Co.Design

MIT Suit Simulates What It's Like To Be 70 Years Old

The AGNES suit simulates the experience of being 70 to help designers understand the needs of our aging population.

It is a stark fact of life that none of us is getting any younger. Thanks to falling birth rates, lengthening life expectancy, and the inevitable march of time, the population as a whole is getting older too. In Japan, it is projected that by 2050 people over 65 will outnumber people under 20 at a ratio of 10:6. All these old people rightfully expect to lead long and happy lives, which means there are design challenges which simply did not exist when life expectancy was 50 (as it was in the industrialized world in 1900).

To help young designers (along with architects, engineers, planners, and more) understand the needs of their aging clients, MIT’s Agelab has created a suit called AGNES, calibrated to give the wearer the experience of being 70.

AGNES dims your sight, stiffens your neck, shortens your gait, and faithfully recreates countless other injustices of aging. It’s the opposite of military exoskeletons like the SARCOS. Instead of enhancing physical performance to super-human levels, AGNES is an empathy enhancer.

This is a physical embodiment of the advice that we should walk a mile in one another’s shoes, and a clever approach to the problem of user testing. Rather than simply interviewing subjects to find out about their experience in the world, you can go out there and feel it for yourself. It also implies a host of other meta-tools for experience designers, and takes the embodied approach of firms like IDEO (such as their famous six-minute film of a hospital ceiling) to a whole new level.

For an interview with two of the creators, click here.

[Photos by Nathan Fried-Lipski]

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15 Comments

  • Bette Boomer

    At Bette Boomer (www.betteboomer.com), we've talked about AGNES & how important it is that designers understand the aging experience. Aging in place and with tools that enhance  a healthy longevity are critical. AGNES' empathy mitigates aging angst!

  • Symon

    What if you already were 70 years old:-) Seriously, such a good idea to provide a more objective sense of how space is experienced.

  • George

    Patty not only modeled the physical experience but the psychic as well. She dressed and made herself up to look like an octogenerian, and paid the price of being mugged because she looked vulnerable. Back to the drawing board, MIT, and get real this time.

  • wheelyweb

    @ Mark Mackay
    The purpose of the suit, as I understand it, is not to replace rigorous testing, but to get  young designers to get some understanding of the types of constraints typical of a 70yr old. It would be a shame if it was used as a replacement for real user-testing. 
    You have to admit, it can be a valuable first step to encourage empathy (a quality a good designer must have in their tool-kit) in young designers attempting to understand the issues a senior has in navigating the world. It means their initial run at it will START with a better, more inclusive version. 
    But I agree, nothing of this sort can replace proper testing but can go some way improve initial designs and prototypes. 

  • Mark MacKay

    The Agnes suit signifies aging as a world of deficit and limitation. It's ageism masquerading as benevolance. Hire some designer's in their 70s and have them work - for pay! - with students and other design professionals. People wearing the Agnes suit are not experiencing loss of sight or movement. They're approximating the loss. It's superficial and can only lead to condescension and resentment if their work is critiqued or rejected by their "limited" audience. It's the worst kind of paternalism.

  • MAA

    While this specific suit might be new, the idea of creating simulated environment of an elderly person, especially for navigating public transit or walking the streets  is not. Maybe I missed it, but did you or the people at MIT refer to the AENEAS project?  http://www.aeneas-project.eu/?... The have been doing the same thing for a while.  Maybe not with the fancy branded suits but with similar "aging suits".
     

  • Larry-Miller

    But they still set 8 pt Garamond on a textured 4/c background and expect seniors to read it. Before youse gets fency,

    get real man, get real !

  • Steven Leighton

    Looks to me like those coveralls need a 20 kilo tyre round the middle and one shoe very very tight and the other with a thicker solid sole and and and to simulate aging. Also how to you simulate forgetting where you left your damn reading glasses/car keys etc.
    And then when seniors mix up /forget to take their medicine-- I could go on and on--- as my mother does "... wait a minute, wait a minute why am I going up the stairs?"

  • Carscott

    Interesting insights into aging that will help us design literally everything for those physical/cognitive changes.  Don't forget the isolation and frustration of hearing loss, even a mild to moderate loss common at age 70. 

  • GabyFlo

    This article is inspiring :D
    I was just thinking about this a couple of weeks ago. See I
    have no children to take care of me when I'm older and even if I had
    them there's no guarantee I will be take care of HA!

    So since I'm
    a designer why not to start designing for our wise elder population and
    create a better future for myself and my generation... I want to turn
    64 and still be able to go out and have fun!!

    Quite an interesting challenge since I live in a developing country where public services still need to be "humanized" ... Bright side is that it is possible