Bonnie Mackay on Design That Enhances Our Life

This week we asked product expert Bonnie Mackay: How does one go about designing an amazing product?

Bonnie Mackay is a retail design director and merchandising executive who made Christmas ornaments for the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Bloomingdale’s, and has brought an understanding of brand identity to a wide spectrum of big brand names including clothing company UNIQLO and housewares company Alessi. With all her experience, we thought Bonnie Mackay would be the perfect person to offer some insight on our query.

The question is one we were prompted to ask given that we get calls all the time from people who “want to sell stuff to old people.” Yes — that is exactly the language they use. (Can you imagine someone like Steve Jobs saying that?)

Their desire to focus on that segment of the population is understandable: By 2030, seniors are projected to account for nearly 20 percent of the population — that’s approximately 72 million seniors. And a 2012 Nielsen study suggested that people 65 and older control 70 percent of disposable income in the United States.

But to get a slice of that substantial pie, it’s crucial for companies to design products that truly take into consideration the market they’re targeting. Many products designed for seniors, although well-intentioned, tend to pose a number of challenges. They can be confusing to use and don’t always fit seamlessly into actual lifestyles, according to Aging by Design: Innovation Action Map, a guide created by AARP and design firm frog design.

Here’s what Bonnie Mackay said about designing a good product:

  • Good design is cross-generational and universal in its function.
  • When I am both critiquing and selecting, I look for a design that enhances our life. When it is held, used, sat on and worn, the experience is AH HAH …YES!
  • And I always ask: Have you personally used or worn your product? I am always amazed who has not. The key to its success is the experience of your creation. I learned this from Sori Yanagi, Ward Bennett, Reiko Sudo and Michael Graves. Both Sori and Ward would not allow a product to go into production unless their samples worked. Reiko does the same with her textiles. Before I taught my class on universal design, Michael made me sit in his new wheelchair design for three hours. He was in his own at that time. I will never forget that experience.

Here read more about Bonnie’s story

Here read about fashion designer Jackie Villevoye, age 62

Here read about Jason Miller’s furniture design


David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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