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           What is "transgenerational design?"    

    Transgenerational Design

    A New Design Era
     The Design Challenge
    The Design Options


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This elegant, simple-to-use 'transgenerational' design spins salads for    all ages and abilities. Simply press the soft,  non-slip knob to start spinning. The built-in break stops the spin so you can unload it.



It's the practice of making products and environments compatible with those physical and sensory impairments associated with human aging and which limit major activities of daily living.

  Why "Transgenerational" Design?

THE SECRET IS OUT – Across the globe astute manufacturers, researchers, marketers, and design organizations have discovered—and embrace—the 'transgenerational design' concept.

We don't read much in the popular press about transgenerational design, nor hear it discussed very often at cocktail parties. But most people, when introduced to a 'transgenerational' product or environment, immediately recognize its benefits.

  • Serve the widest range of ages and abilities
  • Bridge the transitions across life's stages
  • Respond to the widest range of individual differences and abilities
  • Offer a variety of means to accomplish one's activities of daily living
  • Maintain one's dignity and sense of self worth
  • Enable personal and social interaction
  • Support intergenerational relationships

Quite simply, 'transgenerational design' promotes graceful aging, softens the impacts of, extends independent living, and enhance the quality of life for all—the young, the old, the able, the disabled.

In short, transgenerational designs accommodate rather than discriminate and innovate rather than replicate.

What It's NOT

"accessible bathroom   TRANSGENERATIONAL DESIGN is NOT about producing products for "the aged," "elderly housing," or bathrooms for "the handicapped." And it's NOT about designing "accessible" products or environments that mindlessly conform to bureaucratically imposed principles, standards, dimensions and diagramatically mandated "solutions."

Designs produced with code-compliant concentration usually result in starkly functional, impersonal products and environments that lack human sensitivity, interest, and appeal (i.e., grab bars, threshold ramps, hand rails, door knob extenders, bathtub handles, raised toilet seats), which reek with "institutional," "medical," "aging," and "disability" connotations.

Transgenerational designs sympathize rather than stigmatize.

What It IS

Vanity design  

TRANSGENERATIONAL DESIGN IS about designing ALL consumer products and residential environments to be accommodating—and attractive—to the widest possible spectrum of those who would use them—the young, the old, the able, the disabledwithout penalty to any group.

It's more than just functional design accommodation based on mandated professional and governmental standards. It also considers the users' individuality, aesthetic sensitivity, social stature, and self respect.

Transgenerational designs innovate rather than replicate

What It DOES

Old Hands  

TRANSGENERATIONAL DESIGN neutralizes the discriminating effects of aging, physical and sensory impairments, or disabilities.

Transgenerational design accommodates— and appeals to—people of all ages and abilities through their innovative and human-communication syatems.ms.

Transgenerational designs emphasize safety, comfort, convenience, beauty, accessibility, clean-ability, adjust-ability, ease of use, and bodily fit.s one's dignity a

Transgenerational designs sympathize rather than stigmatize!


  Benefits and Principles

Transgenerational design delivers five essential benefits:

  • USABILITY — permits us to easily obtain or use an object, service, or facility and move freely and normally throughout an environmental setting.
  • LEGIBILITY— offers cues that enable us to perceive our sense of place and differences.
  • ACCESSIBILITY — permits us to easily access and use an object, service, or facility regardless of our age or ability.
  • ADAPTABILITY — determines ease of use and range of fit and adjustability offered by a product or environment.
  • COMPATABILITY — demands that artifacts and spaces be yielding, tolerant, unassertive, and amenable to our functional limitations.

Transgenerational design fulfills 7 basic design principles:

  • SAFETY — freedom from danger, injury, or damage under reasonable conditions by all who may be expected to handle, use, or operate them. Transgenerational designs anticipate a wide variety of physical and sensory impairments, providing safe, supporting features—even before they may be needed.
  • COMFORT — freedom from disturbing, painful, or stigmatizing forms or features. Transgenerational designs provide physical and sensory comfort for those with impairments as well as the able-bodied.
  • CONVENIENCE — convenient, handy, and appropriate use for all who would use them. This mea ns convenient use, transport, packaging, storage, operation, cleaning and repair.
  • EASE OF USE — simple, uncomplicated, and easy to use. Designs should offer readable and understandable instructions and directions, simple operations, and logical controls that do not confound our intelligence. Such designs do not tire our muscles or defy our dexterity—regardless of our age or ability.
  • ERGONOMIC FIT  — physical fit and sensory accommodation for the widest possible range of appropriate human dimensions. Ergonomic designs recognize that while our bodily dimensions and abilities reach their full limits during our late teens and early twenties, they also diminish as we age.
  • SUITABILITY  appropriate size, function, appearance, adjustability, accommodation, and symbolism suitable for the widest spectrum of anticipated users.
  • USER VALUE — infusing 'utility' with user-sensitive value-added perceptions, components, and features. User value satisfies consumers' desire by translating expectations into positive reactions, thus maintaining self respect, extending independence, and promoting satisfaction.

Products and environments designed using these principles have broad 'transgenerational' appeal.

  Origin and History

LAST QUARTER-CENTURY spotlighted two unresolved environmental discrimination problems—disability and aging.

Each problem aroused a separate segment of our global conscience and sparked efforts to satisfy the swelling need for accessible housing, products, and environments that are usable by, and attractive to, people of all ages and abilities.


Disability Rights Movement

Disability Rights Photo  

THE MILESTONE DECADES of the1970s and 80s witnessed an historic effort to achieve equality by providing long-denied independence, autonomy, and full access to society for people with disabilities. The ongoing struggle by people with disabilities to gain full citizenship is an important part of the American heritage...

during the 1950s, more and more people were surviving injuries and diseases that were fatal prior to the 20th-century's advances in biotechnical medicine. Efforts by the growing population of military veterans and young adults to participate fully in society gained momentum.   

Disabled people have historically been forced into dependency relying on others to speak for them, label them, and take care of them. Responding during the early 1970s, those with disabilities began forming loose communities, coming together in centers for independent living.

As early as October 20, 1979 — linked by the common cause of achieving "equality for everyone"— the nascent disability rights movement strengthened its determination and created a "Disabled Peoples' Civil Rights Day Rally."

Seeking independence, autonomy, and full access to society, disabled people strengthened their determination to not only overcome prejudice, but also the physical environmental barriers, which llmited their access to employment and restricted their activities of daily living.

The strength of their collective demands for environmental accessibility sparked a societal awakening, modified the mind-set of government units, and helped forge a historic disability rights movement.

As the movement grew, its dedicated efforts fueled the passage of two milestone acts of federal legislation:

  • The Title VIII amendment of the 1988 Fair Housing Amendments Act, which "prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin," and...

  • 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), intends to "provide a clear and comprehensive mandate for the elimination of discrimination against individuals with disabilities."

The introduction of both Acts led to welcomed societal inclusion for people with disabilities. But the Acts' mandated but well-intended access provisions, governmental regulations, codes, standards and policies for reshaping a broad spectrum of physical environments, produced unintentional results—particularly within the building industry and architectural profession.

The laws' legal pressure slowly increased accessibilitiy by forcing fundamental changes and additions to the nation's architectural and public environments. Mandated counter heights and hall widths, ramps, hand rails, and grab bars quickly became familiar items.

Unfortunately, while accommodating the limitations of physical disabilities, their stark, functional appearance soon became a visual icon for disability—their stark, functional appearance becoming the stigma of handicpped.

Response to an Aging Population

Aging Chart  

During this same 1970s -1980s period, ripples of concerned awareness about population aging had also begun to form.

Fifty million middle-aged Baby Boomers, the driving force behind yesterday's youth culture, were steadily approaching the threshold of retirement.

Not only were they increasingly expanding the number of those within the older population, they were also living longer—a prediction that a future rise in the number of physical and sensory impairments and disabilities was inevitable—and an early signal that the design professions would face a growing new challenge.

Congress's passing of the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 (ADA), which prohibited "discrimination on the basis of age in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance", signaled society's growing awareness and concern. Ensuing political interest and debate over the Act's 1978 amendments led to the abolishing of mandatory retirement at age 65 and injected the issues of aging into the mainstream of societal awareness.

Advancements in medical research began to extended longevity and gradually changed society's image of age from one of senility and dependency to activity and independence. The media, responding to the public's growing awareness, reinforced aging's new image with increasingly positive articles, programs and cover stories.

The 1985 agreement by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Administration on Aging, the Farmer's Home Adminmistration, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development would improve building, landcape, product, and grapic design for older Americans, which would make products more appealing and easier to use by the elderly.

Recognizing the design implications of population aging, the concept and term, "Transgenerational Design," emerged in 1986, coined by Syracuse University industrial design professor James J. Pirkl, FIDSA. It identified the research area undertaken in the year-long Design-for-Aging project funded by a grant from the Administrative Office of Human Development Services, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, DC.

The project, completed in 1987, was initiated and collaborated on by Syracuse University's Department of Design, All-University Gerontology Center, and Center for Instructional Development. The project, Led by professor Pirkl and Gerontologist, Anna A. Babic, published and distributed two seminal books published in 1988:

which were distributed to all industrial design schools and programs, throughout the United States, accredited by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design (NASAD).

In addition to providing specialized information about the realities of human aging, each manual contained a detailed set of design guidelines and strategies for accommodating limitations and changing abilities in vision, hearing, touch, and mobility that lead to impairments and disabilities affecting people of all ages and abilities.



Against this backdrop, Pirkl's book, Transgenerational Design: Products for an Aging Population, published in 1994, contrasted sharply with universal design's founding focus on achieving architectural and environmental accessibility through mandated standards. It articulated the emerging need for consumer products that accommodate people across the wider spectrum of age and ability.

The book's transgenerational concept promoted a new message: "Make products and environments compatible with those physical and sensory impairments associated with human aging and which limit major activities of daily living."

Over the years, the book has had a profound effect. Attracting world wide attention, recognition, and adoption—it continues to source numerous citations, presentations, seminars, theses, book chapters, and articles about the concept and benefits of Transgenerational Design.

Because its neutral and non-stigmatizing label bridges all ages and abilities, an increasing number of astute global manufacturers and research organizations embrace the ‘transgenerational’ design concept, recognizing its competitive advantage for attracting the attention—and collective buying power—of the exploding aging market.


AS THE NEW MILLENNIUM PROCEEDS, one can envisage the swelling impact that transgenerational design will have on tomorrow's products and environments—and those that they serve.

The answer, of course, will be determined, not only by the demands of the marketplace, but also the degree of societal sensitivity demonstrated by the fruits of tomorrow's designers.

In the end, however, successful solutions will only be achieved by uniting those forms of function and beauty that accommodate the widest range of ages and abilities within the vast spectrum of human needs—the essence of professional design responsibility and service.

Are we up to the challenge?

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