It is well understood that the market for technology is getting older. By 2030 the number of people over 65 will equal roughly the same number of people who own an iPhone today – a very large and lucrative market. In our last post we noted that very few product managers and developers have experience designing senior apps, and we provided our Top 10 Technical Tips for doing so.
In this post we continue by discussing NON-technical considerations for designing senior apps. These are taken from our full Best Practices Guidelines for making technology senior-friendly.
In contrast to technical considerations that can be employed to mitigate ageing related impairments in Vision, Hearing, and Movement control, we now focus NON-technical strategies that can be used to address challenges related to:
- Decision making
- Relationships, privacy and security
- Experience with technology
- Device bias
- Life stage and attitudes
It is important to understand that it’s far more difficult to create design and testing specifications for NON-technical factors than technical ones. Technical factors can be described in precise terms, such as inches or pixels. In contrast, NON-technical factors need to be described and discussed in terms of in-precise goals and strategies.
For technical factors, it’s possible for test engineers to perform much of the testing (e.g., by measuring inches or counting pixels). When designing senior apps, and later testing them, NON-technical considerations can get very subjective. In this case, subjective from the view point of elderly people. So there is no substitute for testing using actual older people when dealing with for NON-technical considerations. You may think you identified and addressed all the relevant issues. But be assured that you will learn a lot when subjecting your product to a focus group of seniors!
With that said, below are the Top 10 NON-Technical Tips that we think are most important when designing senior apps:
- Design your apps around very clearly stated assumptions about the elderly user’s prior knowledge and baseline experience using similar products. Likewise, design your technical support and learning programs with a clear understanding of what baseline knowledge and experience is being assumed. Be aware of content or functionality that implicitly assumes someone is young or at a certain stage in life.
- Use a predictable user interface structure to assist memory. The structure of screens or pages should be as shallow as possible. Emphasize recognition over recall. Stress predictability and consistency when designing senior apps. Ensure that pathways for completing tasks are understandable and free of distractions and obstacles. Make the user interface easy to skim or scan to help orient older people.
- Employ colors that boost interest and stimulate cognitive functions. For seniors, softer shades of reds and oranges are warming and can help with circulation and energy levels. Soft blues, lavender mauves and violets promote a reflective mood. Select words that correspond to older adults’ vocabulary and take into account the context within which the application is used. Use respectful terms. Many seniors dislike terms that include the words “old” and “older”. Use terms such as “senior” or “elder” instead when designing senior apps.
- Use a minimalist user interface design to prevent cognitive overload. Provide only those features which the elderly user will need to accomplish each specific task or goal. Avoid the use of irrelevant information on the screen when designing senior apps. Avoid advertising.
- Break long complicated user interface tasks into a series of shorter, less complicated tasks. Make it easy for seniors to track their progress through tasks. Provide feedback when tasks are completed. Provide a sense of accomplishment when important tasks are completed. Ensure that all possible actions generate suitable feedback to guide the elderly user. Allow older people to complete tasks without any time limitation. Provide reminders and cues that have a built-in memory reinforcement mechanisms when designing senior apps. Combinations of colors, graphics, words and sounds are commonly used in reinforcement mechanisms.
- Provide for longer learning times or self-paced learning. Provide more repetition for seniors who are learning how to use your app. Avoid reliance on skill transfer between other apps or situations. Stress familiar learning pathways over efficiency when designing senior apps.
- Dispel the fear of “breaking something” in your user interface designs and also in tutorials, videos and other learning materials. Design user interfaces and learning materials and programs to foster self-esteem and confidence, and to minimize the possibility of embarrassment.
- Provide in-person learning in small 2 to 4 person groups, rather than individually or in large groups. Provide instructors who are themselves seniors, or instructors who have adjusted their teaching style to accommodate older learners. Provide help forums specifically for seniors which are moderated by seniors. Provide videos for seniors that feature seniors. Seniors are very receptive to “community” when learning technology.
- Facilitate the ability of “trusted supporters” to provide help and support. Trusted supporters can be family members, friends, paid or volunteer helpers, or your support staff. When possible, enable trusted supporters to provide assistance remotely through a secure connection. Design your app so that some or all configuration tasks can be off-loaded to trusted supporters. But be sensitive to issues of isolation when designing senior apps (i.e., don’t assume every elderly user will have a trusted supporter to help).
- Provide seniors with functionality and adequate time to think about privacy and security when designing senior apps. Be very cognizant of safety and security issues as older people are often targeted by cyber criminals. Consider providing notifications to “trusted supporters” when security functions are triggered, or are out of date and need to be updated. In the context of privacy and security, consider requiring two or more trusted supporters to be involved.
As with our technical tips, these considerations and recommendations are good for any age group, not just for older people. But never lose sight of how especially important they are when designing senior apps. Younger people are adaptable to poor user interfaces. Older people are not.