An Introduction to Design Justice for Older Adults
By Stuart Gray, 29th March 2023
In this blog post, we introduce an approach that we have used in the Connecting Through Culture as We Age project, Design Justice. Here we provide a basic summary of the theory, outline its 10 guiding principles, and illustrate why we’ve found it useful when working with older adults in design processes.
Design justice is a growing movement that seeks to ensure that the design of products, services, and spaces is equitable and inclusive. This movement recognizes that design has historically been used to exclude certain communities and perpetuate systemic injustices. By centering the needs and experiences of marginalized communities, design justice aims to create more just and equitable outcomes for all.
In total, design justice offers 10 principles to guide design:
- Centre the voices of those who are directly impacted by the design process
- Acknowledge and challenge power imbalances within the design process
- Seek to undo and resist systemic inequalities and forms of oppression
- Frame design as a tool for collective liberation and social justice
- Honour and uplift traditional and indigenous knowledge and practices
- Engage in relationships that prioritize care, trust, and accountability
- Build sustainable, community-led solutions that do not exploit or extract from communities
- Work towards equitable distribution of resources and benefits
- Recognize the intersectional nature of identities and design solutions
- Practice reflection and self-critique throughout the design process
At its core, design justice is about using design as a tool for social change. It involves actively working to understand the experiences of minoritised communities and designing products, services, and spaces that support what matters to them. This includes considering factors such as accessibility, affordability, and cultural relevance. This is especially important when working with minoritised older adults, a group with expertise and knowledge as well as challenges and experiences that are too often treated in a homogenous way. In the Connecting Through Culture project, we’ve worked with co-researchers over time to build relationships and trust, including through creative lifecourse mapping activities that can recognise difference and take account of lived experience of structural inequalities
Design justice also involves recognizing and challenging the ways in which design has been used to perpetuate systemic injustices. For example, certain design choices can reinforce discriminatory practices or exclude certain groups of people. For older adults, systemic ageism can lead to exclusion and marginalization. By actively challenging and dismantling ageist attitudes and practices, designers can help create a more inclusive and equitable society for older adults. In the Connecting Through Culture project, we’ve advocated for the existing capacities our co-researchers have in a number of ways – by granting the co-researchers opportunities to run their own creative workshops that showcase their talents and supporting others to learn; by ensuring that their voices are heard, not just within the co-design process, but at a range of events involving external partners, with funders, and the public, as well as through our co-researcher-produced films.
Community engagement and participation is another key principle of design justice. When co-designing with older adults, it’s essential to involve them in the design process and actively seek their input and feedback. This enables us as a team to place their expertise and passions at the centre of the design process and also helps build trust and respect between designers and older adults. In the Connecting Through Culture project, we’ve attempted to build in opportunities for community to flourish around the project by: facilitating special interest groups – for co-researchers with shared passions (e.g., the Zoom poetry group), as well as by arranging community excursions to sites and events that are representative of different cultural interests, and by using social media channels.
In conclusion, design justice principles can provide valuable guidance when co-designing with older adults. By centering their expertise and passions, challenging systemic injustices, and actively involving them in the design process, we have been more able to create ethical, effective, and inclusive processes and designs for older adults. Design justice is a theory that the Connecting Through Culture project has embedded within its practice, and we look forward to providing our own insights that can further inform its use with minoritized older adults.