Designing a Domestic Heating Product for
Older People Within the Concept of
‘Contained Living Spaces’
DesignCORE Research Centre
Institute of Technology Carlow, Ireland
Designing Independence for an Ageing Population
The world’s population is ageing rapidly; by 2050 it is projected that two
billion older people will be alive.
By this time, it is predicted that two in
five persons will be aged sixty years or over in some European countries.
The importance of maintaining independence as we age was first
highlighted following the Vienna Plan of 1982. In this, the United Nations
cite independence as one of the five principles for older persons.
population will have some unique challenges as it ages. It is forecasted that
between 2010 and 2060, Ireland will have the largest overall population
growth in Europe, equating to an increase of 46%.
With this growth, there
will be a projected rise from 11% to 29% of the older adult population by
the year 2041.
Maintaining independence by ageing at home or ‘ageing in
place’ is not only a goal but a high preference for the older Irish population.
Hannah McGee et al. have reported that up to 89% of Irish older adults
would prefer to live at home rather than live in institutional care.
See United Nations. World Population Ageing 2013. (New York: Department of Economic
and Social Affairs. Population Division, 2013).
See United Nations. World Population Ageing: 1950-2050. (New York: United Nations
Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division, 2001).
See United Nations. Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing. (New York: United
See European Commission. Europe in Figures. Eurostat Yearbook 2011. (Luxembourg:
Publications Office of the European Union, 2011).
See Paul McGill. Illustrating Ageing in Ireland North and South: Key Facts and Figures.
(Belfast: Centre for Ageing Research and Development in Ireland, 2010).
See Hannah McGee, Ann O’Hanlon, Maja Barker, Anne Hickey, Rebecca. Garavan,
Ronán Conroy, Richard Layte, Emer Shelley, Frances Horgan, Vivienne Crawford, Robert
Stout, and Desmond O’Neill. “One Island – Two Systems: A comparison of health status
and health and social service use by community-dwelling older people in the Republic of
environment in which we age and live our daily lives has an immense
bearing on our health and independence.
The products, and more precisely domestic products, that we use in
our living environment greatly assist us in maintaining positive wellbeing.
They provide for essential living conditions and therefore health and
independence. Independence provided by these products promotes positive
ageing in place and a higher quality of living by assisting in everyday
necessary tasks. Designers can do much to assist daily requirements, and by
doing so, increase the independence of an ageing population. A study by
Fisk et al. identified this, stating that more than 50% of problems older
adults have with daily living could be addressed through design efforts.
In the future, health care will truly begin at home. Firstly, there will
be a growing need to maintain a healthy independent ageing population for
social and economic purposes. Secondly, there will be a growing reliance
on domestic products to help maintain this health and independence.
Domestic products that address fundamental health needs, enhance
wellbeing and improve qualities of life are of most importance. Products
that provide better every-day basic health care conditions require
immediate attention. Central to this are products that provide for adequate
Indoor Household Temperatures
Our physical environment and the conditions that we live in greatly
influence our health and quality of life. There is increasing evidence that
built environmental conditions have serious effects on physical, mental, and
social health. For instance, poor environmental conditions are known to be
influential in a range of illnesses, from cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and
Indoor and household temperatures have major effects
on health and more importantly, mortality. A report by the World Health
Organisation states that “Extreme high and low temperatures [are] an
underestimated cause of ill health and premature death in many countries”
Ireland and Northern Ireland. (Dublin: Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Healthy
Ageing Research Programme – HARP, 2005).
See Arthur D. Fisk, Wendy A. Rodgers, Neil Charness, Sara J. Czaja, and Joseph Sharit.
Designing for Older Adults: Principles and Creative Human Factors Approaches. 2nd ed.
(Florida: CRC Press, 2009).
See World Health Organisation. Housing and health: Identifying priorities – Meeting
Report. (Bonn: Regional Office for Europe, European Centre for Environment and Health,
(WHO 2001: 12). Factors such as poor mobility and health issues can
confine older people indoors for longer. Therefore, as we age, indoor
temperatures have more serious implications for health and mortality.
Temperature extremes, for example, from cold to hot indoor temperatures,
are known to lead to more accidents and personal injuries in the home.
a more serious level, in the United Kingdom, indoor temperatures were
shown to cause an additional 40,000 deaths in winter months in comparison
to other months of the year.
Furthermore, findings from this study show
that colder indoor temperatures are the main cause of winter mortality,
causing cardiovascular and respiratory disease with older persons at
greatest risk. A further study by Wilkinson et al. (2004) examining this rise
in mortality concluded that an upward adjustment in indoor temperatures
lowers levels of vulnerability and mortality.
It should be noted that winter
deaths do not directly correlate with colder climates. Spain, Portugal and
Ireland have the highest number of winter deaths in older people, with
countries with colder climates, lowly ranked.
Research conducted – fieldwork
To enquire into domestic heating product requirements of older people,
immersive and contextual field research was conducted. The research
involved Design Ethnographic fieldwork over 12-months within the homes
of forty older-adult participants. Participants were selected from various
socio-economic groups across eight counties in the Republic of Ireland.
Data was collected through Interview, Observation and Participation.
Following fieldwork, data was coded, visualised and analysed through a
See World Health Organisation. Housing and Health in Europe. (Copenhagen: WHO
Regional Office for Europe, 2001).
See Paul Wilkinson, Megan Landon, Ben Armstrong, Simon Stevenson, Sam Pattenden,
Martin McKee, and Tony Fletcher. Cold comfort-The social and environmental
determinants of excess winter deaths in England 1986-1996. (Bristol: The Policy Press and
the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2001).
Paul Wilkinson, Sam Pattenden, Ben Armstrong, Astrid Fletcher, R. Sari Kovats, Punam
Mangtani, and Anthony J. McMichael. “Vulnerability to winter mortality in elderly people
in Britain: population-based study.” British Medical Journal. 329. 7467, 2004. 647. See
also: Christine Liddell, and Chris Morris. “Fuel Poverty and Human Health: A Review of
Recent Evidence.” Energy Policy. 38. 6, 2010. 2987-2997; and Helen McAvoy. All-Ireland
Policy Paper on Fuel Poverty and Health. (Dublin: Institute of Public Health in Ireland,
Jonathan D. Healy. “Excess winter mortality in Europe: a cross country analysis
identifying key risk factors.” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health. 57. 10th
November 2003. 784-789.
grounded theory approach. The findings of this research supported the view
that future designed products should provide for the basic health needs
essential to older adults within the domestic environment. The findings
further reported that other factors should be equally considered if
independence and age in place are to be addressed. Demonstrated was that
heating products encompass a complex mix of wellbeing factors such as
emotional and social needs. Furthermore, it was also established that future
designed heating products should consider financial cost factors, product
safety, ergonomic and usability needs of older people.
The Concept of ‘C ont ain ed Living Spaces’
Findings from the research strongly indicated that mobile heating products
required immediate design attention. To illustrate this, a specific pattern of
usage was recorded from many older adult participants. It was deducted
that limited mobility in older people leads to smaller and more confined
living environments. Observed were older people creating modular stations
around themselves for quick access to personal and important items. For
the purposes of description, the researcher noted these as ‘contained living
spaces.’ Figure 1. illustrates an example of this concept.
Fig. 1: An example of a ‘contained living space’ constructed as a result of mobility issues
and located near a heating source
These spaces or ‘stations’ were typically constructed for functional
use. Commonly, these were located around the older person and at close
proximity to them. These were usually a construct of moveable furniture,
for example, tables and desks. These ‘contained living spaces’ were
commonly located beside heat sources such as radiators and portable heat
sources, for example, small electric heaters. Within this concept, it was
noted that there was a requirement to allow for living spaces within the
home to be made more accessible through heating. Allowing the older adult
more mobility and independence rather than remaining within contained
spaces. This prompted the need for specific portable and space heating
solutions for older people, supporting research by Hue-Chi Liao and Tsai
Feng Chang who identified that the specific requirement for space-heating
increases as we age.
Further design requirements were also noted when researching
within the concept of contained living spaces. Throughout the research,
there were prominent links in heating product usability and pain relief
associated with arthritis and poor circulation (Fig. 2). Placing affected areas
such as fingers, hands or feet on a warm surface – or a cool surface when
the product was turned off – was shown to offer gradual relief of pain. As
the portability of mobile electric heaters allowed more agility and provided
flexibility of use, commonly these were a central means of comfort from
physical pain when doing other activities such as viewing television, during
pastimes and relaxing in the evenings.
See Hue-Chi Liao, and Tsai Feng Chang. “Space-Heating and Water-Heating Energy
Demands of the Aged in the US.” Energy Economics. 24. 3, 2002. 267-284.
Fig. 2: Portable pain relief: A research participant utilises his portable electric heater to
alleviate arthritis pain in his sitting room.
Design Process – Ideation Sessions
One of the key purposes of sketching in the ideation phase of
design is to provide a catalyst to stimulate new and different
interpretations. Hence, sketching is fundamental to the cognitive
process of design. (Buxton 2007: 115)
Design ideation sessions were completed to explore ideas, and with a view
to creating heating product solutions within the area of contained living
spaces. To facilitate these sessions, a list of design requirements was
created from the ethnographic field study. During these sessions, ideas
were sketched and explored comprehensively using the media of A3 layout
paper and felt-tip ink pen. Ideas were sketched until exhausted and then
progressed by sketching iteratively on to another idea. As a result of this, a
large quantity of quick succession sketches was created to act on the
momentum of ideas as they flowed.
Fig. 3: A montage of images showing a series of ideas in evolution from the ideation
Throughout the process, one sketch was allowed to serve as feedback for
the next. Ideas were allowed to progress in a free manner at times, and on
other occasions were rigidly and strictly bounded by the requirements.
These sketches varied from conservative and practical ideas to chaotic and
unconventional ideas. The quality of these sketches varied in detail to allow
interpretation of meaning when reviewed at a later date. To document the
process of sketch ideation, a sketch book was compiled. The final
sketchbook comprised of approximately five-hundred iterative and
exploratory sketches. An extract of these sketches is featured in Fig. 3.
Creating Concepts from Ideation
Completing the process of conceptualisation involved the convergence and
synthesis of sketches. In traditional design processes, convergence involves
synthesising conceptualised material – that is, ideas and sketches – into
smaller groupings of concepts. Firstly, the entire ideation sketchbook was
fully reviewed using the aforementioned design requirement list created
from the ethnographic field study. As a means to reduce the quantity of
concepts, any sketch concept not relevant to this list was filtered out and
not brought forward for progression. To converge further, the ideation
sketchbook was then reviewed for a second time, on this occasion to
ascertain broad concept groupings that best represented all remaining
requirements. In this review, an external reviewer accompanied the
researcher. During the review, it was decided that the sketchbook should be
physically categorised into three overarching concept groups for
progression. The next step in the process of convergence was to narrow the
three concepts into one concept to progress with. In the process of selecting
concepts for design progression, Karl Ulrich and Steven Eppinger
recommend using a concept screening matrix. Based on the “Pugh concept
selection process” (Ulrich, and Eppinger 2000: 144), a concept screening
matrix allowed for rating and ranking of concepts for progression.
Design Conclusions – T he ‘Hot Desk’ Concept
The concept ranked highest for progression in the concept screening matrix
was a concept entitled ‘Hot Desk’ (Figs. 4a and 4b) In its most basic form
this product concept is a portable desk or modular station with a small
heating device as a built-in feature. Within the concept of contained living
spaces, the ‘Hot Desk’ could act as a solution for a portable heating product
for older users. Central to this concept are its flexibility of use and
portability. The Hot Desk would have a ‘ubiquitous’ aesthetic, allowing it
to blend into conventional living room situations and not stigmatise the
older adult in any way. It has four caster wheels for portability and as it is
based on a traditional desk format, it allows for storage and resting of
personal items. It has a heating element built into the desk to warm user’s
hands, arms, and legs as they sit at the desk.
Fig. 4a: An early technical drawing
This concept also has the potential to further fulfil a role for older
people with limited mobility. It has a long mobility support handle and,
therefore, the product could at times be used as a mobility walker. The
concept can be recharged, therefore, reducing the use of electronic cables
which can be instrumental in causing trips and falls in the home. A
prototype of the table was constructed and will now be used as a usability
test rig. It will undergo field testing within the homes of older people to
analyse appropriateness of use.
Fig. 4b: A prototype, for use in field usability testing
Summary and further development
As the world’s population ages, designers have an opportunity to create
domestic products that provide for ageing in place. Domestic heating
products that allow for the regulation of indoor temperatures are
fundamental to this. This study identified that for older people, heating
products encompass a complex and diverse mix of wellbeing needs and
usability/ergonomic factors. Within this, the concept of ‘Contained Living
Spaces’ was observed as an area that required immediate design
intervention. Sketch ideation and prototyping were conducted to iteratively
develop suitable concepts. From this, the “Hot Desk” concept, a mobile
heater incorporated into a modular table was selected for development. A
prototype has been created for further improvement, this prototype will
undergo contextual field testing to analyse appropriateness of use. The
findings of this study will be further iterated through prototyping, and will
involve older people continually in the design process. The final product is
intended to act as a solution to ‘contained living spaces’ opening spaces
within the home, allowing more mobility and independence.
Buxton, Bill. Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and
the Right Design (Interactive Technologies). San Francisco:
Morgan Kaufmann, 2007.
European Commission. Europe in Figures. Eurostat Yearbook 2011.
Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2011.
Fisk, Arthur D., Wendy A. Rodgers, Neil Charness, Sara J. Czaja, and
Joseph Sharit. Designing for Older Adults: Principles and Creative
Human Factors Approaches. 2nd ed. Florida: CRC Press, 2009.
Healy, Jonathan D. “Excess winter mortality in Europe: a cross country
analysis identifying key risk factors.” Journal of Epidemiology &
Community Health. 57. 10. November 2003. 784-789.
Liao, Hue-Chi and Tsai Feng Chang. “Space-Heating and Water-Heating
Energy Demands of the Aged in the US.” Energy Economics. 24.
3, 2002. 267-284.
Liddell, Christine, and Chris Morris. “Fuel Poverty and Human Health: A
Review of Recent Evidence.” Energy Policy. 38. 6, 2010. 2987-
McAvoy, Helen. All-Ireland Policy Paper on Fuel Poverty and Health.
Dublin: Institute of Public Health in Ireland, 2007.
McGee, Hannah, Ann O’Hanlon, Maja Barker, Anne Hickey, Rebecca.
Garavan, Ronán Conroy, Richard Layte, Emer Shelley, Frances
Horgan, Vivienne Crawford, Robert Stout, and Desmond O’Neill.
“One Island – Two Systems: A comparison of health status and
health and social service use by community-dwelling older people
in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. (Dublin: Royal
College of Surgeons in Ireland. Healthy Ageing Research
Programme – HARP, 2005).
McGill, Paul. Illustrating Ageing in Ireland North and South: Key Facts
and Figures. Belfast: Centre for Ageing Research and
Development in Ireland, 2010.
Ulrich, Karl T., and Steven D. Eppinger. Product Design and Development.
2nd ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000.
United Nations. Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing. New York:
United Nations, 1983.
—. World Population Ageing: 1950-2050. New York: United Nations
Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Population Division,
—. World Population Ageing 2013. New York: Department of Economic
and Social Affairs. Population Division, 2013.
Wilkinson, Paul, Megan Landon, Ben Armstrong, Simon Stevenson, Sam
Pattenden, Martin McKee, and Tony Fletcher. Cold comfort-The
social and environmental determinants of excess winter deaths in
England 1986-1996. Bristol: The Policy Press and the Joseph
Rowntree Foundation, 2001.
Wilkinson, Paul, Sam Pattenden, Ben Armstrong, Astrid Fletcher, R. Sari
Kovats, Punam Mangtani, and Anthony J. McMichael.
“Vulnerability to winter mortality in elderly people in Britain:
population based study.” British Medical Journal. 329. 7467, 2004.
White, P. J. (2012). Designer as Ethnographer: A Study of Domestic
Cooking and Heating Product Design for Irish Older Adults. (PhD).
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World Health Organisation. Housing and Health in Europe. Copenhagen:
WHO Regional Office for Europe, 2001.
World Health Organisation. Housing and health: Identifying priorities –
Meeting Report. Bonn: Regional Office for Europe, European
Centre for Environment and Health, 2003.