Georgina Melone's Latest Innovation Focus: Geri-play, the new space in our Playscape

by Georgina Melone | 06 Nov 2022

Biographies and Interviews



Hi Gina! Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts on Geri-play. Before we get to this new area of play design, please share a bit about yourself. 


My entire life’s work has been dedicated to our industry of play.  I have been inventing and designing brands, products, and stories for children. Recently, however, I have expanded my life’s work by designing play for our older adults.  I have begun to call this undeveloped white space Geri-play.


 How did you find yourself  designing in this space? 


I stumbled into this new market when I entered my own new life stage . In addition to leaving my position in the corporate world to start my own design studio, I also became  a part- time caregiver to my 95-year-old mom, Rita. The transition from being an experienced VP of Innovation in our play industry  to a not-so-competent elder care giver has been certainly life altering. At first, I felt like nothing in my toy design career had prepared me for this additional role. Most notably, the pace of these two roles is  worlds apart. My fast-paced corporate work in our notoriously impatient, future facing global industry had made it very difficult for me to be a patient, present caregiver. I  often found myself ineffective and bewildered in this new role. However, one way I ultimately found to thrive during my time with my mom has been to assist her in inventing products that help improve her ever evolving condition. Playing with design thinking has proven to be a great space for us both to spend constructive, positive time together. My mom has a very active mind, and she was the one who started us on this adventure together.


The Walker-Squawker


 It all began by her persistently asking for help in inventing something to help her to remember to use her walker.  As she describes the situation, she had walked without her mobility device for 80 some years, so naturally it wasn’t instinctive for her to remember it in order to get around. 


Essentially, she had identified a problem to be solved and a need to be met - ideal conditions for great invention to come to the rescue. I felt grateful to be able to offer help in this endeavor. Afterall, I had spent my career in our industry helping designers come up with viable concepts. “ I’ve got this,” I thought.


 My mom proved to be natural at brainstorming and innately took to the process. She readily defined what was in and out of scope and insisted that the product be “fun” to mitigate all the challenges  that she and her elder cohorts were facing. As she often proclaims, “Getting old is not for babies!”


 My mom readily came up with a line of cheerful singing  birds that sit on your walker - an encouraging sidekick that knows when you’re walking and reminds you not to forget it when you stop walking. I sketched Rita’s birds and we named them Walker Squawkers. I then presented the Walker Squawkers to the company Ageless Innovation,  well known for making the Joy for All animatronic cats and dogs for older adults. They agreed that the birds proved to be a perfect fit for their brand. We could not have asked for more wonderful partners for Rita’s first invention.


The team at Ageless Innovation was  not only thorough throughout the development process, but also mindful in including Rita in every step  including the marketing! It has been a wondrous experience watching my mom participate in photoshoots and  zoom interviews conducted by major media outlets including global tech publications. This experience for our family was especially welcome in the challenging Pandemic years where Rita and her friends were forced to be very isolated. Rita is an extreme extrovert and has no problem with any and all interviews. She has relished in the process as though she has been waiting 95 years for the world to catch up with her.


Play for All


Throughout this journey, I became increasingly  excited to learn about this category of “ Geri-play.” I have since discovered that up until now, there has been little formal design dedicated to this space. I marvel at how long it has taken for our play industry to bump into this underserved demographic. How could this be a newly discovered space?  An obvious explanation is that the industry of traditional play has been “youth obsessed”. Ironically, for an industry addicted to aspirational play, aging is definitely not presented as aspirational. In our society at large, the topic of aging beyond 21 had been culturally taboo.


In the West especially, we have been more obsessed with fighting aging instead of gaining the tools to age gracefully. When you start to become “elder aware” , you find that granny and geezer stereotypes are still quite prevalent.  However, in the next  few years, I predict that we will be seeing exponential growth in this Gerri-play space. Why? 


There is money to be had and many booming Boomer voices to be heard!  In fact, there are now  more folks over 65 than under 5 for the first time in history.  These new elderly also have granted themselves permission to play. The youngest of Boomers  are the first generation who have made it socially acceptable to play as an adult.  They expect a higher quality of life and leisure than their parents. Literally, becoming the new whitespace in the playscape. 


We all know that play is a basic need for children. Indeed, play is a basic need for all humans. I would argue that we need play even more desperately as we enter our later years. The good news is that our industry  is perfectly poised to come to the rescue. When we call to mind the litany of play benefits for children that we all know by heart, they begin to make even more sense for our aging loved ones.


  • Play connects us.  This is a big one especially in combating the isolation that has become an epidemic for older adults.
  • Play creates an escape, a diversion. Often, growing older comes with physical pain, containment and captivity that can benefit greatly from imaginative escape.
  • Play  permits us to be creative. Unlike designing crafts for children and younger adults, these folks have more time in their day so those time-related restraints are lifted and craft can be fully explored.
  • Play can be Physical. In addition to having these social and emotional benefits, play can also have physical and cognitive benefits as well. 


I believe that play is the embodiment of  vitality . Play is exactly what is needed at this latest stage of life  more than ever. Play is the perfect partner for aging at any age.


Finding Your Pickleball


 If you find yourself interested in designing for this demographic, let me offer a few things that I have learned so far:


  • This is a very widely diverse cohort so don’t make stereotypical assumptions about our elders.
  • In product, are you designing for an age or a stage? These are two distinctly different missions, so pick a lane. There is great need in either path.
  • Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are humorless. This group LOVES to laugh.
  • And definitely don’t make the mistake of thinking they are not competitive. This group has probably never heard of collaborative gaming and may even find it pointless.


I suggest that you solve a real problem and address a deep-seated desire. Take a look at what caregivers are currently “Gerri rigging” to solve an underserved problem - such as the  ubiquitous tennis balls on walkers.


Who is your consumer? Are you addressing the caregiver, family member, or the ultimate end user? Have fun and tinker  with our traditional play categories such as roleplay, sports, nurturing, gaming, etcetera. These categories address real human needs and can all make sense when tailored for this  group.


Most of all, know that your well- honed skills in play making will be received with opened arms by our under-served older adults and their families. If, perchance, you find that this market doesn’t fit your brand in your professional life, then I would suggest that you take the time to seek out and play with some elders in your personal life. I promise you won’t regret it.


I have gained so much play knowledge and experienced so much joy playing with my new focus group!


To find out more about Rita and The Walker Squawker go to this link:


geri-play older adult play

Tait & Lily, Inventors of Betcha Can't!