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Age, Agency & Joy

Every year I am impressed by the quality, creativity and sheer diversity of the RCA graduate design work, and this year is no exception. Over the past year, the Design Age Institute has had the opportunity to work with teams of RCA students on projects focusing on healthy ageing, and the enthusiasm and energy shown by the teams is a credit to the students and the College as a whole.

Below is a selection of some of the most exciting work relating to design and ageing from RCA2021 which demonstrates that designing for a diverse set of user needs does not have to mean designing dull, functional objects.

In an era when we are increasingly reliant on technology for home working, of particular interest to me is the work of Jingyi Li and Changxin Zheng who have both looked at how to make technology more accessible to extreme user groups. There has never been a time when the pace of technological innovation has been faster and it is important to ensure that elements of society are not excluded or left behind. Designing with users not just for them, as is the case with Changxin Zheng’s work, is becoming more and more important and her work is an exemplar of co-design and co-creation.

Colum Lowe

Colum Lowe, Director, Design Age Institute

Colum is a senior design leader with a significant track record of developing inclusive products and services in the private, public and charitable sectors.

In 2020 Colum joined the Helen Hamlyn Centre for Design at the Royal College of Art as Director for the Design Age Institute (CAN INSERT LINK to, a £4.9 million initiative that is using the transformative power of design to help everyone age happier and healthier.

Previous to his current role, Colum has been Head of Design at a range of organisations, including the Ministry of Justice, Sainsbury’s Homebase and the NHS National Patient Safety Agency, where he delivered a multi-partner programme to advance the patient safety agenda for the NHS.

He has worked closely throughout his career with marginalised user groups, including those with age-related physical and mental frailty. His experience includes running the design firms Crabtree Hall and CaulderMoore, as well as his own consultancy and founding the Independent Safeguarding Service CIC.

Colum also spent 15 years helping the Design Council to develop and deliver its flagship design intervention programme, Designing Demand. He holds an MBA in Design Management from the University of Westminster and originally trained as a product designer at Chelsea School of Art.

Portrait photo of Colum Lowe