Gene Lu's Portfolio

Thesis Proposal V0.2

For my thesis, I would like to focus on how a public space can serve as a platform for older people to interact with one another. The overall design of this is to build social support amongst its participants through social activities.

Topic Statement
Q: What problem are you taking on?
The lack of social support within older communities.

Potential Audience
Q: Who are you designing for?
I am designing for older adults that live in densely populated cities.

Q: What problem are you attempting to solve?
The problem I’m attempting to solve is the decreasing size of our social circle as we grow older.

Q: What do you know about your audience so far, and what questions have you yet to answer?
In New York City, outdoor activities amongst older generations are a rarity. More prevalent social activities such as bingo, Mah Jong, etc. take place indoors at senior centers across the city.

My hypothesis for why these activities tend to be more popular is because they are specific interests and each interest helps to form a common ground for all of its participants. This is also relevant to groups of a certain ethnicity. According to an article on on Jewish Senior Singles Social Events in New York, “many Jewish single seniors prefer to attend social events with other Jews” because there is a “shared culture and religious affiliation.”

Proximity can also contribute to a sense of commonality within a group of people. While in Shanghai, I observed that people living within a neighborhood participated in activities together. Based on a few interviews, spectators didn’t participate because they weren’t from the neighborhood.

Aside from shared interests based on activity, ethnicity, and proximity, depression in older adults can shut them off from all possibilities of interacting with others. According to the National Institutes of Health, “of the 35 million Americans age 65 or older, about 2 million suffer from full-blown depression. Another 5 million suffer from less severe forms of the illness.” Depression can result from loneliness and isolation, reduced sense of purpose, health problems, medications, fears, and/or recent bereavement.

Some questions that I have yet to answer are:

  • Is there an activity that can appeal to a larger group of older adults?
  • How can we promote intergenerational interaction to help create a more versatile and robust social circle?
  • Is there an activity that can be scaled appropriately to fit different contexts, e.g. nursing homes, outdoor parks, different countries, etc.?

Q: What is the experience you intend and form it might take?
The experience that I intend to form is a social gathering experience within a public installation where people, specifically older adults, occupying a public space are encouraged to interact with each other. The interaction amongst its participants may be aided by a network of artifacts.

Market Context
Q: What are the opportunities for your thesis idea in the marketplace?
As mentioned, installations within a public space that bring older adults together are rare, especially in New York City. If we can establish a versatile solution, it can be applied to other countries where public spaces are more readily available, such as the many neighborhood parks scattered throughout cities like Shanghai. For places that lack public space, this solution can be scaled down to fit existing nursing homes and senior centers.

Why Topic is Relevant/Interesting

Q: Why are you interested in this subject? When did your interest start?
I became interested in the social support structure for older adults when my grandmother moved into a nursing home several years ago. During that time, my family assigned specific days for each member to visit her in order to provide her with a fulfilling life.

Q: What do you hope to gain from this experience? How is it relevant to you?
I hope to learn more about how we can build and maintain a strong social support structure through interaction within a public space. By making activities amongst older adults more transparent, we can help shape and improve the perception of aging. This is relevant to me because I’ve witnessed firsthand how loneliness and depression can quickly destroy someone in their later years. Also, I’m going to be old one day and I really don’t want to go through what my grandmother went through.

Project Plan
Q: What are your next steps?

  • Do more research as to how behaviors change as one ages.
  • Observe how older adults behave in public spaces in NYC and compare it to my findings from Shanghai.
  • Research the activities and behaviors at nursing homes, senior centers, etc. in the area. Is there an unmet need?
  • Research on the public outlook on aging and how that perception is shaped.

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  • 26 Sep 2010

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