Health Strategy Consulting, makes the case for organisations to adopt the process of co-design in order to have the consumer at the heart of the product.
When I work with private and public sector investors I learn a lot about the power of co-design, but to date, I have seen very few examples of this rather simple approach being used successfully. Co-design involves having input from consumers right from the beginning of the product design process and this input playing a central role throughout. Co-design ensures that needs of the user are met and that the product that ends up being produced is successful with the target consumer, hopefully streamlining the user testing and production process.
Re-pivoting post pandemic
Many of our familiar brands face a post pandemic threat that what they make may no longer be needed or desired in this new world – only the most agile companies that are able to adapt to changing customer needs will thrive. As we re-pivot the industrial strategy, any support given must be conditional upon the value it brings. The government cannot afford to prop up struggling companies that are no longer relevant.
Consequently, industry will likely significantly diversify their products as what customers want and need may be very different from last year’s plans. Unfortunately, we are not yet seeing this marketplace transform and change rapidly enough. There is an understanding that years of austerity has reduced the ability to offer a great start in life and subsequently to age as independently and positively as possible. We expect something better and given the scale of the crisis, for that to be here fast. Policy makers, captains of industry, SMEs, workers and carers must collectively shape this response.
Helping people stay healthy and financially secure matters to governments, to society at large and, especially post COVID-19, to our economy and place in a globalised world. The devastating effect the pandemic has had on the most vulnerable worldwide, reframes this as a matter of social as well as economic need. The question governments, industry and innovators need to rapidly address is how we use this crisis to work with people to intelligently and iteratively design solutions that can be sold in the global economy. Companies need to invest in people across all life stages to enable them to contribute economically and socially to our society. Moving from a model where products that have been developed for the fit and healthy are adapted for older users to one that understands and drives radical design and change. Generating new ideas and fit for purpose solutions across the life course that allow greater independence and contributions to society by all.
In many ways the news is good. We know the UK has the intellectual and innovation firepower to stimulate healthy ageing markets worldwide. Wouldn’t it be great if in the next hundred years we are known as the global leader in health and wellbeing? Exporting fabulously well-designed great value ideas, products and solutions that are desirable and usable by those that most benefit from them. Moving from a deficit to an asset-based model of ageing as we do so.
We need to make the best of every citizen’s potential at all life stages to continue to contribute economically and socially.
How to streamline the production process:
Firstly, designers/entrepreneurs need to immerse themselves in the world of the target marketplace from the start of the project to ensure proposals aren’t brought back at phase two with complex additions that add functionality but lose the originality and focus. Better progress would be made by working more closely with consumers and keeping to the original purpose of the design rather than what can be made.
Secondly, entrepreneurs need to understand the value chain in health and care markets – that there is often an intermediary purchaser between the investor and the end user. But starting with direct to consumer may be easier than navigating an intermediary in the beginning. Many innovators assume that because there are ‘x’ thousand people who might need their invention then that is the market. The reality is that a 1-2% market penetration may be the best you can hope for before something else comes along and replaces hard fought for sales.
Thirdly, beware of those that take an existing innovation and seek to plonk it into the healthy ageing marketplace. Yes, there is a role for smart speakers and meters, movement sensors, alarms and virtual reality across all ages. They especially have a role in high risk settings. But the reality is that better housing adaptations, desirably deigned aids to daily living, better design of the everyday and strong use of social media and communications are cheaper, endure across the life course and access a higher volume market. Start with what the market really needs reshaping and bring style, innovation and desire to the everyday, rather than try to retrofit tech that doesn’t fit.
Finally, my advice to innovators and new market players is always to complete due and diligent market research and competitor analysis. Know whether you will licence or patent the idea, sell it on or collaborate with an existing market player. Investors can do much better at market shaping, managed dialogue and innovators working with others to achieve second and third order innovation. If these links are made early it helps people either fail fast and cheap or move more rapidly towards a viable product.
As an innovative nation we must turn the current threat into an opportunity by harnessing businesses wisdom and experience to help launch a new industrial revolution based around common science. We need to make the best of every citizen’s potential at all life stages to continue to contribute economically and socially. As well as encouraging the manufacturing sector and other businesses to become more environmentally aware and greener. This includes starting with the needs of our older people, carers and community so we to need design in with these people in mind rather than retrofitting to poorly understood needs. If we get this right we will thrive in the hard times ahead.