A visual summary of the research project. Credit: Yoni Lefevre, 2018


Seeing timeless rebels

CHallenge people’s perspective of ageing


The growing elderly population demands services for older people to innovate their strategies. However, there is a lack of awareness how ageing in general is communicated to the public. The misrepresentation and underrepresentation of older people in the media, e.g. advertisements of care, only contributes to a fear of ageing. According to the Royal Society for Public Health one in four millennials think it is very normal to be unhappy and depressed when you are old (RSPH, 2018:5). In addition, bringing younger and older people together can build mutual understanding to reduce stereotypical perspectives of later life (Abrams, Swift, Lamont and Drury, 2015). Therefore, this research set out to challenge people’s perspectives of ageing through an intergenerational and participatory process using design tools.

“Falling for old stereotypes, that would be my fear, I want to be different than all the other oldies, no offence.”
— Participant, age 14


The aim of the study is to have a better understanding of people’s experience of ageing and their perceived image of older people. The study explores the development of practical recommendations informed by the lived experiences of adolescents (age 14) and older people (age 80+) to improve the visual representation of older people in Scotland. Furthermore, this study shares key insights about the participatory research process using physical tools. The results are a set of recommendations for organisations who values to reduce the stigma around ageing by stimulating positive perceptions and attitudes towards older people.


The fieldwork took place from November 2018 until August 2018 and was divided in three research phases.

  Timeline of the methods applied during the fieldwork. Credit: Yoni Lefevre, 2018

Timeline of the methods applied during the fieldwork. Credit: Yoni Lefevre, 2018

  Capturing people’s responses during one of the pop-up engagements. Credit: Yoni Lefevre, 2018

Capturing people’s responses during one of the pop-up engagements. Credit: Yoni Lefevre, 2018

Phase 1: Contextual understanding

The first phase of this research aimed to generate a contextual understanding of the research setting. It consisted of three public engagements in the form of pop-up engagements at different locations in Moray. The answers of the pop-up engagements could identified a strong tension between either positive or negative perspectives of ageing. For example, one of the contradictions was a differentiation in experiencing ageing as “boredom” or “freedom”. Some would describe older people as being “a fossil” or “a rebel”. In addition to the pop-up engagements, I interviewed three professionals who are working for services for older people and asked them to share their thoughts about ageing in Scotland. The conversations supported me to understand the services provided in the Highlands and to position my research focus related to giving a voice to senior rights and creating relations between generations.

  Quotes of the interviews with professionals. Credit: Yoni Lefevre, 2018

Quotes of the interviews with professionals. Credit: Yoni Lefevre, 2018

Phase 2: Developing design tools

  The interview toolkit specifically designed for the interviews in phase 3. Credit: Yoni Lefevre, 2018

The interview toolkit specifically designed for the interviews in phase 3. Credit: Yoni Lefevre, 2018

The second phase enabled me to explore and develop different design tools for the initial fieldwork. All the tools in this study were designed with a particular attention to the visual identity, which informed the overall communication of the project. For me it was important to represent a research project that would share an unconventional terminology, e.g. avoiding “old” or “ageing” to come up with a project title. First, I completed a questionnaire with a small group of people to ask about their subjective experience of growing older and description of a typical older person. Secondly, I tested the interview questions and design tools before the final fieldwork. This preparation phase allowed me to reflect on the lessons learned during the previous fieldwork interventions in order to refine my research focus and prepare for the final data collection.

Phase 3: Final data collection

The initial data collection aimed to engage directly with younger and older participants to collectively explore how we can improving the visual representation of older people. I conducted interviews with three older people (age 80+) and two adolescents (age 14) following the interview toolkit developed in previous phase 2. The interviews were set out to create an understanding of people’s subjective experiences of ageing and generating input for the participatory workshop. In all three interviews the interview toolkit showed a direct visual accomplishment of the conversation where participants had the opportunity to directly reflect and response on their artefact. This enabled the researcher to sense-check agreement with participants about the information that was collected during the conversation. Furthermore, the generative workshop aimed to explore a common language between the age groups (with an age gab of 60 years) by collaboratively describing and visualising an older person they could both relate to. In addition, it enabled the group to come up with new ideas for improving the visual representation of older people in Scotland. Below an impression of the interview toolkit used during the interviews and the generative workshops.


In total three sets of data were analysed: visual data through thematic mapping, conversational data through thematic analysis and observational data through content analysis.

According to the participants a typical older person is a woman with an average age of 75 and over (slide 1). The findings suggest that portraying the diversity of the older age group, rebranding ordinary ageing body types and providing balanced and playful conversations between generations would support more positive perspectives on ageing (slide 2). In addition, reflecting on the design tools applied in this intergenerational and participatory process, they can function as a tool for co-analysis, evoke curiousity with participants, and stimulate group dynamics in a workshop (slide 3).


The recommendations are particularly valuable for organisations who want to challenge people’s perspective of older people and reduce the stigma of ageing. The recommendations can be useful for practitioners e.g. senior services, advertisement agencies, schools and communities, working with younger and older people who wish to challenge visual ageism presented through the media. For digital designers these recommendations need to be considered when designing digital platforms or products for older people. This could relate to interaction design elements such as icons, and more broadly to the brand and marketing visual materials e.g. website, social media and publications of positivity around age, that support any product or service. Furthermore, the recommendations are based on people’s personal subjective perceptions and can strengthen the position of future design concepts by sharing a personal voice.

I do not know of anyone working in the area of your recommendations in a coordinated and systematic manner. That suggests to me that they are both appropriate and necessary.
— Donald Macaskill, CEO Scottish Care
I had to prepare a display for the afternoon so was very aware of the need to catch people’s attention in a visual way, and I am pleased to see that I covered all three recommendations with my display materials!
— Anne McDonald, co-ordinator of Highland Senior Citizen Network

Seeing Timeless Rebels offers insight into how society can radically change the way older people are represented in the media, and inspires intergenerational engagements to stimulate positive perceptions towards ageing.

The research has been conducted during my time as a full-time Masters of Research (MRes) student at The Glasgow School of Art’s Innovation School based in Forres.

For more information about the project please contact:

Yoni Lefevre I y.lefevre@gsa.ac.uk