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Experience Economy
Ageing Well, a 21st Century Wicked Problem

The AgeWell project advocates the use of the human-centred design (HCD) to address the wicked problem of healthy ageing and the various aspects of physical, mental, and social well-being as one grows older.


Mário Passos Ascenção

principal lecturer
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Mikko Toiviainen

Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Aarni Tuomi

lehtori, majoitus- ja ravitsemisliiketoiminta
lecturer, hospitality business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu


Visiting Research Fellow
University of Surrey

Published : 25.08.2023

Europe, as most of the western world, is ageing. This means that the proportion of older people in the population is increasing, while the proportion of younger people is decreasing.

This demographic trend has significant implications for the society and the economy of the region. Some of the challenges that ageing poses include: lower labour force participation, higher health care and pension costs, lower productivity and innovation, and potential social and political instability.

According to Eurostat’s report (2020), Ageing Europe — looking at the lives of older people in the EU, the EU-27 population in 2019 had a significant proportion (33.6 %) of people aged 55 years or older. This age group is expected to grow to 40.6 % of the EU-27 population by 2050, with increases in every EU Member State. By 2050, in Finland, the share of people 55 years or older is expected to be over 40 %.

Decade of healthy ageing

Ageing is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that affects individuals and societies in various ways. Ageing is often associated with challenges such as declining health, social isolation, economic insecurity, and reduced quality of life. However, ageing also offers opportunities for personal growth, intergenerational solidarity, civic engagement, and lifelong learning.

To address the diverse needs and aspirations of older people, EU nations need to adopt a holistic and human-centred approach to ageing well that recognizes the dignity, autonomy, and contribution of older people.

More than a decade ago, in its Europe 2020 Strategy, the European Commission (EC) identified active and healthy ageing as a major societal challenge common to all European countries, and an area which presents considerable potential for Europe to lead the world in providing innovative responses to this challenge.

In a similar vein, in December 2020, the United Nations (UN) has declared 2021-2030 the Decade of Healthy Ageing. The World Health Organisation (WHO 2020) is leading the development of a global strategy and action plan on ageing and health, which includes the United Nations Decade of Healthy Ageing. The aim of the decade is to improve the lives of older people, their families and communities.

Successful aging is multidimensional, encompassing physical, functional, psychological, and social health. Peel, Bartlett, and McClure (2004) describe healthy aging as a lifelong process optimizing opportunities for improving and preserving health and physical, social and mental wellness, independence, quality of life and enhancing successful life-course transitions.

On the other hand, according to the WHO (2020), healthy ageing is the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age. Functional ability is the combination of the intrinsic capacities of the individual, the environments they live in, and the interactions between them.

Intrinsic capacity refers to the physical and mental abilities of a person, such as mobility, cognition, and sensory functions. The environment includes the physical and social factors that influence a person’s health and well-being, such as accessibility, safety, social support, and opportunities for participation.

Human-centered design contributes to healthy ageing solutions

Human-centered design (HCD) approaches such as service design, speculative design, social design or design anthropology can foster healthy ageing by addressing both the intrinsic capacities and the environments of older people. For example, designers can help create solutions that prevent or delay the onset of diseases, promote healthy lifestyles, and support self-management of health conditions.

Furthermore, designers can help create solutions that improve the accessibility and usability of public spaces, transportation, housing, and health care facilities for older people. Designers can help create solutions that foster social inclusion, intergenerational solidarity, and lifelong learning for older people.

Below are two examples of how HCD approaches have contributed to healthy ageing solutions whilst contributing to the global goal of ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for people 55 years or older.

  1. Haaga-Helia’s Service Experience Laboratory LAB8 has been developing concepts for a social extended reality service that brings social and cultural experiences (e.g. going to the opera) to elderly peoples’ homes. This was done through immersive technologies in a way that enables social interaction and a sense of community. The HomeOpera project hosted remote pre-sessions of the Opera Teatime Dance for seniors, together with the Finnish National Opera and Ballet and the Lämpiö-platform.
  2. Ghent University (a beneficiary in the AgeWell project), in collaboration with the local community developed the ’10 000 Steps Ghent’ intervention which paved the way for ‘10 000 Steps Flanders’, a state-wide dissemination of the ‘10 000 Steps’ project. Another project focuses on a cognitively enriched walking intervention “Take your brain for a walk” for older adults (65+), in which cognitive exercises are performed while walking to train the brain. This project explores the added value of combining physical activity with cognitive exercises on the cognitive functioning of older adults.

Currently, Haaga-Helia’s LAB8 team is developing a new master’s-level design course for the AgeWell project. The course integrates design thinking, social design and design anthropology to help students learn how to design interventions that support healthy ageing in work environments. Students will learn how to use ethnography and participatory design methods to empathise with working older adults. Together, they will co-design solutions that enhance working life practices, conditions and cultures of ageing workers in terms of well-being, safety and health.

Haaga-Helia’s ongoing AgeWell project funded by Erasmus+ is contributing to EC effort of promoting good health for people 55 years or older. The AgeWell project advocates the use of the human-centred design (HCD) to address the wicked problem of healthy ageing and the various aspects of physical, mental, and social well-being as one grows older.
The project is conducted by HH’s Service Experience Laboratory LAB8.


Eurostat. 2020. Ageing Europe – Looking at the Lives of Older People in the EU – 2020 Edition. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Peel, N., Bartlett, H., & McClure, R. 2004. Healthy ageing: How is it defined and measured? Australasian Journal on Ageing, 23(3), pp. 115-119.

WHO. 2020. Decade of Healthy Ageing: Baseline Report. Geneva: World Health Organization.