Creating websites for older users

I was recently asked to design a website with an older-than-usual audience. Now, like many others, my 72-year-old father researches his handyman projects on YouTube and is all over online banking, (which he needs to be while my mother is buying new shoes without leaving the house), but it got me thinking: 

How should we design differently, when we know that the primary audience/target market is probably over retirement age? 

How many businesses and organisations are missing out on new clients and wasting advertising spend, because they haven’t considered our ageing population? 

If your target market includes customers over retirement age, here are some actionable insights you’ll want to consider when it comes to your website. 

By designing specifically for the age you’re catering to, you can expect to see: 

  • Higher conversion rates
  • Stronger engagement
  • Improved user experience (Accessible design considerations often lead to an improved experience for everyone) 
  • Lower risk of legal implications – less chance of being sued for discriminating against people because of their age or ability. 

Things we know about the over 65’s

  • They are currently 19% of the population in Australia. That number is rising in Australia and globally.
  • Most of Australia’s over 65’s grew up in a house free from the screen (no TV’s until 1956), so the internet is still a relatively new tool to many.
  • Access to the internet only become possible after they turned 40. That means adjusting to our digital world has been challenging.
  • 79% have used the internet at some point, so they are definitely participating online. 
  • 85% of those who use the internet do so at least once a day, which probably means they carry out everyday tasks online, such as shopping and banking.
  • They favour their desktop and tablet (and really quite like their tablets), finding phones fiddly to use and preferring a larger screen to read from and interact with.
  • For the first time ever, our planet has are more people over 64 than children younger than 5.

In short, older people are embracing the internet and activity is on the rise. 

How getting older causes challenges in tech.

As anyone over 40 will know, things start to deteriorate as we get older. Apart from the obvious issues, like a decline in hearing and the need for glasses, there are some less obvious things that we seem to forget.  

In this article, we’ll look at the things we need to take into consideration when designing websites and applications for an older audience.

Motor Skills

When we are young, we develop motor control skills as our body grows. Later in life, our motor skills deteriorate, slowing us down and resulting in less precision and less control over our limbs and muscles. 

The older generation loves their tablets, and this decline in motor skills could play a part in that. As hand/eye coordination declines, tapping a screen becomes easier than navigating with a mouse. The same goes for scroll bars, swiping requires less precision, so becomes much easier. 

How to help: 

  • Make buttons big enough to see and click. 
  • Add space around clickable elements to minimise chances of clicking the wrong target.
  • Make functions accessible via keyboard.
  • Ensure the tab key can be used to navigate and focus. 
  • Consider whether it’s possible to eliminate the need for scroll bars, especially on larger screens. 

Memory

We’ve all walked into a room and wondered what we went there for. We all know our memory declines as we get older. Whilst our long-term memory (known as procedural memory – how we do things) holds up well, or short-term (episodic) memory suffers as we age. It’s the short-term memory that affects how we learn new concepts, like how to use your website, for example.  

How to help: 

  • Follow common design conventions, such as horizontal navigation at the top of the screen. 
  • Use breadcrumbs, so your user can easily find their way back. 
  • Think about the User Journey. Help them find what they’re looking for quickly, with as few clicks as possible. 
  • Show progress, when a task is being carried out and give clear feedback when it’s completed. 
  • Avoid form labels that disappear when the field is clicked. 

Vision and Hearing

Not only do things get smaller as you get older (I for one can no longer read the back of a can in the supermarket), the quality of what you see can diminish too. Inclusive design should mean we’re already delivering websites with good contrast and legible font size, but it can’t hurt to increase that a little when you know your audience is likely to struggle. In addition, making sure our users can zoom if they want to, and making it easy for them to do so will give them the freedom to view your content easily. 

Text to speech is a great option for those who struggle to read. Yes, your computer can take care of this, but if you know this will help your audience put it right on the site where they can access it quickly and easily. 

How to help:

  • Keep fonts large and consider the line height for increased legibility.
  • Include an on-page text resizing option. 
  • Transcribe videos and podcasts so they can be read on screen or printed out. 
  • Ensure text-to-speech works well with screen readers and consider adding a screen reader function to your user interface. 

Dementia 

As medical innovation advances and life expectancy increases, it’s no surprise we’re living longer. To over-simplify the issue, we have yet to discover a way to keep our minds up to speed with our bodies. According to the WHO, there are over 50 million people currently living with dementia, and it’s on the rise. Older people living with dementia are especially vulnerable to loneliness, which can accelerate a decline in their cognitive state. 

How to help (in addition to all the above): 

  • Be clear, not clever. Get to the point quickly and succinctly.    
  • Avoid jargon. 
  • Avoid splitting tasks across several screens.
  • Keep images relevant and avoid abstract or purely decorative content. 

Asking and testing.

Even if we take into account all of the points listed above, we still need to talk to our users. Inclusive design isn’t just about ticking off the obvious, it’s about actually testing your design with the people who are going to use it, and this is as important as ever when designing for an older demographic. 

Summary

The internet can be a lifeline for older people. It can give them a level of independence and help them to keep in touch with friends and family and other people in their community. 

User testing is essential for this kind of website. We all get frustrated when people assume they know what we want. Just because your audience is retired, it doesn’t mean they don’t have an opinion. Finding out their needs, goals and jobs-to-be-done will help you deliver a useful solution. Delivering a useful solution will undoubtedly win you customers. 

Technology is most powerful when it empowers everyone.

~Apple

Many of the things considered best-practice for any website design can be applied to websites designed specifically for an older demographic. And with just a few additions and a little extra attention to detail, we can easily create online experiences that will encourage and engage an older audience. After all, why shouldn’t everyone be able to use our products, regardless of their age, abilities or circumstances. 

As for the impact this will have on your business, well it really is a no-brainer. Many of the suggestions in this article will help your existing customers and potential ones, not just those enjoying retirement (Everyone experiences temporary impairments at some point in their life, even if you just lost your glasses again!) 

Inclusive and accessible design is a win/win for any organisation, without it, you’re missing out on the spending power of a growing demographic, not to mention the opportunity to make the web a better experience for when you get there!

References:

https://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/engage-blogs/engage-blogs/Research-snapshots/Digital-lives-of-older-Australians

https://ourworldindata.org/population-aged-65-outnumber-children

Additional Reading : 

Microsoft Inclusive Design 

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