Family members and friends are often the primary sources of technology learning and technical support for elderly adults. But asking for support can be embarrassing (in that it exposes the older adult’s lack of competence). Guilt may also be a factor if asking for assistance is thought to impose on one’s friends or loved ones. These feelings may prevent a senior from seeking assistance. When they do ask, supporters often live some distance away, and may not be available for days or weeks. These factors should inform user experience design for seniors.
Older people may have a different depth of relationships than young people have, perhaps because they’ve had more time to cultivate them. Consider this in your user experience design for seniors. Older people as a general rule give more weight to the opinions of experts, family members, friends and other trusted supporters. This has important implications when designing marketing features or demonstrating functionality. Designers should think about ways to involve these trusted supporters directly in the user interface experience, for example, by off-loading certain setup and updating tasks via a remote connection.
Several studies have shown that after browsing travel websites, seniors much prefer to switch to the telephone for discussing options and booking trips. This points to the desirability of exploring hybrid user experience design for seniors, where the electronic user interface is designed to be augmented by a person. For example, the Jitterbug phone for seniors allows them to press a button to speak to a person who will then book a Lyft ride for them (rather than using the Lyft app).
While seniors are generally more reluctant to give out personal information, they are at the same time more vulnerable to cyber-crime. Sadly, many scammers target senior citizens. Oftentimes the concept of encrypted connections is lost on older people. And even if they understand what “https” means, visual impairments can make it difficult to see subtle changes in icon shape or color that are commonly used to indicate if a connection is safe or not. Seniors can also be victims of cyber-bullying. In some cases, lax internet security has led to physical crimes (assault and theft).
The user interface designer’s challenge is to make it easy for trusted supporters to provide assistance, while at the same time ensuring privacy and providing strong security.
- Be sensitive to issues of isolation in your user experience design for seniors (i.e., don’t assume there is a relative or friend to help).
- Enable connections with more meaningful groups of people vs. undifferentiated social networks (e.g., provide a help forum specifically for seniors which is moderated by seniors).
- Facilitate the ability of trusted supporters to provide help and support. When possible, enable them to do this remotely through a secure connection.
- Develop learning materials designed to be used by “trusted supporters” in providing training to the older adults (g., how to change product settings or operating system settings to mitigate age-related impairments).
- Don’t overemphasize privacy controls when “trusted supporters” are involved, but be very cognizant of safety and security issues in your user experience design for seniors.
- Communicate with users why the product developer may need to access their device or data. For example, state why the product developer may need access to their location. What benefit will this provide them? What risk will it create? Clearly state what the data will be used for and where appropriate what it won’t be used for.
- Make it very obvious when internet connections are secure vs. not secure – not just in a web page, but also in apps and other non-browser software.
- Make it easy to understand and change privacy settings. Consider providing privacy setting optimized for older people. Consider making this the default.
- Make auto-update of security related functions possible. Consider providing notifications to “trusted supporters” when security functions are out of date and need to be updated.
- Provide seniors with adequate time to think about privacy and security.
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