Creating an age-proof first impression

For those of us who have been tech support for Aunt Gladys, it’s pretty clear that older people’s approach to technology very differently to those who have grown up in the internet age. Through usability testing we have observed first hand how older users often struggle with new technology. In our experience there are two primary reasons:

  1. They find new technological paradigms alien to their mental model of the world around them.
  2. Their changing physical ability has affected how they go about achieving their goals.

The number of older users going online is increasing. Figures from the Office for National Statistics indicate that in the last five years, the number of 65 to 74 year olds going online has gone up by 68.7% . As a consequence, considering how older people use websites is more and more crucial.

So how can a website’s user experience better meets the needs of this growing online audience?

Here are a few quick tips on how you can at least get the first impressions right:

Legibility and readability

Targeting older users with a page they cannot read. is not smart.

TheBigProject

Like most people, older users need to know what your site is at first glance otherwise they’ll move on, nothing to see here. However, the combination of deteriorating eye sight and reduced ability to perceive fine detail makes what should be a simple task, difficult.

Quick tips

  • Avoid font sizes that are less than 16 point.
  • Support CSS that allow the font size to be changed.
  • Consider having a magnifying tool that allows the font to be changed easily.
  • Make sure any hypertext links use active statements that can be translated by screen readers.

Plain language

You always need to make it crystal clear to users what they can do on your website, and this is essential for older people. Research shows that memory systems start to fail as we get older, in particular prospective memory which is where we remembering what we were intending to do. So whilst they may have arrived at your site, they may not know why.

Quick tips

  • Be obvious about what your site is about, either using a tag line or welcome blurb, but make sure it’s legible.
  • Use straightforward language. Age UK found that poor use of jargon was a barrier to older people using technology, a barrier your site could do without.
  • Consider card sorting exercises as a good way to work out whether the words you are using are understood by older users. Would your gran know what a URL is?

Intuitive interfaces

As we get older, we become less comfortable navigating through visual clutter and do not following moving images so well. It’s therefore important to avoid complex navigation, excessive scrolling, and overly complicated designs.

Tips

  • Older users may also have deficits in motor control. Make sure your images and buttons are large enough, and that you optimise your site for tablets.
  • Images and buttons should have clear signifiers as to whether they should be clicked.
  • Keep essential information should be “Above the fold”. Through user testing we have seen first-hand that older users are often blind to scroll bars and don’t always realise there is more to see.
  • Do not have quick moving interactive features such as drop-down menus and carousels that are essential for navigation.
  • Identify interface elements that are likely to be used one after the other (e.g. form fields), and reduce the distance between them.
  • For ages up to 70, interface elements should be at least 11mm, diagonally; this should increase for older individuals.

Silversurfers.com uses nice sized fonts and large navigation buttons, but the drop-down menus are way too big regardless of age.

SilverSurfers

Trustworthiness

During our testing, older users have indicated that they generally put a lot of store by prior experience – it is, after all, what they have a lot of. They are likely to put store by recommendations from experts as to why they should use your site, and any links to the more familiar offline world can also reassure.

Tips

  • Use awards from established sites or offline media outlets.
  • Include any links to household brands or, even, celebrities.
  • Makes sure you site looks trustworthy: keep the design consistent and the site up-to-date.
  • For a user base that are more used to the offline world, present the number of your help line in an obvious and prominent position (and have someone to answer it, natch).

User experience best practice

Whatever we are creating, we must focus on the intended audience and understand what unique requirements that audience has. Children, young adults, thirtysomethings, middle agers and pensioners vary  greatly and we should not forget that. That said, we should also consider that there are good UX principles that apply to all and should be at the heart of all we do.