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Designing for Each Stage of Life

Designing for a Lifetime

Assume you need to design a series of products used by people in different age groups. For example, you have a website tailored to show videos to pre-school children and adults go to the site for a variety of reasons (monitoring their children, providing comments, or sponsorship). Your design challenge is to build this site for all of these age groups.

When you encounter several different age groups using a site, you might want to review the work of Erik Erikson. Erikson, like Sigmund Freud, believed that human psychological development occurred in life stages. The stages are framed by a certain internal conflict, where certain activities affect each person.

Each stage builds upon the other stages preceding it. While you will see age ranges, these markers are not hard rules. A person’s development (or lack of development) occurs in their own time. Again, the age range is to give you the average personality development. Nature and nurture both affect a person’s development.

Read the stages below. I have some general observations about how these stages might be considered by UX designers.

Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development

Infancy (birth to 18 months)
Children develop a sense of trust when caregivers provide reliability, care, and affection. A lack of this will lead to mistrust. The key triggers during this stage are:

  • Trust vs. Mistrust
  • Feeding vs. Malnutrition
  • Affection vs. Neglect

These triggers affect how you develop during your early childhood, as you further mature.

Early Childhood (2 to 3 years)
Children need to develop a sense of personal control over physical skills and a sense of independence. Success leads to feelings of autonomy, failure results in feelings of shame and doubt.

  • Autonomy vs. Dependence
  • Toilet Training
  • Motor skills development

These early childhood triggers affect your socialization process, as early as 3 years old when your major interactions with larger groups of children begin to occur.

Preschool (3 to 5 years)
Children need to begin asserting control and power over the environment. Success in this stage leads to a sense of purpose. Children who try to exert too much power experience disapproval, resulting in a sense of guilt.

  • Initiative vs. Guilt
  • Exploration
  • Fine motor skills development

The pre-school years help you to establish your individualism (and personality), which gets further refined with full socialization during your school age years.

School Age (6 to 11 years)
Children need to cope with new social and academic demands. Success leads to a sense of competence, while failure results in feelings of inferiority.

  • Industry vs. Inferiority
  • Demands of School–hoemwork, projects, tests
  • Social demands–friends, sports, activities

Your foramtive school years affect your individuality and self-esteem, which undergo significant social stresses during your teen years.
Adolescence (12 to 18 years)
Teens need to develop a sense of self and personal identity. Success leads to an ability to stay true to yourself, while failure leads to role confusion and a weak sense of self.

  • Identity vs. Role Confusion
  • Social Relationships
  • Self-esteem and confidence

The adolescent years prepare you for the stresses of college, jobs, and marriage.

Young Adulthood (19 to 40 years)
Young adults need to form intimate, loving relationships with other people. Success leads to strong relationships, while failure results in loneliness and isolation.

  • Intimacy vs. Isolation
  • Intimate Relationships
  • Individual, Couple, and Group Stress

During the young adult years, you will struggle with individual stresses (college, career, confidence), couple stresses (dating, courtship, marriage), and group stress (family, children, friends, church).

Middle Adulthood (40 to 65 years)
Adults need to create or nurture things that will outlast them, often by having children or creating a positive change that benefits other people. Success leads to feelings of usefulness and accomplishment, while failure results in shallow involvement in the world.

  • Generativity vs. Stagnation
  • Work and Parenthood
  • Useful vs. Useless

During this stage of life, you want to prepare for things to outlast you. Your home is paid off. Your retirement is planned. Your work will continue after you are retired.

Maturity(65+ Years)
Older adults need to look back on life and feel a sense of fulfillment. Success at this stage leads to feelings of wisdom, while failure results in regret, bitterness, and despair.

  • Ego Integrity vs. Despair
  • Reflection on Life
  • Physical and mental empediments

You want to know that your life had meaning. You will need to deal with issues related to your body getting older.

Essentials for Designers

As a designer, Erikson’s stages provide useful insight into the various conflicts that affect each person’s psychological development. You can help alleviate some of the conflict:

  1. Design products for each stage. For example, when someone enters the stage of Maturity, you can design products and services to help them with reflecting back on their life or deal with failure.
  2. Design with empathy. While it is easier to understand a stage after going through it, you will still need to think about how an individual feels today. Are the pressures the same? How does technology impact your stage? What other forces (social, legislative, family) affect your stage?
  3. Cross-marketing opportunities. You can design products to help parents teach their children to be successful in school. Or, you design products to help Middle Adults teach Young Adults how to deal with Infants or Preschoolers.

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