As the massive baby-boom generation moves into retirement—a new boomer turns 50 every seven seconds—Americans are going to see a profound shift in the way we spend and live. According to a 2007 McKinsey report, by 2015 boomers will command almost 60 percent of the country’s net wealth and 40 percent of its spending. Scan any Web site specializing in products for the aging, however, and you’re likely to find such practical but visually dispiriting items as pill crushers, bed ladders, and pistol-grip remote toenail clippers (don’t ask).
Industrial-design firms like IDEO, Ergonomi-design, and Smart Design still prefer to take a universal-design approach to this market. Dan Formosa, the cofounder of Smart Design, says that when he and his team are targeting older consumers, they prefer to separate age from ability. “When we’re actually designing things, we talk about specific abilities, like vision or strength or arthritis,” he says. Their digital dashboard for the new Ford Fusion car, for example, was made more readable in order to reduce the “look-away time—the time that your eyes are actually off the road, looking at the instrument panel.”
This is one of several products we’ve selected that should appeal particularly to aging Americans but could make day-to-day life better for pretty much anyone. The boomers, after all, are the generation that came of age in the ’60s and famously embraced that decade’s spirit of rebellion and defiance. Not surprisingly, they often seem in denial about growing old. They want it all, from state-of-the art toenail clippers to a Harley Davidson trike with tire-smoking torque and six-speed cruise control.