Caring about people with icons and text: a story.

‘Hi Nan, you’re broadcasting Christmas lunch to the internet…’

Instagram’s live video feature. Image credit: Hans Vivek

‘What do you mean I’m live on the internet?!?!’ My Nan enquired with part confusion and dismay.

I quickly tried to explain the situation over a hurried phone call on Christmas Day.

‘Yes Nan, and you’re still live’. Puzzled group discussion in the background. ’just hit the button that says…’

‘Can’t you just log into Nan’s Facebook account and fix it?’ Mum’s on the phone now.

My Nan is 87. And she uses Facebook, and iPhone, and an iPad. She’s also pretty darn smart and an all round incredible woman. Mum is too.

But do you think they knew how to resolve a rather tricky situation such as this?


Did I end up nipping into Nan’s account for a quick remedy?

You bet.

Do I expect you to be surprised that this unintended experienced happened? Not really. Maybe you’ve had a similiar experience with family or friends. Perhaps you’re even shaking your head with a chuckle thinking ‘ah oldies’.

I bet when you last designed the next new feature for your website or app experience, you didn’t have my Nan in mind.

Which is a shame. Not only is she quite a clever lady. But given the widespread use of the internet by people over 65, she’s not the only one that’s being under-served. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, people over 65 make up 19% of Australians — this is an estimated 3.6 million people, of which 79% have used the internet (via ACMA).

Our older audiences are getting tech-savvier too; according to Roy Morgan, 42% of people over the age of 80 had never accessed the internet (58% that had), falling to only 11% for those aged 65–69 (89% that had). As our audiences change, so do our considerations about how we design for these older segments of our audience.

Base: Adult Australians who have never accessed the internet (July 2014 to June 2015). 
Source: Roy Morgan Single Source, June 2015.
“Many older people feel that current designs were not meant for them. Designers often have their own ideas of good design and best practices and may be unaware of … established guidelines.” (Usability specialist, Kate Finn)

Beyond statistics, it’s nice to put a human face to this situation. Testing with older users can be just that, and really rewarding too. I can still remember user testing with one of our users in the upper end of our user base. While she was really confident with our app, the website was a different story. Cut to 15 minutes into the session and we’re teaching her how to use a mouse because she had never used one before. She was excited to head home to tell her family that she’d learnt how to use a computer today and we had the opportunity to reflect on some usability basics too.

What about Nan?

This brings me back to Nan’s predicament. How easy do you think it is to post a live video? Perhaps a little too easy — or hard, depending on your intentions. Let’s take a look at how some of the industry leaders do it.

Facebook Live:

To start, just hit the ‘Live’ button… right next to the photo button. Which is pixels away from the search field. And the image of that family member’s birthday celebration. Once you’re in, it’s even easier to publish your live moments to all your friends on Facebook; you’re greeted with a only one prominent button reading ‘Go Live’, with the exit cross relegated to a barely legible white ‘X’ overlaid on the camera view. They don’t mention that they’ll notify all your followers, or even clearly articulate the audience (that’s a reserved for a 12px font on a subtle 20px high label). Fail.

Facebook Live Example at launch. Credit: Facebook

What about Instagram?

While being owned by Facebook, Instagram thankfully seems to have taken a more considered approach to their live-video implementation. They clearly outline what’s happening, who it will be visible to, and how they will notify your followers that you’re ‘live’. Pass.

Oh, Snapchat…

Snapchat’s usability is even worse. Yeah I get that gesture-based interfaces make it easier for your thumbs. But seriously, even I struggle to understand their user interface. Give me some icons and labels so I know what I’m doing, please! An arrow doesn’t exactly say ‘post to all your friends or the whole internet’. Please people, tell us what your features actually do so there’s no surprises (or broadcasts of my family’s Christmas lunch)! Double fail.

What can you do?

As an industry, we need to shift our thinking away from seeing our elders as a hand-break on innovation and reframe it as an opportunity to design better products and experiences for everyone.

So, next time you design a button, a killer new feature, or a workflow that makes it easy to publish embarrassing moments to the whole of the internet, stop and think for a moment. Stop and think about how our super smart, caring, inspiring elders might use technology and how you can perhaps design a little more inclusively for them too.

Oh, and do me a favour: keep my Nan in mind, okay?

Quick tips when designing for older audiences:

  1. Use icons and text labels wherever possible to explain key features. Bonus points if the text is legible (or can be enlarged by the user)
  2. Ensure accessibility: have a look through the WCAG checklist to make sure you’re meeting best practice, and work with your developer pals to implement.
  3. Maintain good colour contrast between UI elements, text and the background colour. There’s plenty of useful tools online to help you check this if you’re not sure. Bonus points: catering for people with colour blindness.
  4. Check your tap sizes for UI elements on touch devices; 44px is usually the minimum. Bonus points if key features aren’t right next to the ‘broadcast-live-to-the-internet’ button.
  5. Test, test and test. Full study or guerrilla — some is better than none.
  6. Embrace diversity and test with all ages and backgrounds, not just your top audience groups.
  7. Check with a screen reader to make sure your experience works for people that may be vision-impaired.

Interested in learning more? Smashing Magazine has a good article on some of the key things you can do to improve your designs for older people.


Chris is a UXer, question-asker and problem solver with a passion for design, media and technology. On a quest to listen, write, photograph and share more. Currently UX Lead at REA Group. Tweets occasionally @themurgs

Note: Witty, insightful and sometimes awkward thoughts represent my own and not those of my employer.