It seems like everyone is designing spaces or experiences for millennials these days. Here at Zen Spaces, we definitely have our fair share of design projects aimed at the 30-something set like the Under Canvas resort we’re designing near Yosemite. But with my generation – the Gen X’ers - now starting to turn 55 years old, I’ve become increasingly interested in designing spaces that make life better for the over 50 set. I’ve always studied psychology to understand how building design affects people’s emotions and instincts, but, more recently, I’ve been studying biology to understand how the biology of people as they age affect how they perceive spaces, and how spaces can be better designed for their specific needs.

Millennials are looking for more extreme experiences, something to tweet about, and to be totally surprised and truly wowed by venues. After all, if they can’t post it on social media for all to see, did it really even exist? They don’t want to inhabit spaces, they want to inhabit art installations! They value unique-ness, and the combination of nature, sustainable design, and technology. For Under Canvas, a high-end “glamping” resort, they get that.

Yet the environments designed for millennials can be overstimulating for an older age group. Bright colors are ok for just about any age group, and actually are preferable for older adults who, by the age of 60, experience colors in a more muted way. Eyesight problems are the most common problems of later life, and lighting must be designed differently for people over 60. Material selection must also be adjusted to reduce the glare that becomes a problem for older eyes. The correct window coverings as well must be selected to reduce glare. Bold patterns in carpets or on walls can make older adults feel unstable. Hearing issues are another major problem for older adults, and special attention should be paid to the acoustical design of a space that will be occupied by people over 50. Adults over 40 or 50 also tend to want a more relaxing environment with a warmer feel.

If you’re trying to attract an older, more affluent customer, then design your space with that customer’s needs in mind. Many adults over the age of 50 avoid loud places with poor acoustics where it’s difficult to have a conversation, just as many millennials flock to loud nightclubs. Don’t mistakenly think that just because certain design features are trendy or popular, that they’re appropriate for all ages. Design may seem subjective, and it is in many ways, but it’s part science as much as it is part art.