DesignAge Institute to harness design to meet the needs of our ageing society

DesignAge Institute to harness design to meet the needs of our ageing society
  • New institute will enable the UK to lead the world in harnessing the power of design to create products and services that help people live healthier, more independent lives
  • Research England awards the Royal College of Art and partners £4.9m to establish The DesignAge Institute
  • The institute will boost business investment in new products and services to meet the aspirations and needs of older people, tapping into a growing global market worth US $7 trillion (£5.4 trillion)

A new institute at the Royal College of Art is set to bring the UK’s design expertise and business know-how together for the very first time to develop new products and services to support the aspirations and needs of growing numbers of older consumers.

Global ageing is one of the biggest societal challenges of our time, but healthy longevity also provides an economic opportunity. In the UK, the number of over-60s will reach 30 million by 2040, making up a quarter of the population. This big demographic shift needs businesses to invent new products and services to meet their aspirations and needs.   

But society’s ideas and assumptions about ageing stifles business thinking on how best to serve older consumers. Despite this, people aged 50 and over hold just over three-quarters of the UK’s financial wealth. And the UK’s older consumer market is expected to grow by around 80 per cent by 2030, while the 18 to 59-year-old market will only increase by 7 per cent.

This presents the UK with a unique opportunity to use its excellence in design to lead the world in the longevity economy, tapping into the growing global demand for products and services that support everyone to age well and enjoy later life.

Dr Paul Thompson, Vice-Chancellor, Royal College of Art, commented:

‘The Design Age Institute could not come at a more opportune moment: as we have seen during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the UK still has a long way to go in terms prioritising the needs of an ageing population.

‘And beyond the lockdown, we need a vigorous national debate about how we will support healthy ageing in intergenerational housing, workplaces and cities.

‘We have caught a glimpse of how those aged over 70 self identify, their lifestyles, and their expectations. Universal design will play a vital role in enhancing quality of life issues for all - including older people.’

Alice Frost, Director of Knowledge Exchange at Research England, said:

‘Research England’s investment in the DesignAge Institute will help switch business and the public sector to provide products and services that really meet the needs and aspirations of the customer, as well as great aesthetics and user experiences.

‘This is so important, to see ageing as an opportunity, both economically and in society.

‘Research England is also pleased to be able to showcase the importance of design in innovation, and to support collaboration between universities across the country.’

The DesignAge Institute will work with national partners, including The Oxford Institute of Population Ageing at Oxford University, the National Innovation Centre for Ageing at Newcastle University, International Longevity Centre UK and Design Museum, London, over a three-year period to build a national design-for-ageing network.


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  1. The DesignAge institute is supporting the ambition of the Ageing Society Grand Challenge led by Department of Health and Social Care, which aims to harness the power of innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society.  Its aims to ensure people of all ages in the UK lead fuller, healthier and more active lives; whilst supporting a new generation of businesses to thrive in the growing global market for products and services that support us all age well. Its mission is for people to enjoy at least five more years of healthy, independent life by 2035, whilst narrowing the gap between the experience of the richest and poorest.

    As part of the Ageing Society Grand Challenge, UKRI delivers the Healthy Ageing Challenge, a £98million fund to inspire the development of products and services to help people remain independent, productive, active and socially connected for longer.
  2. Research England Development Fund -
  3. Research England shapes healthy, dynamic research and knowledge exchange in English universities. It distributes over £2.2bn to universities in England every year; works to understand their strategies, capabilities and capacity; and supports and challenges universities to create new knowledge, strengthen the economy, and enrich society. Research England is part of UK Research and Innovation alongside the seven Research Councils and Innovate UK., @ResEngland
  4. UK Research and Innovation works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. It aims to maximise the contribution of each of its component parts, working individually and collectively. It works with many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas.

    Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.