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Designing For The Elderly: Ways Older People Use Digital Technology Differently

If you work in the tech industry, it’s easy to forget that older people exist. Most tech workers are really young1, so it’s easy to see why most technology is designed for young people. But consider this: By 2030, around 19% of people in the US will be over 65. Doesn’t sound like a lot? Well it happens to be about the same number of people in the US who own an iPhone today. Which of these two groups do you think Silicon Valley spends more time thinking about?

Further Reading on SmashingMag: Link

This seems unfortunate when you consider all of the things technology has to offer older people. A great example is Speaking Exchange6, an initiative that connects retirees in the US with kids who are learning English in Brazil. Check out the video below, but beware — it’s a tear-jerker.

CNA – Speaking Exchange (watch the video on YoutTube7)

While the ageing process is different for everyone, we all go through some fundamental changes. Not all of them are what you’d expect. For example, despite declining health, older people tend to be significantly happier8 and better at appreciating what they have9.

But ageing makes some things harder as well, and one of those things is using technology. If you’re designing technology for older people, below are seven key things you need to know.

(How old is old? It depends. While I’ve deliberately avoided trying to define such an amorphous group using chronological boundaries, it’s safe to assume that each of the following issues becomes increasingly significant after 65 years of age.)

Vision And Hearing Link

From the age of about 40, the lens of the eye begins to harden, causing a condition called “presbyopia.” This is a normal part of ageing that makes it increasingly difficult to read text that is small and close.

The font size a 75 chooses on his Kindle.10
Here’s a 75-year-old with his Kindle. Take a look at the font size he picks when he’s in control. Now compare it to the average font size on an iPhone. (Image: Navy Design302211.) (View large version12)

Color vision also declines with age, and we become worse at distinguishing between similar colors. In particular, shades of blue appear to be faded or desaturated.

Hearing also declines in predictable ways, and a large proportion of people over 65 have some form of hearing loss13. While audio is seldom fundamental to interaction with a product, there are obvious implications for certain types of content.

Key lessons:

  • Avoid font sizes smaller than 16 pixels (depending of course on device, viewing distance, line height etc.).
  • Let people adjust text size themselves.
  • Pay particular attention to contrast ratios14 with text.
  • Avoid blue for important interface elements.
  • Always test your product using screen readers15.
  • Provide subtitles when video or audio content is fundamental to the user experience.

Motor Control Link

Our motor skills decline with age, which makes it harder to use computers in various ways. For example, during some user testing at a retirement village, we saw an 80-year-old who always uses the mouse with two hands. Like many older people, she had a lot of trouble hitting interface targets and moving from one thing to the next.

In the general population, a mouse is more accurate16 than a finger. But in our user testing, we’ve seen older people perform better using touch interfaces. This is consistent with research that shows that finger tapping declines later17 than some other motor skills.

Key lessons:

  • Reduce the distance between interface elements that are likely to be used in sequence (such as form fields), but make sure they’re at least 2 millimeters apart.
  • Buttons on touch interfaces should be at least 9.6 millimeters diagonally18 (for example, 44 × 44 pixels on an iPad) for ages up to 70, and larger for older people.
  • Interface elements to be clicked with a mouse (such as forms and buttons) should be at least 11 millimeters diagonally.
  • Pay attention to sizing in human interface guidelines (Luke Wroblewski has a good roundup of guidelines19 for different platforms).

Device Use Link

If you want to predict the future, just look at what middle-class American teens are doing. Right now, they’re using their mobile phones for everything.

Dustin Curtis20

It’s safe to assume Dustin has never watched a 75-year-old use a mobile phone. Eventually, changes in vision and motor control make small screens impractical for everyone. Smartphones are a young person’s tool, and not even the coolest teenager can escape their biological destiny.

In our research, older people consistently described phones as “annoying” and “fiddly.” Those who own them seldom use them, often not touching them for days at a time. They often ignore SMS’ entirely.

Examples of technology used by the elderly21
Examples of technology used by the elderly (Image: Navy Design302211) (View large version23)

But older people aren’t afraid to try new technology when they see a clear benefit. For example, older people are the largest users of tablets24. This makes sense when you consider the defining difference between a tablet and a phone: screen size. The recent slump in tablet sales25 also makes sense if you accept that older people have longer upgrade cycles than younger people.

Key lessons:

  • Avoid small-screen devices (i.e. phones).
  • Don’t rely on SMS to convey important information.

Relationships Link

Older people have different relationships than young people, at least partly because they’ve had more time to cultivate them. For example, we conducted some research into how older people interact with health care professionals. In many cases, they’ve seen the same doctors for decades, leading to a very high degree of trust.

I regard it like going to see old pals.… I feel I could tell my GP almost anything.

– George, 73, on visiting his medical team

But due to health and mobility issues, the world available to the elderly is often smaller — both physically and socially. Digital technology has an obvious role to play here, by connecting people virtually when being in the same room is hard.

Key lessons:

  • Enable connection with a smaller, more important group of people (not a big, undifferentiated social network).
  • Don’t overemphasize security and privacy controls when trusted people are involved.
  • Be sensitive to issues of isolation.

Life Stage Link

During a user testing session, I sat with a 66-year-old as she signed up for an Apple ID. She was asked to complete a series of security questions. She read the first question out loud. “What was the model of your first car?” She laughed. “I have no idea! What car did I have in 1968? What a stupid question!”

It’s natural for a 30-year-old programmer to assume that this question has meaning for everyone, but it contains an implicit assumption about which life stage the user is at. Don’t make the same mistake in your design.

Key lessons:

  • Beware of content or functionality that implicitly assumes someone is young or at a certain stage in life.

Experience With Technology Link

I once sat with a man in his 80s as he used a library interface. “I know there are things down there that I want to read” he said, gesturing to the bottom of the screen, “but I can’t figure out how to get to them.” After I taught him how to use a scrollbar, his experience changed completely. In another session, two of the older participants told me that they’d never used a search field before.

Generally when you’re designing interfaces, you’re working within a certain kind of scaffolding. And it’s easy to assume that everyone knows how that scaffolding works. But people who didn’t grow up with computers might have never used the interface elements we take for granted. Is a scrollbar a good design for moving content up and down? Is its function self-evident? These aren’t questions most designers often ask. But the success of your design might depend on a thousand parts of the interface that you can’t control and probably aren’t even aware of.

Key lessons:

  • Don’t make assumptions about prior knowledge.
  • Interrogate all parts of your design for usability, even the parts you didn’t create.

Cognition Link

The science of cognition is a huge topic, and ageing changes how we think in unpredictable ways. Some people are razor-sharp in their 80s, while others decline as early as in their 60s.

Despite this variability, three areas are particularly relevant to designing for the elderly: memory, attention and decision-making. (For a more comprehensive view of cognitive change with age, chapter 1 of Brain Aging: Models, Methods, and Mechanisms26 is a great place to start.)

Memory Link

There are different kinds of memory, and they’re affected differently by the ageing process. For example, procedural memory (that is, remembering how to do things) is generally unaffected. People of all ages are able to learn new skills and reproduce them over time.

But other types of memory suffer as we age. Short-term memory and episodic memory are particularly vulnerable. And, although the causes are unclear, older people often have difficulty manipulating the contents of their working memory27. This means that they may have trouble understanding how to combine complex new concepts in a product or interface.

Prospective memory (remembering to do something in the future) also suffers28. This is particularly relevant for habitual tasks, like remembering to take medication at the right time every day.

How do people manage this decline? In our research, we’ve found that paper is king. Older people almost exclusively use calendars and diaries to supplement their memory. But well-designed technology has great potential to provide cues for these important actions.

For older people, paper is king.29
For older people, paper is king. (Image: Navy Design302211) (View large version31)

Key lessons:

  • Introduce product features gradually over time to prevent cognitive overload.
  • Avoid splitting tasks across multiple screens if they require memory of previous actions.
  • During longer tasks, give clear feedback on progress and reminders of goals.
  • Provide reminders and alerts as cues for habitual actions.

Attention Link

It’s easy to view ageing as a decline, but it’s not all bad news. In our research, we’ve observed one big advantage: Elderly people consistently excel in attention span, persistence and thoroughness. Jakob Nielsen has observed similar things, finding that 95% of seniors are “methodical”32 in their behaviors. This is significant in a world where the average person’s attention span has actually dropped below the level of a goldfish33.

It can be a great feeling to watch an older user really take the time to explore your design during a testing session. And it means that older people often find things that younger people skip right over. I often find myself admiring this way of interacting with the world. But the obvious downside of a slower pace is increased time to complete tasks.

Older people are also less adept at dividing their attention34 between multiple tasks. In a world obsessed with multitasking, this can seem like a handicap. But because multi-tasking is probably a bad idea35 in the first place, designing products that help people to focus on one thing at a time can have benefits for all age groups.

Key lessons:

  • Don’t be afraid of long-form text and deep content.
  • Allow for greater time intervals in interactions (for example, server timeouts, inactivity warnings).
  • Avoid dividing users’ attention between multiple tasks or parts of the screen.

Decision-Making Link

Young people tend to weigh a lot of options before settling on one. Older people make decisions a bit differently. They tend to emphasize prior knowledge36 (perhaps because they’ve had more time to accumulate it). And they give more weight to the opinions of experts (for example, their doctor for medical decisions).

The exact reason for this is unclear, but it may be due to other cognitive limitations that make comparing new options more difficult.

Key lessons:

  • Prioritize shortcuts to previous choices ahead of new alternatives.
  • Information framed as expert opinion may be more persuasive (but don’t abuse this bias).

Conclusion Link

A lot of people in the tech industry talk about “changing the world” and “making people’s lives better.” But bad design is excluding whole sections of the population from the benefits of technology. If you’re a designer, you can help change that. By following some simple principles, you can create more inclusive products that work better for everyone, especially the people who need them the most.

Payment for this article was donated to Alzheimer’s Australia37.

(cc, ml, al, il)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/05/technology-workers-are-young-really-young/
  2. 2 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2016/05/designing-a-dementia-friendly-website/
  3. 3 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2011/10/16-pixels-body-copy-anything-less-costly-mistake/
  4. 4 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/05/applying-macrotypography-for-readable-web-page/
  5. 5 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/10/color-contrast-tips-and-tools-for-accessibility/
  6. 6 http://www.cna.com.br/speakingexchange/
  7. 7 https://www.youtube.com/embed/-S-5EfwpFOk
  8. 8 http://www.economist.com/node/17722567
  9. 9 http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/02/11/what-makes-older-people-happy/
  10. 10 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/01-kindle-text-size-opt.jpg
  11. 11 http://www.navydesign.com.au
  12. 12 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/01-kindle-text-size-opt.jpg
  13. 13 http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/hearing/Pages/Age-Related-Hearing-Loss.aspx
  14. 14 http://webaim.org/resources/contrastchecker/
  15. 15 http://www.afb.org/prodBrowseCatResults.asp?CatID=49
  16. 16 http://www.yorku.ca/mack/hfes2009.html
  17. 17 http://www.medicaldaily.com/finger-tapping-test-shows-no-motor-skill-decline-until-after-middle-age-244927
  18. 18 http://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1152260
  19. 19 http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1085
  20. 20 http://dcurt.is/the-death-of-the-tablet
  21. 21 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/02-examples-of-technology-opt.jpg
  22. 22 http://www.navydesign.com.au
  23. 23 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/02-examples-of-technology-opt.jpg
  24. 24 http://dcurt.is/the-death-of-the-tablet
  25. 25 http://recode.net/2014/08/26/in-defense-of-tablets/
  26. 26 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK3885/
  27. 27 http://www.psych.utoronto.ca/users/hasher/abstracts/hasher_zacks_88.htm
  28. 28 http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/view/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195156744.001.0001/acprof-9780195156744-chapter-10
  29. 29 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/03-paper-is-king-opt.jpg
  30. 30 http://www.navydesign.com.au
  31. 31 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/03-paper-is-king-opt.jpg
  32. 32 http://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-for-senior-citizens/
  33. 33 http://www.statisticbrain.com/attention-span-statistics/
  34. 34 http://www.era.lib.ed.ac.uk/handle/1842/8572
  35. 35 http://news.stanford.edu/news/2009/august24/multitask-research-study-082409.html
  36. 36 http://psycnet.apa.org/index.cfm?fa=search.displayRecord&uid=2000-07430-014
  37. 37 https://fightdementia.org.au

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Ollie is one of four co-founders at Navy Design, a design consultancy which specializes in digital products. He’s interested in how good design can make people healthier, happier and safer.

He writes about design on Medium and occasionally contributes to publications such as Smashing Magazine, UXMatters and Creative Review. His most recent speaking engagement was at the Medical Software Industry Association in Sydney.

Ollie has a degree in computer science and is currently completing a postgraduate diploma in psychology.

  1. 1

    There are some great tips in this article for making technology design more accessible to older populations. Some of it can even be applied to “old-school” items, like menu design. Seriously guys, itty bitty squished fonts aren’t going to make me more likely to pay $45 for a pork chop. However, if you are going to publish tips, you might consider how you are applying them. For example, you say to “Avoid blue for important interface elements” but guess what color you have chosen for links? Blue. :)

    9
    • 2

      Dark blue is the defacto internet standard for links, you’d be hard pressed to find any accessibility experts suggesting NOT to use blue.

      Saying that, the blue chosen for links on this site fail all contrast value tests, which is amusing as the dot point mentioning contrast values links through to the contrast value checker.

      However, play to your audience – probably not a huge amount of retirees or sight-impaired people are reading Smashing Magazine every day.

      9
      • 3

        Duncan – what, you think only young people read this technology site? Well I’m not young and I’M reading this! Who do you think developed IT, anyway? ..

        15
      • 4

        “probably not a huge amount of retirees or sight-impaired people are reading Smashing Magazine every day.”

        Isn’t the point of this article not to assume things?

        20
      • 5

        Get your mind a bit more open, dude! 60 – 70% of all citizens of a bloody country ARE sight-impaired. NOT just the eldery. Tsk. m(

        cu, w0lf.

        4
    • 6

      Ah, link color. I don’t think blue is itself the problem, but dark blue that’s nearly indistinguishable from black or dark grey links is (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/building-new-computers-that-function-like-brains-video/). The turquoise used for links in Smashing Magazine, while readily distinguishable from the black text, may be too light for the white background.

      The prevalence of light grey text is right up there with light-weight fonts and small font size, as things that older adults (myself included) struggle with. Not to mention light or bright fonts on a dark background (most gamer sites, e.g., http://us.battle.net/wow/en/community/).

      And using light-colored text with bizarrely-chosen link colors or styles is just cruel (e.g., http://www.fastcompany.com/3042005/most-creative-people/how-maine-is-working-together-to-become-a-hub-for-creative-industry, http://www.wired.com/2015/02/silicon-valley-home-schooling/).

      2
    • 7

      @Kim

      You need to understand the audience your are writing for. In case of Smashing Magazine, its audience are people who make websites. So these are guidelines for them what to keep in mind while designing for elderly people.

      Btw, it is a great article and added a new perspective my thinking (I never thought scrollbar could be an issue understand).

      5
    • 8

      … and it’s the world’s palest blue at that.

      1
  2. 9

    This is fantastic. Coming from a career as a hospital nurse, where I most frequently worked with older people, and moving into web development, this not only struck a chord but rang so true. There is a huge problem with ageism — fear and distrust of age — in the United States especially, and I’m happy to see one little sliver of the community addressing how it affects the biggest platform ever: the Internet. Now, there’s no easy way of getting around usability for those with dementia-type handicaps, but at least we can be honest enough to realize: not all old people who seem confused and move slow have a problem. In fact, very few do; it’s mostly a disrespectful perception of them that handicaps them.

    Yes! The elderly are a HUGE, untapped asset, just as suggested in this article.

    19
  3. 10

    Can’t agree enough with the motor skills:
    Years ago, my mother and I would teach computer literacy to the elderly ( the early 90’s).

    One of the things that we discovered, very consistently, was that between 55 and 65, eye-hand coordination seemed to… break. Folks younger than 55 could learn to use a mouse successfully. Folks 55 and up simply could not.

    What we found was that the new user would first look at their mouse, then look at their screen to confirm that the pointer moved to where they expected. The user would then repeat this process of looking at the mouse, and looking at the screen until they got the cursor to their destination. The elderly user, learning a mouse for the first time, could not simultaneously reconcile motions of the hand with the motions of the mouse cursor.

    For my mother and me, this was a monumental discovery that changed the way that we taught computer literacy. In older age groups, we ignored the mouse and focused on the keyboard. Printing out a list of keyboard shortcuts got the elderly crowd moving much faster than trying to teach them a mouse.

    We made that discovery when I was 13 and my mother in her early 40’s. Now, 20 years later, I see how much she struggles with using her laptop, but excels at using her phone (her eyesight is excellent). Her eye-hand coordination has deteriorated, but the advent of touch screens has allowed her to stay plugged-in. It’s crucial that we not assume that the elderly will use our applications in the same way that we will.

    One point that I think you’ve missed, though, is that the elderly do not adapt to change nearly as well. I saw it first hand in my household with Windows 8. Neither my mother, nor her sister or brother-in-law (all in their 60’s) could adapt to the interface. All three of them traded in their windows 8 laptops for windows 7. Drastic changes to the UI aren’t good for anyone, but they are especially frustrating for the elderly.

    If a UI must be changed, and you have an elderly audience, consider several iterations of gradual updates, rather than a cutover. It gives the elderly more opportunity to learn and adapt.

    27
    • 11

      Very Good Idea!!!! Interesting why Microsoft didn’t think of that and presented the new OS interface gradually … over 7 generations of computer users?

      Nature has it’s way of fixing those issues – all the people that don’t know how to use some kind of technology will either learn or die out :)

      If your target audience is the elderly you definitely must consider the way they use their technology. Don’t forget that these people are not buying stuff online – they go to the shops ….

      -15
  4. 12

    Jonas Smithson

    February 6, 2015 4:25 am

    Your section on vision failed to even mention the most prevalent age-related plague in current Web design: gray type. (Headlines aren’t the problem, I’m talking about a column of body type.)

    You do mention contrast issues, but how did you leave out the most common one? And the reader doesn’t have to be an “elder” — visual contrast problems surface in many people starting in their forties. I have no idea why designers think gray body type is “cool” — or maybe they hold bogus ideas about “sparkly” type being a problem. (I have a background that includes typographic and readability research.) If a designer wants to reduce contrast for whatever reason, the right way to do it on a Web page is with an off-white background, not with gray type.

    9
    • 13

      The body and heading colour of this site is grey (just a dark shade of it) and my father 70+ can read it perfectly fine. Sometimes the starkness of black on white can be too much. I’d imagine most people assume it’s black text on a white background.

      0
  5. 14

    I teach regularly elderly people on internet, computers, applications, and agree on much of what is said here.

    1
  6. 15

    The Tech has advanced to a level where old persons would have all that is essential. Presently there are so many different types of tech available to make their life way easier. The Wearable tech, mobile tech have been mainly focused on youngsters this days. But this is not going to be the barrier for elderly. In time this would be on top list to create advanced tech for elders.

    1
  7. 16

    I didn’t understand why you dislike the blue color so much :)

    -1
  8. 18

    This is a really interesting perspective.

    My Dad’s mum has an iPad and regularly Skypes my cousin who lives overseas. Her use of the touch screen is quite unique, with blunt, forceful taps and swipes.

    My Mum bought a laptop and mobile phone for her mum. She never uses them.

    2
  9. 19

    Thank you for this piece. I’m about to turn 65. I’ve used computers since I was in my 30s. I own 3 laptops, an iPad, an iPod, and an iPhone. I can still use a mouse. But I can’t read little screens. And I’m having more trouble learning how to use new features, especially as they proliferate. So I don’t use email on my phone. I can’t read it. I don’t access websites that way either for the same reason. And I have never been able to successfully send a photo from either my phone or tablet. I understand the concept. I can do it from a computer. But I can’t get it to work on mobile devices–despite following directions I looked up. Frustrating! I will no doubt continue to use all this technology into my dotage. But whether or not I’ll use new features depends on many of the factors explored here. In the meantime, I continue to use my digital camera to take pictures. I can download those to the computer just fine. Even made my mother a photobook on a trip we took–all online. She was thrilled. Confused about how I did it. But thrilled.

    8
  10. 20

    Avoid the “hamburger” icon. Older people have no idea what it is.

    3
    • 21

      Hamburger icon? I have no idea what you’re talking about. FWIW, I’m 66, read Smashing daily, code for fun in my retirement, was a college professor for 35 years, and have a Ph.D. But Hamburger icon? WTF

      3
      • 22

        Me again. Oh, the three bar icon is a hamburger icon. Now I know. Thanks, Google.

        3
      • 23

        Ollie: Fantastic article. Many excellent observations that I agree with… I trained some elder people to be comfortable with PC’s and other stuff, I enjoy explaining it and seeing them start having fun, they can really take off with some basic facts and well-designed apps. I see that most or many older and elder people now use pc’s & mobile devices regularly for communicating, news, family, reading and interests. It’s really more the personality and mentality than age. Light mobile tablet touchscreens are great for when people get arthritic hands & aging eyes need larger fonts. (High contrast text in gui links and buttons helps too). Some young people in technology seem to think it will never happen to them, and that all elders are doddering fossilized senile fools; more fool them! Many elderly people already have been using pc’s and mobiles for years. Sometimes someone just needs to learn to use new or new variant of a program or OS. Most elders I have taught who want to learn but are new at software use are usually in their 70’s & 80’s, because anyone younger has been using software gizmos since the 90’s. And they are quite sharp, especially with a laid back, egalitarian teacher. They just need a little introduction on what the software does and why, at a high level, and later they will typically have a few common sense questions after they get into it. They are not dumb because they arent moving at lightspeed & don’t know the latest 20-something slang (they have their own slang), and need reading glasses. And they actually read. And they do email, photos, social network, amazon, google, ebook, and different kinds of gaming… not to mention full spectrum of other interests. And they are a significant portion of the consumer public. So software GUI designers and media publishers should take note. There’s money in it. Good GUI design for elder visual and cognitive changes happens, very efficiently, to be more efficient for younger users. As you have wisely pointed out.

        Duncan – what, you think only young people read this technology site? Well I’m not young and I’M reading this! Who do you think developed IT, anyway? A bunch of oldsters!

        Mike – hamburger icon is the little stacked lines symbol, like you see now on mobile apps for menu. Originally created by Norm Cox for the Xerox Star which was the world’s first GUI.

        4
  11. 24

    Awesome article and comments. I hope this is just the beginning of an ongoing conversation.

    Couple observations for future study:
    Not all older people are the same. In the US, baby boomers are old, but we (I’m one) still think of ourselves as young, and so vanity plays a part in the way we interact. But my dad (in his 80s) has the mouse issue you mention, despite having been an engineer working with computers since the 1960s.
    Also … grown men have big hands. Teens – even boys – often have teeny little dainty fingers, but I despise trying to type on a teeny keyboard made for little girls. One major reason I use only Android – they had Swype a long time ago.
    One final note: older people can spell. Spell-checker and it’s idiotic corrections drive me insane.
    I hope you keep up this work. There’s still huge growth potential among older folks.

    5
  12. 25

    Chris Rosepapa

    February 7, 2015 7:36 pm

    Great article and so practical as to what designers can do differently to accommodate the older group of website visitors. So many of the articles online don’t address this; it’s as if the 65 plus age group isn’t online. I know that once they are empowered with technology they excel. Once my dad starting using an Mac Book he took off with his learning. He has an iPhone, Mac Book , PC, a tablet. Goes to technology classes to learn more. Who knows, at this rate he might be designing websites next.

    The older age group is also more financially stable, make important buying decisions, invest in start-up companies, mentor and more.

    I see many website that are targeted with messaging towards buyers in the 50 + age group, especially investment type of services for estate planning/ trusts, etc., however the design is targeted to a younger audience. There’s a disconnect.

    Again, great article!

    5
  13. 26

    Really interesting,
    Great article. Will take these tips on board!

    1
  14. 27

    We have also found that when 75+ years want to send emails with a tablet, tapping the contact by using their picture, speaking the email, and hitting send works the best. The email is sent and the family member or friend gets an attachment that they can listen to. An added benefit is that you can hear your mom or dads voices which helps you understand more about them.

    A stylus is a must because their fingers don’t have the connectivity and typing is not easy when you have tremors and it takes too long.

    Adapting the user interface to the senior is the best way to go. The older you get, the less you want to change.

    http://www.grandpad.net

    5
  15. 28

    It’s nice to see an article about how our elders interact with technology. The things discussed here are important reminders when we start working on web projects that target elder audiences. Like Healthcare websites. Most of elder people are not fund of scrolling websites so I prefer to use eye catching buttons. Based on my experience with my parents, they don’t look at text links as something you can click on. So yeah, we can do a lot of our smashing and complicated design stuff for other websites, but keep it straight to the point when it comes to designing for elder people.

    4
  16. 29

    Does anyone have a link to some research done concerning the following issue:

    “Color vision also declines with age, and we become worse at distinguishing between similar colors. In particular, shades of blue appear to be faded or desaturated.”

    I often see this statement, but am unable to find research backing it up.

    6
    • 30

      “In the new study, researchers sought to understand how common the color-vision problems are among older people. They gave tests to nearly 900 people aged 58 to 102 from the Northern California enclave of Marin County, leaving out anyone who had inherited colorblindness.

      Color-vision problems in the blue-yellow spectrum affected 45 percent of people in their mid-70s, and that proportion rose to two-thirds by the time people reached their mid-90s. Few people had problems with the red-green spectrum.

      SOURCES: Marilyn Schneck, Ph.D., scientist, Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Institute, San Francisco; Michael Crognale, Ph.D., professor and director of cognitive and brain sciences, department of psychology, University of Nevada, Reno; Stephen Dain, Ph.D., professor, School of Optometry and Vision Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia; March 2014 Optometry and Vision Science

      1
    • 31

      Hi Stephanie – a lot of research was collated by WAI several years ago in “Web Accessibility for Older Users: A Literature Review” – see in particular:
      http://www.w3.org/TR/wai-age-literature/#whatvision

      0
  17. 32

    I am impressed, I must say. Really

    1
  18. 33

    A really nice, though provoking piece.

    I am going to go home, hug my mum and ask her to split test my campaigns.

    2
  19. 34

    1) Plug item in
    2) Walk to phone… call grandson

    0
  20. 35

    The elderly demographic we have now versus the elderly demographic in the future are two, vastly different sets of people. Elderly people in the future (us!), would be better adapted to technology and change, thus, giving us a different ‘relationship’ with technology. Of course, we would always have to take account for the physical limitations that comes with old age, but I think, the future of design for the elderly in the future would be easier than today.

    3
    • 36

      Raden, when you talk about people in the current elder demographic you’re talking about a two generations that have seen some of the most drastic technological changes in the history of mankind. They’re use to rapid technological change because it’s been a constant for the past 100 years. Gen-X, Gen-Y/Millennials are better adapted to current technology only because it’s been a constant for them. We’ll be no better adapted for future technology of the same revolutionary scale than they were.

      7
  21. 37

    Excellent article, very helpful. Thanks for the “belly laugh” at the end of the DECISION-MAKING section:

    “The exact reason for this is unclear, but it may be due to other cognitive limitations that make comparing new options more difficult.”

    Perhaps an alternate interpretation would be that older people apply a “weighting factor” to advice/information from different sources based on experience?

    The opposite perspective might be that young people spend more time trying to understand a concept and:

    “The exact reason for this is unclear, but it may be due to a lack of experience with the veracity of the sources, making understanding the nature of the options more difficult.”

    ;0)

    3
  22. 38

    This is important information! I wish Apple designers would read this. I just got an Apple TV. I’d love to get my parents one, but the remote is so small (hard to grasp) and slippery, and the buttons are so tiny, that I know my dad would decide that the frustration wasn’t worth the trouble. With America’s population quickly aging, I was unpleasantly surprised that Apple either didn’t consider seniors at all, or considered them but disregarded their needs.

    4
  23. 39

    I loved the article and its many great tips. I do have these other suggestions for product designers.

    * Understand that market researchers most often define Seniors as anyone over age 65, but the Real Seniors are over 75 or 85, and that makes a huge difference in how to design and market products.

    * Spend more time with older people to understand their needs and perspectives, and if possible walk in their shoes. Spend a day in a wheelchair or MIT’s AGNES, or Age Gain Now Empathy System. (http://www.mhealthtalk.com/mit’s-agnes-the-ageing-suit/)

    * Rather than design products specifically for the elderly, frail or disabled, expand your market size by using Universal Design principles so your products are usable by anyone regardless of age, size or ability. Related articles are at http://www.mhealthtalk.com/tag/universal-design/, and picture examples are at https://www.pinterest.com/mhealthtalk/universal-design/.

    * Remember that websites that accommodate screen readers for the blind also get better Google rankings than sites with lots of graphics that search engines can’t read. If using infographics, for example, include transcribed text somewhere on the page.

    7
  24. 40

    Watch this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=htLswR9BUD4) for a heart warming example of how technology can be life changing for seniors when it’s designed right and someone takes time to show them how to use it. Unfortunately, too many seniors don’t know how to use tablets or computers and are left out of modern society. The numbers are depressing.
    I spoke at a conference last year on a panel promoting broadband deployment to assisted living and nursing homes, and I shared my experience a few months earlier speaking at a large assisted living facility on The Future of Healthcare. The audience of about 40 were all in their 80’s and were very attentive and genuinely interested, but I was surprised and disappointed by the result of my quick poll. Not one of them had ever used a PC, tablet or the Internet.
    That meant they didn’t use email to keep up with or share pictures with distant relatives. They didn’t use Skype or FaceTime, or ebanking, even though their social security checks were deposited electronically. They couldn’t participate in telemedicine and instead relied on getting someone to drive them to a doctor’s appointment. Another panelist showed the video above, and the contrast was staggering and eye-opening.

    4
    • 41

      Nanci Erskine

      March 4, 2015 10:39 pm

      Totally agree that design and instructional style make all the difference. My mom, who just died at 94, was just beginning to get the hang of email about 10 years ago- but because they used an annoying old PC and Outlook mail program, it involved way too many steps for her to easily do.
      But while it lasted, it was a great way to send pictures more often and let her know what was going on.
      Since then, she was amazed to experience the occasions when we would facetime with her and my brother on our iPhones. It seemed incredibly space-age to her, and indeed it is!
      Also, I find it incredibly annoying that even with the high cost of living in her former building, there was no free wifi available. And this near the heart of Silicon Valley!

      3
  25. 42

    This is helpful to future designers. Indeed, technology has evolved too fast, leaving the elderly group behind. With the points you have raised, I hope designers would come up with gadgets that target old people. In that way, they can slowly penetrate the digital age without irritating or annoying them with complicated buttons and features.

    4
  26. 43

    Good article on common UX issues. We often forget that we, designers, must consider and understand the audience we are designing for…
    The Apple SignIn question made my day. So true… :-D

    1
  27. 44

    For some guidance on the applicability of WCAG 2.0 to older people’s needs, see “Developing Websites for Older People:
    How Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 Applies” [http://www.w3.org/WAI/older-users/developing.html]

    2
  28. 45

    Instead of the term “elderly”, could we not use the term “seniors”, which recognizes the contribution seniors have made to our society? There are a lot of negative attitudes towards the “elderly” in our society, and people often equate the term with “past it”, “incapable”, “childlike”, “infirm” etc, etc.

    1
  29. 46

    Just want to add my appreciation for this article! Have worked in IT for 20+ years before I retired a couple of years ago. I did not have any problems after 55, however, at 67 my vision changed and I have had problems with blues and grays on links and sub-topics on websites… And they’re everywhere!
    Anyway, a great article and whatever company begins to design for the Boomers, is going to cash in! We are always going to use Tech – evaluate and design for the biggest tech market ever and make life easier for us – please!

    3
  30. 47

    Ricardo Quintas

    March 14, 2015 5:30 pm

    Brilliant Article!!
    I was not aware at all to a lot of the subjects you raised here.
    Hope developers, and the IT industry in general, wake up to these important issues.

    3
  31. 48

    Ageing Aficionado

    March 16, 2015 2:24 pm

    Excellent, comprehensive overview of this burgeoning issue. The digital divide is huge and digital exclusion is truly isolating. Intelligent, empathetic design is the only way..
    Understanding the goals of the older user is fundamental to making tech solve their human needs. Design should be directed at achieving the goals, honouring the values and preserving the dignity of older users.
    Today, the prototypical designer of everything from F1 to toilet seats is a 38 year old, white male. To all the designers out there, remember that if you are alive, you too are growing old. There is extraordinary power and potential there.
    And really enjoyed the insightful comments and links, particularly the YouTube clip of older, first time iPad users. Their quiet gratitude, and life enhancing joy.
    Steve Jobs must be grinning.

    0
  32. 49

    joel niemegeers

    March 24, 2015 5:57 pm

    very good topic and very well thought out

    1
  33. 50

    Hello all!

    My 90 year old Grandad and I spent months looking for a communication app that was easy enough for him to use — and after months of searching, we finally found one that he understands!

    I wanted to share with y’all because I can’t believe how fast he’s taken to this app. Now we send each other video messages every day! Maybe you could use it with the older adults in your life?

    The app is called Taptalk — and it’s free to download for both iOS and Android devices! (Love free apps.)

    The interface is so simple — all my Grandad has to do is open the app, put his finger on the picture of the family member he wants to message, and start talking to his device. As soon as he takes his finger off his loved one’s face, the video message instantly sends.

    To view a message, he just taps on a red circle on the top right of the screen — the same screen where he sends messages. Super basic and simple.

    He uses it with his family that live in other states — and now our family feels more connected than ever. It’s beautiful how close we feel even though we live 400+ miles apart.

    There’s even a new family connect feature. You can use it to invite a bunch of family members to the app at the same time — when they download the app using the special download link you sent, they’ll automatically be connected within the app and able to message with each other. And send family group messages!

    I hope some of you can enjoy using this app with your family as much as I do, every day, with my Grandad.

    Jade in San Francisco

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  34. 51

    Michele R. Harper

    May 10, 2015 10:07 pm

    GREAT article and especially helpful on my IDEO_U project about “How might we gather inspiration and insights to design products and services for the modern 70 year old?”

    Thank you.

    -1
  35. 52

    EricInCleveland

    May 21, 2015 7:03 pm

    Damn fine article, Ollie! Well done. I just came across it doing research on this very subject. I spent part of last week in Palo Alto listening to pitches from very bright millenials (and others) who had created brilliant smartphone apps for assisting and entertaining people like my 89-year old mother. What they didn’t seem to get was that most people her age don’t or can’t use smartphones, not because they’re old-fashioned but because– as you’ve alluded to– the cognitive inability to learn new things accelerates with age (cf. the book The 36-Hour Day). If I could take an iPhone 6+, pair down the apps to just the two or three she’d actually use, and make it impossible to get “lost” in other screens/apps, She tried using my iPad last year and when she was in the Solitaire app she was happy, but when she accidentally double-tapped the home button and saw all the open apps pop up, she decided to put it down.

    -1
  36. 53

    Glen Goldsmith

    July 1, 2015 12:30 am

    My wife and I just found a great tablet for her senior parents. The product is very simple to use and is made just for seniors. Neither of her parents is terribly tech savvy, which is why this is so good for them. Her father also has Parkinson’s Disease, so it is difficult for him to use a standard tablet. The product, grandPad (www.grandpad.net) is from a new company and comes with 24 hour customer service. There are no hidden fees, since everything is built into the monthly subscription. What we particularly like is the email function where you simply record a message and send it with the push of a button. Check it out!

    -2
  37. 54

    A.K.Segan, M.F.A.

    July 26, 2015 3:58 pm

    Obviously the article was not designed to be accessible to the very same people he writes about: Internet users of ages 40’s and up, and esp boomers, seniors and the elderly. I read it on 2 different computers to be sure: The dark gray type is not optimally designed for accessibility nor to be user-friendly or readable. While the author addresses blue type-font as bad, he does not address gray, which is equally useless for middle aged and older internet users. High contrast black type-font is optimal and works best for all ages of internet users (including children, youth, younger age adults: After all, millions of kids, teens & young adults wear eyeglasses or contact lenses). The type below the photo is particularly poorly designed: very light, very low contrast. Ditto the type in Leave a Comment boxes. In short, the graphic design of the article makes a mockery of the very issues the writer purports to be interested in focusing on: Health of internet users.

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