Furniture for Later Life: Design Based on Older People’s Experiences of Furniture in Three Housing Forms
Abstract: This thesis in industrial design concerns the challenges and possibilities in meeting demographic shifts and the presumed expectations of today’s and tomorrow’s older generations. The background is the lack of furniture that responds to the demands of older consumers and the lack of knowledge about relationships between people and furniture in their home environments and in various forms of elderly care environments. Generalizations made regarding old people's needs have proved to be too limited in scope to meet their needs and wishes. The purpose is to improve knowledge and awareness concerning the ways in which old people act on, are influenced by, reflect on and appreciate furniture in their homes. To reveal these relationships, three different housing forms have been studied and compared. The aim is to improve the conditions for design of furniture intended for old people and the housing forms in which they live with their own experiences as a point of departure.
The overall approach is user-centered with an early focus on old people. A number of qualitative, descriptive studies were conducted to shed light on everyday relationships between old people and furniture. One common feature of the studies was interviews. In order to reach a deeper and more nuanced understanding, a combination of various data gathering methods has been applied in addition to the interviews. In total, 88 people participated in the studies. A qualitative cross-study content analysis was used to compare accounts regarding relationships between people and furniture for three different housing forms: 1) ordinary housing, 2) senior housing and 3) nursing homes.
The results show that there is great variety in what old people express regarding furniture and reveal a diversity of interests, needs and wishes. In the light of these results, it is unreasonable to reduce old people to a homogeneous group or attempt to specify their needs in advance. Despite this, the results reveal needs and wishes for furniture that provide comfort, pleasure and independence and that contribute to desired experiences of dignity, meaningfulness and freedom. The results are presented in a model explaining how furniture may be attributed significance by older people. The model, which consists of four categories, 1) fit usage, 2) fit human body, 3) suit the individual and 4) fit physical environment, is proposed for use with other product types or services and also for people in other stages of their lives. In the results, old people are seen to be active and reflective users who are capable of identifying their needs as well as specifying and expressing their demands. The needs expressed by old people themselves differ from existing recommendations regarding furniture intended for old people. The latter are based primarily on the effects of physiological changes old people have undergone, whereas the results of this thesis indicate the need for products which provide support also for psychological and social changes and which correspond to a desired identity, i.e. that of an active, independent and self-determinant individual.
The conclusion is that designers ought to be closely involved in researching the needs and wishes of old people and that they ought to embrace a holistic view on people and their diverse needs. This thesis recommends that future works in industrial and market oriented contexts utilize the knowledge generated in this thesis, involve users in iterative design processes, and create totally new or improved furniture solutions desirable and usable by people for as long period of their lives as possible.
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