Designing for seniors, students use human-centered approach
Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab project tackles social issues and global problems with for-profit endeavors; this years focus is seniors unique needs
Older ladies come and go from a table. They give a pair of panties a hard look.
The black and nude colors are nice.
Cotton takes a long time to dry, you know.
Lace is fine, but only on top.
When the semesters up, a trio of USC undergraduates will have spent roughly 100 hours speaking to seniors about underwear. Its just a topic they stumbled upon.
They wanted us to know that just because theyre old doesnt mean theyre not having sex, said Mohini Narasimhan, a senior studying international relations.
So they tucked that information away. Then an issue kept coming up.
A woman told them, Im afraid if I laugh too hard I might pee my pants. Another woman said she keeps a few pairs of panties in her purse, just in case.
Rosehips, incontinence underwear that doesnt scrimp on style, was born.
The approach of identifying something in abundance (romance) and identifying an issue (incontinence) is part of an approach called human-centered design.
Instead of educators, designers or engineers sitting in a siloed office and assuming what a user needs, these folks go out in the field, study the user and use that information to inform an approach to an issue.
The class is part of the Brittingham Social Enterprise Lab within the USC Marshall School of Business, which aims to tackle social issues and global problems with for-profit endeavors.
This isnt sort of market research. This is a much deeper dive into understanding communities, said Adlai Wertman, founder of the lab. If Ive come up with a new Chips Ahoy! cookie thats soft and nobody wants that, then I blew that investment. But if I come up with a new model to help childhood obesity and I blow that, then I hurt that community that adds a responsibility.
The classs instructor, Brittingham Executive Director Abby Fifer Mandell, picks an under-resourced community each year. In the past, its been low-income folks in Pacoima or farm workers in the Central Valley. This year, it was the folks of ONEGeneration Senior Enrichment Center, a Reseda nonprofit that serves older adults living below the poverty line.
As a country, we havent tended to the housing needs, the health needs, the consumer goods, the emotional needs of this population that will soon be the single largest population in this country, she said.
Designing for seniors
By 2035, seniors over the age of 65 will outnumber kids in the U.S. for the first time in history, according to a recent U.S. Census Bureau report.
We actually believe very strongly that this a community that needs a lot of attention, said Wertman, who noted the center is planning a partnership with the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology to come up with business opportunities within the world of seniors.
Over the course of the semester, teams of students develop prototypes. To develop theirs, Rosehips hit the streets or Targets adult diaper aisle.
We were really self-aware of it when we walked down the aisle, junior Brianna Doyle said of walking around the store with a pack of Depends.
Its an uncomfortable experience. Even when we opened it up it didnt feel normal, said Doyle, part of the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy.
Some women they talked to use diapers. Others used panty liners. Others took a chance. None of them had a solution that really made them feel confident.
Empowered, by design
We realized these women are getting held back from lifes moments laughing, dancing, Doyle said. We wanted to empower them to live their fullest lives.
The response has been encouraging. Theyve asked pointed questions.
Is that going to fit me? That was the No. 1 question.
Jorge Rojas Ortega
Is that going to fit me? That was the No. 1 question, said Jorge Rojas Ortega, a sophomore studying industrial and systems engineering.
On limited incomes, many of the women told them they purchase underwear in bulk packages and just go for whatevers cheapest showing that affordability and ease of purchase will be key, Doyle said.
I live on Social Security and thats it, said 79-year-old Jackie Smith, who was sharing her views on different prototypes on a recent Friday at the center.
The class will show off its prototypes at the end of the month, but Rosehips made up of Doyle, Narasimhan and Ortega wont be done there. In a recent meeting, the three decided the company will go on.
We all just said, Yeah, we love it and want to continue, Doyle said. Were hoping to get mentors and resources and continue building out a product. Its definitely going to live beyond the class.
At the center on a recent Friday, Mandell looked around the room. She was excited about all the products the students were coming up with a mobile nail salon with patient advocacy or a prep box of products to calm nerves before a colonoscopy. She was also encouraged by the time students spent at the center.
They are having these paradigm-shifting, attitude-changing encounters with populations of people they might not engage with, she said, noting some of the students hadnt even been to the San Fernando Valley before.
Some of the seniors have met with students multiple times, she said.
You can see whats happening here … my students will stay all day with these folks. They have someone listening to their stories, she said. You dont work in this space unless you believe theres something magical and beautiful about older adults.