Transgenerational design

Transgenerational design is 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.

The term transgenerational design was coined in 1986, by Syracuse University industrial design professor James J. Pirkl to describe and identify products and environments that accommodate, and appeal to, the widest spectrum of those who would use them—the young, the old, the able, the disabled—without penalty to any group.

I’ve coined a similar framework to assess the reach or applicability of any particular message or action: ENCOMPASSINGNESS

The transgenerational design concept establishes a common ground for those who are committed to integrating age and ability within the consumer population.

Its underlying principle is that people, including those who are aged or impaired, have an equal right to live in a unified society.

Transgenerational design practice recognizes that human aging is a continuous, dynamic process that starts at birth and ends with death, and that throughout the aging process, people normally experience occurrences of illness, accidents and declines in physical and sensory abilities that impair one’s independence and lifestyle.

But most injuries, impairments and disabilities typically occur more frequently as one grows older and experiences the effects of senescence (biological aging). Four facts clarify the interrelationship of age with physical and sensory vulnerability:

  1. young people become old
  2. young people can become disabled
  3. old people can become disabled
  4. disabled people become old

Within each situation, consumers expect products and services to fulfill and enhance their lifestyle, both physically and symbolically.

Transgenerational design is framed as a market-aware response to population aging that fulfills the need for products and environments that can be used by both young and old people living and working in the same environment.


Transgenerational design benefits all ages and abilities by creating a harmonious bond between products and the people that use them. It satisfies the psychological, physiological, and sociological factors desired—and anticipated—by users of all ages and abilities:

  • Safety
  • Comfort
  • Convenience
  • Usability
  • Ergonomics
  • Accommodation

Transgenerational design addresses each element and accommodates the user—regardless of age or ability—by providing a sympathetic fit and unencumbered ease of use. Such designs provide greater accessibility by offering wider options and more choices, thereby preserving and extending one’s independence, and enhancing the quality of life for all ages and abilities—at no group’s expense.

Transgenerational designs accommodate rather than discriminate and sympathize rather than stigmatize. They do this by:

  • bridging the transitions across life’s stages
  • responding to the widest range of individual differences
  • helping people remain active and independent
  • adapting to changing sensory and physical needs
  • maintaining one’s dignity and self-respect
  • enabling one to choose the appropriate means to accomplish activities of daily living

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