When looking at UI design best practices for seniors it’s a mistake to think in terms of “number of years.” The diversity of this demographic group is stunning. An 85-year-old may be more “able” than her 65-year-old neighbor. Ageing is a continuous process, but it is not linear or uniform. The effects of ageing are highly idiosyncratic and coping mechanisms vary widely. We all get old differently.
Rather than years, it’s better to understand all the factors that impact seniors’ ability to use a particular technology product. These factors include:
- Movement control
- Decision making
- Relationships, privacy and security
- Experience with technology
- Device bias
- Life stage and attitudes
We also provide some relevant information on:
For each factor above, we provide mitigation strategies to make your product more useful to, and usable by older people. Not all mitigation strategies may apply to any single user interface. Not all mitigation strategies may apply with equal weight. And there are lots of overlaps and sometimes contradictions, given a product’s purpose and target market.
Consider the mitigation strategies offered in these UI design best practices for seniors as a comprehensive checklist. Designers can choose those strategies that are applicable to their specific product. Then use the resulting “short-list” to inform and test your user experience design.
Some of the mitigation strategies offered in these UI design best practices for seniors are based on research, but research conducted with varying and sometimes unknown degrees of rigor. Other mitigation strategies are based on informal observations or anecdotal evidence. Others are simply thought to be common sense. So caution and care should be taken when considering these. The trick is understanding your product’s target market, and employing the right strategies. When you are uncertain, always err toward usability.
You can also think of the mitigation strategies provided here as “design heuristics”. Heuristic evaluation is a usability engineering method for finding the usability problems in a user interface design so that they can be attended to as part of an iterative design process. Heuristic evaluation involves evaluators examining the UI to judge its compliance with recognized usability principles (the “heuristics”).
Heuristics often focus on people’s disabilities, rather than on people’s abilities. Physical and cognitive impairments are a very real part of ageing. But you should also recognize abilities, aptitudes and attitudes that many seniors possess which may be beneficial in their use of technology. For example, compared to younger people, many seniors tend to excel in attention span. They also exhibit greater persistence and thoroughness when learning a technology user interface. Older people also have more free time than most younger adults.
While we focus on older people, our recommendations are good for any age group. In fact, when you read our UI design best practices for seniors, much of it resembles what you would expect to find in an entry-level university course in user interface design. Keep in mind, however, that the points emphasized here are especially important for seniors.
These UI design best practices for seniors are updated regularly to incorporate new studies, papers and articles. However, while our searches for newly published information are robust, we cannot guarantee that we’ve caught everything of relevance. If you wish to make us aware of something we’ve missed, or you want to make a comment, simply post it below the pertinent article or send us a message from the Contact page.
One final note: The best practices guidelines presented here are NOT a substitute for testing your product with older adults. 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!