Attracting senior citizens as part of your user-base was once deemed as being the last Internet frontier. However, this elusive scenario has since become reality as we have witnessed a constant increase in the number of senior citizen users who are more often logging on, signing up, and subscribing. In the United States alone, Statista recorded that in 2016, 64% of senior citizens (65+ years of age) were online – that is up 4% from 2013.
But despite this increment, senior citizens are still an often untapped demographic in user experience design. If UX practitioners do not take senior citizen users into consideration, they are alienating an entire user base and removing them from the online experience: a no-win situation.
Custom web design for senior citizens can be achieved by following best practices such as designing with larger UI design elements, using colour to help highlight important content and performing appropriate user testing.
Make Your UI Reader-Friendly
Fonts: the bigger, the better
Firstly, make your user interface decipherable by considering the size of your fonts and the screen itself. Unlike UX designers, not every user has a high-quality monitor that is kind on the eyes, and for users on the other side of 60, tiny texts can be truly bothersome. If you are looking to target senior citizen users, do not go below 12-point fonts for your UI’s body text.
Sometimes users have the option to control the font size in the web browser. However, most of the time it is just a case of zooming in on a page, and this can result in problems with function or display. Avoid users having to resort to manual overrides.
Additionally, break information into shorter sections and use whitespace so that you are not overwhelming the user with reams of text stuffed into small spaces.
Colour and contrast for optimal visibility
When designers neglect colour guidelines, the user experience can be off. Colour and contrast in the UI help users determine which UI elements allow them to perform which tasks, keep track of where they have been within a website, and know which words link to separate pages. For instance, the colour blue should be avoided for interface elements that do not bear links – dark blue is the defacto standard for web links.
Additionally, if there is no colour distinction between links that a user has visited and is yet to visit, they may lose track of where they have navigated to. This could happen to any user. However, senior citizen users may have a harder time remembering which parts of a website they have visited and may be wasting time repeating actions and returning to the same locations.
Language that plays to your audience
Jakob Nielsen from the Nielsen Norman Group points out that not all designers read the information on the pages they design, and therefore do not consider the effort it takes to engage with it.
Consider the way you present information when creating websites for elderly users, the hard of hearing (HoH) or users who have visual impairments. WCAG reminds us that content must be perceivable so that someone with a particular difficulty can still experience the information being presented. Providing subtitles or captioning when video or audio content is fundamental to UX for the hard of HoHs. Providing a speech function is essential for those who need text read aloud. You could try a Text to Speech (TTS) software program, such as Ivona (soon to be Amazon Polly).
Additionally, acknowledge that phonetics, slang, and wordplay can present challenges to certain age groups. Slang can sabotage the experience you are trying to generate, so make sure that your copy contextually appeals to your audience. Avoid jargon that could confuse users and focus on language that will carry across the intended meaning. Empathy mapping can help you create content that works for your particular target users group.
Make things easy to click
Between the ages of 55 and 65, hand-eye coordination and motor skills tend to decline and this can make it harder to interact with UIs. The mouse is a particular problem for users with diminishing motor skills because it can be tricky to hit interface targets, move between UI elements, and respond to targets on-screen.
To tackle this obstacle, make sure that clickable UI elements are big enough (at least 11 mm diagonally) and far enough apart from each other (at least 2 mm) according to Ollie Campbell on Smashing Magazine. You could also try keeping mouse clicks down to a minimum and where necessary, only single mouse clicks.
The scrollbar also causes accessibility problems for users with motor skill impairment. It can be hard to get a hold of the tiny scrolling items and/or perform the scrolling action. Additionally, for users who have trouble reading, scrolling can affect their experience because they are constantly having to reacquire their position in the text after it moves.
Keep scrollbars simple – both in their look and feel. Give users lots of options (clicking on the scrollbar arrows, clicking within the draggable portion of the page itself, dragging the slider, using the scroll wheel on their mouse, or using the arrow keys on their keyboard). But all in all, avoid scrolling wherever possible.
Luckily, computer keyboards and mobile device touch screens are helping elderly users to stay plugged-in. Because finger tapping declines later than some other motor skills, many senior users get on better with the PC keyboard with the PC, and/or touch screens.
Make your UI patterns memorable to aid cognitive difficulties
For any user to complete tasks within a UI, they need to be able to get from Point A (entry point) to Point B (where they complete their task) as quickly and easily as possible. This is why clear-cut UI navigation is so important.
But when it comes to senior citizens, the UI navigation system needs to be even more straightforward to facilitate the user journey. Why? Because although our long-term, procedural memory (remembering how to do things) remains largely unchanged as we age, our attention spans tend to get shorter. and short-term, episodic memory tends to suffer. This means that our ability to learn new concepts, such as interacting with a new interface for the mature generations, has its limitations.
Try to use standard icons and navigation patterns, such as the top horizontal bar that visualizes all options at once or breadcrumb navigation that guides users towards specific locations with few clicks needed. This will help users get accustomed to where things are and how they should search for them on your website.
Do not hide important information. Leave breadcrumbs to steer users towards relevant sections of the website.
Additionally, avoid links that are not 100% necessary. This will help you gain user trust, and encourage users to click on links that take them to significant locations within your site or app.
Get to know your user base
In order to make the experience more enjoyable for your audience, you should aim to work within a scaffolding that captures the needs of your target users. But with users having grown up in different technology eras, designers are playing catch up to create experiences that delight users of various age groups.
The solution? User testing.
Even when designers comply with guidelines laid out for elderly users, the only real way of knowing how someone will interact with a site is by testing it with them. With senior citizen users, consider the think-aloud method of qualitative user testing, so that you are viewing everything that happens on the participant’s screen throughout the test. This will help you gain insights into the users’ cognitive processes as well as their physical limitations, and determine which parts of your UI system need re-jiggling.
One of the top pain points for senior citizens is not being able to see and read what is on-screen. Problems with or loss of sight or hearing mean that some senior citizen users may have a hard time interpreting content on websites and mobile devices that they interact with. By testing your user interface design out on real users with real problems, you will get a more accurate idea of the effectiveness of your solution.
Consider performing your user testing within a prototyping tool, such as Justinmind, so that you can present your design in real time. This will give you more immediate feedback on why or how to fix a problem with your design – the principle behind qualitative user testing.
And why not go one step further: get senior UX practitioners involved in the design process and give elderly users control of their experiences online.
UX Design Thinking from an Senior User’s Perspective: The Takeaway
There is still tremendous growth potential among senior citizen users. But just like any other user group, senior web users require us to design experiences that reflect their needs. The limitations that can come around with age mean that some of the conventional ways to engage with digital technology do not apply to senior web users.
Having the triggers of bad user experience for elderly users identified will help designers to avoid including them in their design. User testing is your fool-proof way of ensuring your audience has what they want and what they need. Include senior citizen users in the design process for a UI design and a user experience that cannot fail.
Want to learn more?
Want to get an industry-recognized Course Certificate in UX Design, Design Thinking, UI Design, or another related design topic? Online UX courses from the Interaction Design Foundation can provide you with industry-relevant skills to advance your UX career. For example, Design Thinking, Become a UX Designer from Scratch, Conducting Usability Testing or User Research – Methods and Best Practices are some of the most popular courses. Good luck on your learning journey!
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