27 September 2022 Case

Social design offers a new perspective on elderly care

Everyone is directly or indirectly affected by old age. Nevertheless, we prefer to leave the thinking about this to health-care institutions. Due to the double ageing of the population, the elderly who require of care is growing, while fewer and fewer people are employed in that sector. According to ActiZ, the sector organisation for care providers focused on elderly care, society as a whole has a role to play in solving this problem. ActiZ participated in the What if Lab: Connected Generations, ActiZ to look for new perspectives to tackle this issue. Two winning social design concepts rolled out there: Bingo, what do you want to be when you grow old? by Studio Anne Ligtenberg and the Neighbourhood Residential Group of We Are Social Rebels.

Title of the Lab: What if Lab: Connected Generations 
Design question: What if… we re-connect generations in a caring society? 
Client: ActiZ 
Design studios: Studio Anne Ligtenberg & We are Social Rebels
Period: June 2021 – February 2022

Thinking about later

‘Conversations about starting a family and the preparations that are necessary for that are very normal. But we prefer not to think about what our lives will look like if we need care later on’, says Charlotte Vromans, deputy director of ActiZ. ‘This must change fundamentally. If we do nothing, one in four workers in the elderly care sector will soon have to be active. With the What if Lab, we were looking for alternative thinkers who could broaden the issue beyond our sector.’


How do we involve the whole of the Netherlands in the future of elderly care? With that question, Actiz wrote a case for What if Lab: Connected Generations. Reciprocity was an important spearhead. Each of the two designs chosen focus on a different aspect of it. With Bingo, Studio Anne Ligtenberg focuses on stimulating reciprocity between different generations in the form of a game. The Buurt Woongroep of We Are Social Rebels wants to make residents of a neighbourhood feel more connected, so that the elderly can live independently at home for longer.

‘We’d rather not think about what our lives will look like if we need care later’

Studio Anne Ligtenberg


‘Ageing is a fraught subject for many. By casting it in a game form, we approach it in a light-hearted way and motivate people to think about later now,’ says Anne Ligtenberg. During the game, the players place themselves into the shoes of the elderly. Together, they build a circle of acquaintances to adress the challenges of everyday life. What do you do when people suggest that you don’t drive so safely any more? Or who do you turn to if the many funerals do not leave you exhausted and uncomfortable? The different challenges spark a conversation about ageing. ‘By talking about it together, you will find out how you want to shape your life, how you want to be connected and what you need in order to do that.’

We are social Rebels

Neighbourhood group

‘There is a lot of attention for physical accessibility and mobility of the elderly, but psychological and social accessibility is often underexposed,’ explains social designer Eva de Bruijn of We Are Social Rebels. ‘Social cohesion is very important to enable people to live at home for as long as possible. The Buurtwoongroep is a concept for a flexible residential group within the neighbourhood. The different generations create a social network that looks out for each other and undertakes and manages things together for the neighbourhood. We look from the cohabitation lens, not from the care lens.’ A menu helps the residents get started. This provides inspiration for transforming a park into a shared vegetable garden or organising a repair café. 

‘Ageing is a fraught subject for many. By casting our design in a game form, we approach it in a light-hearted way.’

We were really able to get to a flying start because we had access to the expertise of ActiZ.


Close contact

After ActiZ chose the winning concepts, the social design studios were nurtured with information and inspiration for two days. Vromans explains: ‘We organised meetings with sounding board groups and administrators of care organisations. The designers spoke to experts and researchers during masterclasses and workshops. We also took them to care institutions in the country: from a cooperative in the countryside to a nursing home in the city where the elderly live with students.’ This provided the designers with a wealth of information. De Bruijn: ‘We were really able to get to a flying start because we had access to the expertise of ActiZ. We gained insight into best practices and bottlenecks. There was very close contact during the design process. It is vital for you to be able to do it together, we could not have done this without ActiZ.’

Dutch Design Week

Whereas many of the What if Labs in the annual Dutch Design Week have a final station where the designers present their concepts, in this case the event was a stopover. Ligtenberg: ‘During this week, we had the opportunity to talk to visitors, the elderly and future elderly, to test our concepts. We took that feedback into account in the further development of our projects. That really added something to the process.’ 

‘We look from the cohabitation lens, not from the care lens’

A large playing field

Elderly care is a gigantic sector: nearly half a million people are working for two million clients. Vromans: ‘The link with practice was therefore very important for ActiZ. When developing a social design concept, the studios had to look beyond ActiZ as a client, but also consider the entire field with its players.’ Ligtenberg: ‘Parent care transcends all levels of age, education and social and cultural background. We’ve examined all factors as broadly and inclusively as possible.’

Lessons Learned

Feeding with information

Being fed with the correct and sufficient information by the client is key. The subject of parental care is very complex and not always clear to an outsider. By taking the designers along for two days to workshops, working visits, masterclasses and meetings with stakeholders, ActiZ gave them the right input to align their concepts with the demand and the target group.

Testing at Dutch Design Week

At the annual Dutch Design Week, the social design studios were given the opportunity to test their concepts with visitors. This gave them the opportunity to incorporate the input gathered there into their final concepts.

Mapping the playing field

Elderly care is a sector with many stakeholders: ActiZ, care facilities, administrators, the government, care employees and, of course, the clients. Mapping out these players, each with their own interests and needs, was of great importance for the concepts to succeed.