This project was undertaken in partnership with The Glasgow School of Art and Massachusetts Institute of Technology The outcomes were delivered to the Scottish Government's Investment, Industries and Innovation department in April 2014.

For a number of years the Scottish Government have been developing their approach to transforming public services through testing and implementing user-led/participatory design, and Service Design methods, tools and processes. In 2014 we worked with the Investment, Industries and Innovation division in Glasgow to explore how user-led design research approaches could be used to address highly complex challenges, such as how to design services for an ageing population. The question presented to us was: 

What are the socio-economic challenges for an ageing population over the next 30 years in Scotland? 

We focused on exploring how people age financially. We were interested in the fact that many people, both young and old, are undereducated about personal finance, given that it has such a massive impact on their lives. The project started out by exploring how people are ageing financially by engaging with Scottish citizens aged between 25 and 80. The research was user-led and design-led. We developed a number of bespoke methods and tools to aid the process, allowing people to talk openly about sensitive topics, and capture rich qualitative data. 

The insights derived from the research were then translated into opportunities for future financial services, and we drafted over 50 innovative concepts, before developing one final concept into a proposal to deliver to the Scottish Government. The concept was a future national housing service, that is designed for a generation that no longer aspires to home ownership. 

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During the research phase of the project we interviewed a number of expert stakeholders, including economists, politicians and architects who have worked on innovative social housing projects. We also ran several workshops with focus age groups, and interviewed individual citizens on a one-to one basis. 

CHALLENGE 01 We discovered early on in the process that some people were not comfortable talking to about their personal finances. To overcome this challenge we introduced some props, as engagement tools. Initially we used the game Monopoly, to get people thinking about money, property and progress. However, the first focus group workshop quickly turned into a co-design workshop, where we were designing the monopoly game to bring it up to date with current times. Introducing to the challenge of the game 'unpaid internships' and 'goto care-home' circumstances. We found that the dialogue with the research participants was of great value for us in the process of designing the monopoly game, so used this process as a research method and tool in itself. 

The tool allowed us to present findings back to our expert stakeholders in a way which was visual and narrative driven, with the story of how the game developed told alongside the insights that were derived from the dialogue. 

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The analysis phase of the project is where we spend time categorising, theming and questioning the data we have collected. It is a time to be adventurous with thinking, where no idea or thought is 'bad'. During the analysis phase we sometimes start to test ideas, or take the data back to the research to find out more about it. It is a 'foggy' zone which is rarely linear. 

At this point of the project our focus was still very broad. We were exploring how people age financially in the areas of work, education, housing and pensions. Further to this we had four potential future scenarios, that all offered different political and economical landscapes to cross reference our insights and finding with. We wanted to analyse all of the themes we had identified and examine each of them in the context of the four different future scenarios. We also wanted to look at what the effect would be for people of different classes where the impact of any political change might be quite distinct. Finally we wanted to "push the boundaries" of each idea – to see how far it could go while still being realistic. 

This presented us with the second major challenge of this project. How to we take the bias out of data analysis in Design Research? 

Having successfully implemented gamification into the research tools, we decided to continue 'playing' with this approach, and re-introduced the monopoly board to the process. This time we would co-design it within our team, to provide a way to visually organise our thinking processes and randomise how we select pieces of data to analyse.


The board game provided a visual structure to place our research themes, and future scenarios onto. In the centre of the board we had a spinning device (a pen stuck on a drawing pin). The spinning device was used to randomly select which theme we would look at in conjunction with which future scenario to place it in. Once we had a topic and future context, we started to ask ourselves 'What If' questions. For example, what if Scotland introduces a citizens income policy? 

The graphic image below displays all of the outputs from this exercise. You can download a high res version of this graphic (this is a big file to download if you have limited data!) --> here <--

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This project continued onto a development phase, where concepts were brought to life through visualisations and rapid prototypes, before being tested with project stakeholders, and the research participants. 

This article provides an overview of the research end of the project, in which two new methods were developed, and tested. If you are interested in reading more about this project, and the design outcomes, click here to read the full project publication on ISSUU.


Storyboard User Journey from the Ageing Economics final service proposition