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Can society adopt an age-positive approach to older people? We think so.


Thinking age-positive: a positive impact brief

Back in September 2020, the Centre for Ageing Better launched an open brief for the creation of non-stereotypical symbols/icons depicting an ageing population. Tired of the crooked, bent-back and walking stick icons (think the old people road signs) used to represent the over 50s, they asked creatives to design new icons to represent this population in a healthier, more energetic way.

This sounded like the perfect brief for Hoxby.

The winning icons would be used to challenge the stereotypes and stereotypical imagery depicting this population. Central to the brief was to produce ‘age-positive’ icons that were simple, instantly recognisable and appropriate for use in reports, infographics and other related outputs. Also, they’d be made publicly available for unlimited use by others. In other words, a real revolution in how the older population is universally represented, with the potential to impact how misconceptions have led our perception of older people.

How Hoxby challenges pre-conceptions of ageing

We’re driven by a desire to revolutionise the world of work and create equal opportunities for a workforce unlimited by age, race or circumstances – so this was an ideal ‘passion-project’ for us.

Compelled by our purpose, we’ve founded The Hoxby Foundation, our not-for-profit arm that works in partnership to deliver social change.We’ve joined forces with charities, social enterprises and forward-thinking companies to deliver pioneering projects that allow more people to do fulfilling work while setting their workstyle. This includes our ‘age champions’ who are already working with external partners to change age-related silos at work.

Our core belief is that society can change preconceptions. Society can become age-proud – and view those over 50 not as old, but as older, gifted and healthy.

Questioning the stereotype: age as a positive asset

Before we set down to the brief, we needed to question what we already knew about the over 50s demographic. There are now more people on Earth over the age of sixty-five than under the age of five. And with longevity and life expectancy generally increasing, the socioeconomic impact is unquestionable. At the same time, older people are fitter, both physically and mentally, than previous generations.

So, if our functional age is younger than our biological age, why do the current symbols and icons representing an older population still depict old, slow, reduced-ability people? Why is age not an asset to be celebrated – and why is it still negatively defining us?

The Hoxby way of approaching a brief

We harnessed the broad diversity and expertise of our community comprising hundreds of expert freelancers, and crowdsourced a best-fit team of 22 Hoxby experts, including marketing and communications strategists, insight generators, graphic designers, content specialists and our own Age Champion, to add their unique insights and perspectives to shape an audience-relevant creative approach.

Hoxby’s way of working enabled us to mobilise our global community via our online Slack platform and tap into our collective brainpower, including insights from a number of Hoxbies who were over 50 and ‘subject-matter’ experts. We consulted them and conducted swift internal research via Slack, helping us validate and enhance our creative approach and output. We collated feedback, finalised a shortlist and refined the designs.

Our creative and strategic approach to the brief was solid: To create icons that challenge elderly stereotypes by rethinking the symbols and icons commonly used in public to represent ageing and older age groups. Within four weeks, a total of 11 creative concepts were created and researched amongst a diverse sample of 67 Hoxbies, a fifth of whom were over 50. Having assessed the concepts against a diverse target group, we finalised and submitted six different age-positive icons.

Our designs – age icons that tell a story.

Our six final age-positive icons ranged from immediately identifiable to more graphic devices that would likely require an educational piece to support them. The icons were presented in different formats so their adaptability and usability could be assessed by the Centre for Ageing Better judging panel.

And here’s what we came up with:

Age-positive icon depicting an old person dancing on a rocking chair.

Concept 1 - Not what you’d expect

You may have a walking stick, a rocking chair and be an older person – but that isn’t what defines you. Now is the time to break the stereotype of old, broken, unhealthy people and show the vibrancy and energy of later life. It’s time to embrace older age and be proud of it. Physical limitations should not be defining what older people are.

Creative director: Sophie Moore

Age positive icon showing 65+ and a running man.

Concept 2 – More than a number

Age is just a number – and we’re more than that. Older or younger, we’re individuals. We are unique. Let’s be proud of that individuality and be seen for who we are. This icon captures the energy of an older person, elevating the negative effect of an over 60s age representation. At the same time, the sweeping up arrow signifies movement, change, encouragement and flow. The icon can be adapted to target specific age categories; the 60s, 70s, etc. and represent a diverse range of older people in terms of gender, skin colour, style and habits.

Creative director: Leanne Dowsett-Smith

Redesigned old person road sign that shows old people as superheroes.

Concept 3 – Optical illusion

This icon not only challenges the stereotypes but takes the current elderly sign, flips it on its side and thereby subverts the associations of the established image. It creates Superheroes taking on the world, as opposed to old people barely able to walk. In this new icon, older people have broken free of the stereotype, they’ve thrown away their walking stick and are embracing life and freedom with full force. This is a thought-provoking icon, giving a different perspective that makes you stop and think.

Creative director: Leanne Dowsett-Smith

The number 50 in a sweeping up arrow.

Concept 4 – Moving forward

The sweeping up arrow is engaging, active and positively moving forward. The plus sign next to 50 encourages us to be proud of our age and adapt a positive attitude about the future: this is when the fun begins. Using just a number allows us to move away from current visual stereotypes, in a positive, active, clear way. The icon can be simply adapted to specific age segments by updating the number.

Creative director: Leanne Dowsett-Smith

Icon that resembles a + and can be read as X or L.

Concept 5 – Age positive

With this icon, we’re approaching 50+ in a positive way, rather than the indisputable act of getting older. The number ‘50’ in roman numerals is represented by ‘L’, and as we’re talking about 50+, we’ve incorporated the L within the plus symbol. This strong, positive icon has the power to lead the age-positive movement. Admittedly, this is an icon that will require educational support to be understood, yet it has a real potential to become a positive badge. No numbers, no stereotypes; just a uniquely positive symbol to represent a fulfilling and empowered later life.

Creative director: Claire Wallace

Age-positive icon showing tree rings.

Concept 6 – Tree rings

Similarly, this icon is more conceptual rather than directly recognisable. The rings of a tree are used to remind people of the depth of experience hidden within an older person if you look below the surface and the old age stereotypes. The heart shows the human powerhouse and feelings inside everyone, old or young. Each ring/wrinkle is earned with time. This icon is a call-to-action to embrace older age, see the person, not the number, and become age-proud.

Creative director: Steve McInerny

Why this project matters to Hoxby

We’re committed to removing workplace bias, and this project solidifies the importance of inclusion and diversity, not only in the workforce but in society as a whole. At Hoxby, we don’t simply endorse the eradication of bias, we’re actively helping make it happen – we’re involved in the change. Creating a world of work without bias is our mission and as a social enterprise and a Certified B Corp, we’re committed to removing gender, age, race and situational bias in the way we work.

Do you want to work in a different, refreshing way? Get in touch to find out more about Hoxby, brief us, or join our diverse community of freelancers today.

In this passion-project, a total of 22 Hoxbies were involved, including Nicola Barrett, Ursula Capell-Helm, Alex Hirst, Ed Horrocks, Penny Kiley, Tessa Moore, David Roberts, Britt Sarony, Pat Tierney, and Liz Watkins. Additionally, another 76 Hoxbies were consulted.

Katerina Gilbert is a brand and creative strategist and part of the Hoxby community.

#OlderNotOld #AgeProud #SayYourAge