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Competition seeks design icons to portray older age in a more positive light

12:00am | & Lifestyle

People are living longer and older people tend to be fitter and more active than ever before, but many negative stereotypes persist about old age and what it means.

These stereotypes can be reinforced through imagery in the media and even in things like road signs, such as the official UK sign to warn of the possibility of elderly or frail people crossing the road (pictured). While well-intentioned and instantly recognisable, this outdated icon has been criticised for portraying older people as hunched over, slow moving and reliant on walking sticks.

Now the Centre for Ageing Better – a charitable foundation funded by the National Lottery Community Fund – has launched an open online competition to fine new ‘age-positive’ icons. The winner will be awarded a contract to design a series of alternative icons depicting ageing and older people in a more positive light.

Supported by Public Health England, the competition hopes to attract graphic designers or design students, but is open to anyone to enter for free. Ageing Better hopes to use new icons to challenge stereotypes and imagery associated with old age. The foundation’s own research has shown that stereotypes can become self-fulfilling prophecies, as they can affect how older people view themselves, their own capabilities and the kinds of activities they engage with.

Entrants should submit designs for ‘age-positive’ icons which avoid harmful stereotypes. Like all icons, the designs need to be simple and instantly understood – and appropriate for use in reports, presentations and other media as a way of visually denoting ‘ageing’ or ‘older people’. The winning icon isn’t just for use by Ageing Better and partners, but will also be made publicly available for unlimited use by others.

Alison Giles, from the Centre for Ageing Better said: “Harmful stereotypes of older people being depicted as vulnerable and frail are rife in society. We need to move away from these negative images, such as the ubiquitous hunched-over stickman, and challenge these ideas and misconceptions about ageing.

“This competition is one of the ways we are trying to do that and we hope will help to get more age-positive imagery into public use. The innovative new icons generated by this competition could be a crucial step towards re-shaping the way we think and talk about later life.”

After a shortlisting stage, carried out by a panel of experts, an overall winner will be chosen and awarded a contract, working with Ageing Better to expand their design into a wider set of icons and illustrations. The competition will close on 4pm, Friday October 16th, with the winner announced by the end of October.

• For more guidance on submitting entries, full terms and conditions of the competition, and an online entry form, click here.

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