While working a short-term contract gig this summer doing interaction design for an enterprise hiring management platform, I spent a good deal of time collaborating with business analysts and product owners. This sparked an interest in learning about the differences between product design and design. I snagged a copy of Artiom Dashinsky’s Solving Product Design Exercises.

As a personal learning exercise, I used his framework to think through design of a product that, from talking with friends and friends of friends, I identified a need for — finding a retirement community. (Spoiler alert: This article contains no Dribbble-worthy app screens.)

Dashinsky’s framework involves 5Ws, 1S and 1H.

Why? Understand your goal

Why is this product important?

  • Between 2004 and 2014 the population age 60 and over increased 32.5% from 48.9 million to 64.8 million.
  • About 29% (13.3 million) of non-institutionalized older persons live alone (9.2 million women, 4.1 million men)
  • The median income of older persons in 2014 was $31,169 for males and $17,375 for females
  • The share of couples without children rises to about half (49 percent) of households in their 60s, while the share of single-person households increases to 33 percent
  • Roughly 38 percent of adults aged 50 and over moved during the ten-year period from 2001 to 2011.

[Statistics are from the Pew Research Center, the Administration for Community Living of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, and the Panel Study of Income Dynamics.]

Along with these demographic changes, the cost of housing has skyrocketed in most larger cities, putting even such appealing options for so-called “elder orphans” as co-housing out of reach financially. At the same time, consolidation has decreased the availability of health care in more affordable small towns.

What problem does it solve?

Thanks to the Internet there are a lot more data available about life in various communities, and it’s a lot easier for people to connect via social media, Meet-ups, and platforms like NextDoor. “Best Places” articles often focus on retirees, but have a Chamber of Commerce slant to them.

The wealth of information is both a blessing and a curse: How do elder orphans sort out their options, identify, and research the place they can call in their twilight years, especially if they have limited means? How do they find other elder orphans who have housing to share, so-called “Golden Girls” homes*?

*Elderly women living alone outnumber men by more than 2:1.

How does it benefit user/customer?

This product would save the user time and effort of having to go multiple places to get information. It could also help them think through their top criteria for a new home base.

What business opportunities does this product present?

  • White-label licensing to people who help seniors downsize/relocate.
  • Platform for co-housing and intentional communities who can get the word out more broadly
  • Ad platform for vetted realtors, moving companies, estate lawyers

Who? Define the audience

The core audience is age 55–64, primarily women, more likely than not, homeowners, with a college degree or higher, and uses a smartphone and a computer. (By age 65, more than 1/4 of adults live alone, and 70% are women.)

Other audiences with different motivations for using this app include: Moving companies, relocation consultants, living/co-housing community leaders.

After analyzing posts in an online group for elder orphans planning to relocate for retirement, I developed three provisional personas.

This persona is a woman living on a fixed income who doesn’t want to live in an “old folks’ home.” Photo by Michael Morse from Pexels.

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