Attitudes towards ageing are changing and more and more of us are embracing and celebrating our later years. This is, in part, thanks to the people who’ve dedicated their lives to challenging stigmas and stereotypes surrounding age – people like 54-year-old Georgina Lee.

After getting an education in psychology, Georgina changed direction and embarked on a career in design. She founded a successful, award-winning design company that focused on advertising and branding. But after over a decade in the design industry, at the age of 39, a period of personal turmoil prompted her to reevaluate her life…

“I had a real epiphany,” Georgina tells us. “I realised that I needed to do something different. Now that we’re all living longer, many of us are experiencing this transition point. We’re recognising that we have so much of our lives left to live, and we’re asking ourselves: what are we going to do about it?

“So I closed my design company and everyone thought I was mad. But it was the best thing I’ve ever done because I suddenly found myself on a new trajectory.”

Georgina’s new mission was to continue using design but in a more socially impactful way. Eventually, along with The Design Age Institute, part of the Royal College of Art, she co-founded This Age Thing; a storytelling platform and research community dedicated to redesigning ageing.

We caught up with Georgina to find out more about This Age Thing and her other age-inclusive work…

How would you best describe This Age Thing and what it is?

How would you best describe This Age Thing and what it is

Georgina says, “This Age Thing is a community celebrating all the wonderful aspects and opportunities of getting older. We aim to work together to identify the challenges of ageing and fix them through storytelling and design.

“A big part of this is re-framing the narrative on ageing. We need to hear more positive stories about getting older from real people thriving in later life, not necessarily the extraordinary people like a 99-year-old marathon runner – although I do find that incredibly inspiring.

“Ageing can be great and exciting, and if we see more positive stories, it has a real impact on our internal beliefs, which can, in turn, help us to live longer, happier lives. So positive storytelling is a big part of This Age Thing.

“The other aim of This Age Thing is to identify the challenges of getting older and how we can overcome them through design. We want people to join us as researchers and take part in design projects.

“We all have our own lived experiences – our insights, challenges, and stories. I want This Age Thing to be a living, breathing research community that can find ways to combat these challenges together. Then we can really focus on the joys of getting older.”

How powerful is storytelling when it comes to our views on age?

“Throughout our lives, we’re constantly exposed to images and viewpoints; whether it’s through our education, our family, or the media we consume, and we’re constantly assimilating these viewpoints.

“So if we don’t have positive role models of people ageing well and thriving in later life, then we rely on things like television and advertising to form our internal beliefs about ageing. But older adults are generally presented negatively in these mediums.

“We’re constantly told that we’re all going to get a terrible illness or have a bad fall. No wonder we’re terrified about ageing! But this isn’t the reality. Research shows that the majority of people over the age of 65 are in good health. But that’s not what we hear about.

“The way we assimilate this negative ageing narrative is profound. When we’re younger, it doesn’t seem as if it’s relevant to us. But suddenly, we find ourselves at 50 or 60 and think the reason we’ve lost our keys is that we’re ageing, but it’s all because of these subconscious images and language we’ve taken in throughout our lives. It’s not necessarily about age.

“For this reason, we need to hear more positive stories about people ageing well and thriving – so we can change our own internal beliefs and embrace our later years.”

There are undoubtedly challenges that come with ageing. How does This Age Thing address difficult, more-challenging topics like health issues in later life?

There are undoubtedly challenges that come with ageing. How does This Age Thing address difficult, more-challenging topics like health issues in later life

“There are, of course, challenges that come with ageing. But a lot of the issues with these sorts of things are to do with the messaging.

“The government frequently talks about ‘the common complaints of ageing’, and I have a real problem with this phrase. These include mobility issues, eyesight, hearing problems, and things like that.

“I won’t deny that our eyesight changes as we get older, or that we experience problems with our hearing with age. My radio is on a little bit louder than it used to be and certain common complaints probably are more likely to affect us as we get older – but do they just affect older adults? No, they don’t. So my view is that we should focus more on people’s needs, rather than saying it’s all about ageing.

“I recently did a research project called ‘In Common’, where we took 2,000 people from the age of 18 right through to 99 and we looked at these common complaints – things like small print, fiddly packaging, and loud bars and restaurants. What we found was that people over 65 weren’t actually as frustrated by these things as younger generations were.

“I think constantly aligning these needs and challenges with age digs those negative age beliefs deeper.”

Why is design important when it comes to age?

“Everything that we pick up, use, wear, and interact with is designed for us – and on the whole, not very well.

“For example, we’re just about to publish a big survey that we did with The University of the Third Age. The aim of this survey was to identify the 10 most frustrating everyday objects. And 60% of people said it was packaging. Food packaging, medical packaging, etc.

“But it’s not just older adults that find packaging frustrating; it’s people of all ages, for various reasons. Some people may struggle to open lots of packaging – I don’t know anyone who can open those washing pod boxes – while others may be frustrated about it for environmental reasons.

“And this is one of This Age Thing’s goals: to identify the things that are causing friction in our lives and how we can use design to work intergenerationally and overcome the problems they cause. One of the great things about inclusive design is that if you design for the margins, you actually design better for everybody. No one is going to complain about clothes that are stylish but also comfortable to wear!

“As for packaging, our goal is to launch a petition so the Government will talk about it in the Houses of Parliament, and ban discriminatory packaging. By this, I mean things that are overly fiddly and difficult to get into.

“In our research, we heard stories of people getting bleach bottles opened at the supermarket and walking a mile home with the lid screwed half-on. This is not good design. We have to make things childproof but we don’t need to make them human-proof! If you have negative age beliefs, discriminatory packaging and bad design are just going to feed them.”

What are the benefits of working intergenerationally to solve problems?

What are the benefits of working intergenerationally to solve problems

“Part of the reason for the negative narrative around ageing is that we don’t have enough contact with different generations. Bobby Duffy, the director of the Policy Institute at Kings College, has written a brilliant book called ‘Generations’, and it really highlights just how much people of all ages have in common.

“Take one of the issues that divides the generations: the perception of the climate crisis. In his book, Bobby Duffy looks at the levels of anxiety across the age groups, and he finds that it’s pretty equal. He then looks at which age groups are actively doing something about it; who’re consciously making decisions not to buy certain brands, and actively changing their behaviour, and he finds that older adults make up a tremendously large part of this.

“I think this is really interesting because, despite this, you’ve got lots of people saying that it’s all the fault of older generations. This is the kind of thing I want to try and stop. We each have different knowledge, wisdom, and skillsets, so if we work together, we can do something about all of our challenges.

“We’ve already seen the benefits of intergenerational teams in the workplace. A while ago, Mercedes-Benz wanted to find out where the best innovative ideas came from, so they did an experiment. They took three teams: one of older adults, one of younger adults, and one group of mixed-aged employees. And they found that the best ideas came from that mixed group. So we’ve got to celebrate the importance of diversity of age.”

How can people get involved with This Age Thing?

“There are a couple of ways people can get involved. Firstly, they can sign up with the community. It’s simple to join and we send out newsletters with our latest stories and opportunities for getting involved with research projects.

“Or, if you have a story you’d like to share that you think people will find inspiring, then we’d love to hear it. This Age Thing is all about creating a dialogue, and we want to hear from people about the great things about getting older, as well as the challenges and how we can design better to overcome them.

“We also put on a number of events with the Design Age Institute. For example, we do something called The Wisdom Hour, where we bring people together to speak about what wisdom is and explore a whole load of topics from fashion to sex.

“We’re about to open a two-month exhibition at the Design Museum around the future of ageing. It’ll open on 29th July and will be there until the beginning of September. Then it’ll become a travelling exhibition. It’s incredibly interactive and will hopefully get people to start thinking about ageing in a much more positive way.”

You also host a podcast called ‘Age on Trial’, can you tell us a little bit about it?


“‘Age on Trial’ asks the question: what’s chronological age got to do with anything? And the concept of the trial developed because I realised that I didn’t need to have all the answers.

There are lots of really great expert witnesses out there, so we wanted to go out and ask them questions surrounding age. Then, the idea is that we have a jury at the end of each series to decide whether age has anything to do with a given topic.

“Each series has a different topic, and for the first one, we decided to look at sex and intimacy. We spoke to all kinds of people, for example, Joan Price – who’s in her late 80s and works for a UK company that makes sex toys. She helps to design them for people of all ages. Another witness we spoke to was the photographer, Rankin, who spoke about the power of authentic images about sex and ageing.

“Doing this podcast has completely changed my perspective. My own views on sex and ageing were so locked in, I’m very grateful to all of the witnesses that we spoke to.

“The next series will be about age and music. I’m really looking forward to it. We’ve got lots of really interesting people lined up. People like Debby Harry from Blondie – she’s 76 and did a gig in Camden just last week.”

Final thoughts…

If you want to find out more about This Age Thing, join their community, or share your story, then why not head on over to their website? And if you’d like to listen to the first series of Age on Trial, you can find it on popular streaming services like Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

Did you enjoy hearing from Georgina? If so, we’ve got loads more inspiring and interesting stories on our website. From our interview with Baroness Lola Young to our piece on the model, fashion blogger, and age diversity advocate Judith Boyd.