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355 Rosslyn Ave
Columbus, OH, 43214
United States

Co-designing with elders

Project background

In spring 2015 I worked with a market research firm to explore social engagement by co-designing with older adults.

Before beginning the project, my team heard presentations from experts on gerontology, occupational therapy, public health and city planning to learn more about the needs and issues of this growing demographic.

From these discussions we identified clothing as a potential area of interest, since it can be difficult for elders to find clothing that is  comfortable, easy to put on, and stylish.

Identifying shoes as an area of interest

Over the course of 10 weeks our team met with five residents of a senior living center.

During our first meeting, we asked the elders to complete a homework assignment about their favorite and least favorite articles of clothing. At the next meeting, we had them map out images of clothing and shoes that were easy or difficult to wear, and critical or less important to daily life. Shoes emerged as a specific area of interest and trouble, since they must be worn everyday, and comfort is extremely important.

Clothing matrix

Current shoe shopping experience

In our next meetings we asked the elders to discuss where and how they currently shop for clothing and shoes. We mapped out their key considerations and the brands that they prefer. We also had the elder co-designers bring in shoes they wear that they like and don't like, and discuss defining elements of each. Then we asked them to consider categories and attributes of different types of shoes.


Ideal online shoe shopping experience

For homework, we asked the elder co-designers to explore existing online shopping sites in other retail and clothing categories, and find what they liked and didn't. In our next sessions together, we discussed the functions they liked and considerations that really mattered to them. We then mapped out the process of an online shoe shopping experience that incorporated their needs at every step in the process.

Mapping the ideal

Final outcome

Our final outcome was a process map of how the ideal shoe shopping experience would work. One of our participants, a retired software engineer, even developed a wireframe for the site!

Consumer journey


Many elders are used to online shopping in other retail categories, but there are currently no sites for shoes that meet their specific needs. As we grow older, it becomes more important to find shoes that fit really well to accommodate any foot conditions we have, and so far that has been hard to do virtually. In creating an online shoe shopping experience, we recommend providing help at every touchpoint so elders can feel confident throughout the shopping process, from browsing to purchase. We recommend that this experience incorporate digital technologies such as 3D scanning and virtual customer service to ensure a perfect fit.

Additionally, elder shoppers are used to free shipping and easy returns provided by large online retailers. We recommend including these elements as well to lower the barrier to purchase.


Additional notes

The co-design process was new to us and our co-designers, and it was important to share information about how this research method works. Sharing academic articles and YouTube videos (including one found by one of our elder co-designers!) helped us all understand the process better.

Finally, The Columbus Dispatch wrote an article about our project! Read more here.