Are shopping malls ageist?

Older supermarket shoppers need a positive attitude from employees, functional shopping trolleys, and appropriate placement of products on shelves. Retail stores are public space and they should look good and be functional. Therefore a universal design approach can prevent shopping malls from being ageist.

View inside a shopping mall showing shops on each side of a walkway. Are shopping malls ageist?

Key design elements are: seamless outdoor to indoor access, easy to use shopping trolleys, seeing, finding and reaching products, reading product contents and price tags, and a smooth payment process.

Apart from helpful staff and functional equipment, there are other elements to consider.

  • Circulation systems and spaces: ramps, elevators, escalators, hallways and corridors
  • Entering and exiting: identifying and approaching entrances and exits and moving through them easily
  • Wayfinding: Graphical text, pictograms, maps, photos, diagrams, obvious paths of travel, nodes, edges, zones and districts
  • Obtaining products and services: service desks waiting areas and shops
  • Public amenities: toilets and seating
  • Ambient conditions: noise control, non-glare lighting, adequate temperature and humidity

A paper titled, Design Failure in Indoor Shopping Structures: Unconscious
Ageism and Inclusive Interior Design in Istanbul
explains more. The authors use the 7 principles of universal design as a guide and add another 4. The additional four principles are related to aesthetics, social participation, sustainability and equity. They also found that toilets and seating within supermarkets could do much to improve the shopping experience for older people.

overhead picture of the fresh food section of a supermarket.

As older adults’ need for toilets increases, the time spent in the supermarket declines. So they choose medium or small-sized supermarkets within walking distance of home.

From the abstract

People consciously or unconsciously make older adults feel less important than younger citizens. Older people may experience social and economic stress as well as anxiety, hopelessness, isolation, and depression. Almost all industries are disproportionately focused on developing technological innovations for younger people, not for older adults.

Although there is research on aging populations, research on the indoor design problems that older people encounter every day is scarce. Shopping is a good opportunity for older people to get involved in the community and we should aim to prevent architectural barriers.

A questionnaire was administered to 198 participants about their experiences in supermarkets. The results showed that as the need for rest areas and toilets increases, the time spent by older adults in supermarkets declines.

Additionally, checkout counters and product display shelves show design problems that constitute indoor accessibility issues. This study concludes by looking at issues in the design of indoor shopping area that contribute to ageist attitudes. We call for inclusive shopping environments to address spatial justice and to eliminate ageism.

Shopping with cognitive challenges

Picture of a shopping mall with a plain grey floor and shops on each side. Thre is a woodend bench with armrests and backrest. In the distance you can see more shops.Shopping for groceries is a chore for most people. But for people with reduced cognitive abilities shopping can be a major challenge. Researchers in Sweden carried out a study of 29 people with cognitive challenges to find out their coping strategies. They found very different approaches to coping, but in every case the coping strategy was underpinned by a “personal and strong wish to maintain individuality and independence”.

The researchers found some good points for retailers including: clear paths that connect the entrance and exits with check out counters, clear signage, places to sit and rest (and reduce anxiety) and creating a sense of feeling safe in the environment. The title of the paper is, Shopping with Acquired Brain Injuries, Coping Strategies and Maslowian Principles, by Andersson, Skehan, Ryden and Lagerkrans, from the Swedish Agency for Participation. As with most personal case study research this is an easy read.  

The recommendations are also good for people without reduced cognition. For example, reducing “visual noise” and clutter helps everyone to find what they are looking for, and a clear path of travel is good for people using mobility devices. Again, thoughtful design is universal design.

From the abstract

In Sweden the expected life span has increased with approximately 25 years during the 20th century. This study is based on interviews with groups of older persons who experience cognitive problems and relatives. The interviewees were asked about everyday activities like shopping groceries, clothes or other necessities. The interviewees identified problems and described a series of strategies for coping.

The strategies range from complete withdrawal, an increased dependency on proxies to the development of elaborate techniques to mask their problem and obtain assistance. Following the current trend in the design of the Swedish sales environment – large scale, abundance of goods and Maslowian strategies for making people stay longer (and spend more money) – accessibility in the built environment is often an absent friend.


Accessible and inclusive workplaces

There’s a lot of talk about inclusive workplaces and a diverse workforce, but a policy isn’t enough. The “how-to” is the tricky part. The Australian Human Rights Commission has produced a plain language guide to help employers recruit and include people with disability. The guide is titled IncludeAbility and is 10 pages (in PDF) and therefore sticks to the basics.

Graphic from the cover of accessible and inclusive workplaces called include ability.

People with disability have the right to work on an equal basis with others, and in a work environment that is ‘open, inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities’.

The guide covers some old ground including the ageing 7 Principles of Universal Design and the Lendlease Design for Dignity Guidelines. And of course existing standards for the built environment. In terms of technology, readers are directed to the WACG guide. Assistive technology and Employment Fund Assistance also get a mention. Case studies highlight some of the issues many people with disability face when getting work and while at work.

Workplace attitudes are the barriers you can’t see and are therefore the most difficult to overcome. There’s a list of questions employers can ask themselves that mostly relate to organisational policies and staff training. The Human Rights Commission offers staff training in capital cities.

Workplace technology

At an individual level, assistive technology bridges many of the gaps between being able and dis-abled. However, company websites should be accessible for staff as well as customers. Similarly, all key documents should offer accessible formats for staff and customers. the South Australian Government toolkit is referenced with more information on this topic.

Creating an accessible and inclusive workplace is available online where there are links to a PDF version and a Word version. The IncludeAbility website is has additional resources for people with disability and Frequently Asked Questions.

Editor’s comment: This document appears to be a gathering of existing information that’s been around for a while. It would be interesting to see what a co-designed guide would look like. That is, what do employers want to see in a guide and how do they want it presented.? A guide is a product so it can be universally designed too.

Inclusive communication encourages buying

Inclusive communication is key to any purchase for people with and without disability. Whether in written formats, online, or in person, communication is a critical part of the purchasing process. Service based businesses such as tourist attractions, restaurants and banks are difficult to access based on a survey by Business Disability Forum.

Black and white logo for easy read, has a tick and a open book

“I ended up staying with my current bank because I could not get information in easy read format from any other bank”

Almost half the survey respondents said that booking and/or visiting a restaurant, café or pub posed the most challenges. Booking holiday accommodation was also challenging together with leisure activities. Dealing with banks, insurance providers and utility providers also caused challenges. Buying new technology, software and entertainment media was less problematic for most respondents.

graphic of a page with PDF on it red and white

A lot of companies use PDFs, it is not accessible with screen readers… Allow [me to receive] that information in a Word format so I can read it. Avoid columns, rows and text boxes… You would have thought that by now a lot of these companies might have grasped this.

The Business Disability Forum’s research is UK based, but is useful information for all businesses. Community service organisations and governments also need to heed the call for more inclusive communication methods.

Key findings

The online survey showed there was no clear single preference for means of communication at the decision-making stage. The following quotes from the report need no further explanation.

By email or text. The spoken word is hard for me to understand on the telephone, especially when calling from a call centre.

… you need all of it. Live chat, phone, email. It’s got to be accessible in as many ways as possible and quick to reply otherwise you think “I won’t wait for that product” and they have lost your custom.

For me as a totally blind person, email, phone or face-to-face are my preferred methods of communication. Particularly if face-to-face, I want staff to come and ask if I want help, not be left wandering around. If online, I need pages uncluttered with adverts, products clearly separated, buttons or checkboxes al-texted and graphics clearly labelled.

Interestingly, Amazon online purchasing was identified as having a good communication system. This was because:

A computer screen sits on a desk. It shows a web page
  • Contact points for queries before and after sales in customers’ preferred format
  • Being able to find detailed product information needed
  • Setting up the process for delivery
  • Quick purchase mechanisms that avoid repeat form filling

Barriers to shopping not good for business

The Business Disability Forum in the UK has an interesting report on the barriers people with disability face as shoppers and consumers. Whether online, by phone or in person, these barriers are not good for business or consumers. And it’s likely it’s difficult for almost everyone if the process is not universally designed.

A small cardboard box sits across a keyboard. The words on the box say online shopping.

The Business Disability Forum asked survey participants about specific barriers to shopping for products and services.

They asked respondents if they have any difficulties with access or engaging in the buying process. The key areas were going to restaurants, cafes and pubs; buying clothes or shoes, and personal and online banking. These were followed by pursuing a hobby, buying insurance and dealing with utility suppliers.

A restaurnt table laid with breakfast foods. It looks out to a water view with small boats.

An online survey and focus groups (around 650 people with disabilities and conditions) found almost everyone was impacted in some way.

The next most challenging activities were booking a holiday, booking tickets, buying large electrical appliances, and buying new devices.

  • Limitation of design – products, service or venues not being inclusive or lacking accessibility features.
  • Limitations in available information.
  • The way in which information was presented.

More than half the respondents said their choice of products or services was limited by design, and by the availability of information. It was also limited by the way it was presented.

A significant number (43%) abandoned the shopping task early or just didn’t buy. It was the same for going into shops in person.

The title of the resource is, What disabled consumers choose to buy and why – Barriers to buying. Forbes online magazine also has an article on the report.

Also have a look at See here: I want to go shopping for the shopping experience of people who are blind.

Design for shopping: a holistic approach

overhead picture of the fresh food section of a supermarket. Shopping - a holistic approach.

The recent pandemic curtailed shopping in the high street and in malls. When the lockdowns were lifted the rush to the shops shows how much people enjoy shopping. Younger people talk of retail therapy, but for older people it is an important social activity, particularly those who live alone. So every part of “design for shopping” needs to be inclusive. 

Elnaz Davoudi from the San Francisco State University conducted an in-depth study of older people and their shopping habits. This included shadowing them as they made their way around a supermarket. The whole experience is documented and their are several design conclusions to be drawn from this work.

Shopping carts, check outs, product packaging and much more are open for improved designs. The findings can also be generalised to other design disciplines. It is good to see a holistic approach in this research, not just the design of, say, a shopping trolley, or the product packaging.

The article is titled, Designing a Better Shopping Experience with a Holistic Approach to Ageing in Place. It is on page 21 in the Design for All newsletter from 2016.

Danish Design Ladder and universal design

Discussing universal design and inclusive practice helps individuals to understand the concept of inclusion. But the real change is needed in organisational culture. Everyone has to have the same universal design mindset. 

For an organisation to take inclusion seriously, it needs to be embedded into the culture. 

Design isn’t just for products and websites. Design thinking can also be used to design business strategies and operations. It shapes the brand and business concept. 

The Danish Design Ladder is useful for understanding the power of design within organisations. Universal design thinking comes onto the ladder at Rung 3 – Design as a Process. 

Rungs of the Danish Design Ladder

Rung 1 Non-Design:  Design is invisible, product development is done by untrained designers. The user or customer has no part in decisions.

Rung 2 Design as Styling:  After the product is developed it is given to a designer to make it look nice. 

Rung 3 Design as Process:  This is where design is not the result but a way of thinking. Customers are now the focus of the design process. 

Rung 4 Design as Strategy:  Design is embedded in the leadership team to shape the overall business.

Rung 5 Design as Systemic Change:  Design is a way of changing systems to solve complex social problems.

Rung 6 Design as Culture:  Design is a common mindset, as a way to innovate, a way to listen and and a way to lead. 

The Brisbane Olympic Games are less than 10 years away. There is talk of wanting them to be the most accessible games ever. The last three rungs of the Ladder, universal design as strategy, change and culture, will be essential for this outcome. 

An article by Bryan Hoedemaeckers, Are you getting the most out of Design explains more on this. The Ladder is a good way of conceptualising how universal design thinking can be woven into the fabric of organisations. 

Australian researchers used the Danish Design Ladder in an action research project. The title of their paper is, Climbing the Design Ladder; Step by step.  The researchers discuss other intermediate “steps” for bringing about culture change. 


The benefit of designing for everyone

Front cover of the report the Benefit of Designing for Everyone.The assumption that designing for everyone will cost more often goes unchallenged. Even economic arguments for business benefits rarely cut through because of this. If economic arguments for inclusion worked we wouldn’t still be talking abut it. A Centre for Inclusive Design report analyses inclusive business practice and covers some areas not covered before. The report analyses education, retail and financial services and argues inclusive design can drive financial, economic and social improvements. PwC was commissioned for the report, The Benefit of Designing for Everyone.

Jeremy Thorpe from PwC says, “Inclusive design is a no-regrets process that creates significant benefits which are currently being left on the table. It is an overlooked step in maximising the potential of Australian business and ensuring a more productive Australia.” There is also an infographic with the key information, and a summary report and a Word version

Infographic listing some of the key economic data within the report.The report analyses three key industries in Australia: education, retail and financial services. Each one can benefit from taking a universal design approach to improve their bottom line. 

David Masters, Corporate Affairs Director, Microsoft Australia, said,

“Accessibility is often focused on compliance, and while that is incredibly important, this report clearly shows that inclusion drives economic benefit too. Embedding inclusion in the upfront design phase ensures organisations are delivering products and services for everyone. Inclusive design is driving innovation at Microsoft and is a concept that all organisations should be embracing.”

It is good to see more work being done on the economics of inclusion. However, such arguments over the last ten years have yet to make their mark. The inclusive tourism industry is testament to that as well as the housing industry. Let’s hope someone is listening and willing to act.


Viewing products online with Coles

Front cover of Coles Online Product Image Guidelines showing a family at the beach having a barbeque. Anyone buying or selling online wants the best possible view of the product. Buyers want to see relevant size and shape and key information. Sellers want the maximum number of sales. Making visual information clear, and easy to read and understand is key. Coles supermarkets has devised an image guide for suppliers to make products more readily recognised. So viewing products online with Coles should get easier for everyone. eBay sellers should also note.

The Coles guide is based on work carried out some years ago by the Inclusion Design Group at Cambridge University. This work is updated as they continue their research. The Coles guide is easy to read and gives instructions about images that suppliers should send them. These instructions are good for anyone who has a product or merchandise to sell. 

The guide covers the use of 2D and 3D images, out of pack images and lifestyle images. The Coles website will feature a first image with the brand with the option for further images with a click. This gives the opportunity to see front, back, left and right side of the product.

A previous post, Smart Phones and Shopping explained some of the background and has a video explaining how it all works. 


Design for Dignity Guidelines

Front cover of the Design for Dignity Guidelines.The Design for Dignity guidelines cover all the elements in a major urban renewal project. The guide is based on the principles applied in the development of Barangaroo South in Sydney. It covers public domain, wayfinding, commercial and retail precincts, and workplaces. Stakeholder engagement is also covered. The pictures clearly explain the do’s and don’ts and why the details matter. The guide is comprehensive and easy to read, and has a list of resources at the end.

The story behind these guidelines began when Lend Lease commenced the development of Barangaroo South. Their policy was to to go beyond the bare minimums of compliance to standards. They felt they could do better and strive for a universal design approach. With the assistance of Australian Network on Disability (AND) and Westpac, they developed Design for Dignity Guidelines: Principles for beyond compliance accessibility in urban regeneration

There are two case studies from Barangaroo South. The public domain case study is about the process of consulting with disability stakeholders. The second case study is about achieving dignified access in a mixed commercial space.  This is an excellent resource for interior designers as well as urban planners. The details explain why going beyond access standards is important. 

See also the companion guide for retail. 

Buying power of people with disability

Are marketing people missing out on a buying power of people with disability? The answer is likely, yes. A Nielsen Report on consumers with disability, including older people, states what is obvious to anyone interested in universal design and inclusion. “Disabilities span across age, race, and gender so there is reason to believe consumers with disabilities should not differ much from the general population.” So what is the buying power of people with disability?

Graph showing the percentage of people with different disabilities. It represents the buying power of people with disability

The report, Reaching Prevalent, Diverse Consumers with Disabilities found that one in four households of their sample group of 86,000 people had one or more person with a disability. That’s an important statistic because consumers with disability are higher spenders in some categories. That’s despite tending to have lower incomes. 

Marketing and advertising people will find insights into disability and their significance in this report. For example, consumers with disability are more likely to have a pet. So they are more likely to buy pet food and related products. 

Marketing departments influence what is designed – it’s their job to find out what to sell. If marketing professionals dismiss people with disability, their company will too. An inclusive marketing approach helps the cause of inclusion albeit with a profit focus.

Nielsen statistics on the prevalence of disability within disability segments.

This report is also featured on the Silver Blog which is focused on marketing to older people. There is another item on the dangers of marketing specifically to older adults as this borders on ageism. Older people want brands to focus on needs and interests, not their age.

The title of the report is Reaching Prevalent, Diverse Consumers with Disabilities, and was published in 2016. However, the content remains current. The graphs are from the Nielsen Company report. 


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