UX Design for older generations

Computers, tablets, and smartphones very quickly became an integrated part of our lives. As a 25-year-old I only vaguely remember the times without computers and cell phones. 
Today’s children learn how to use an iPad before they learn how to read. They seem to intuitively know how to do tasks as swiping, tapping and recognizing icons and their functions. (for example the triangle in a circle on videos that means “play”).

Young children already recognize this as play button for video’s.

However, for the older generations that spent the majority of their life without computers and handheld electronics, this intuition seems to be lacking. Since they are more and more being forced to use websites and smartphones, it is important that UX designers take their wants and needs into account as well. Especially when dealing with important issues such as buying products online, giving out personal information or keeping track of finances.
Off course, not all elderly have trouble with using a computer or smartphone, but there still is a large group of people that are not very self-confident when it comes to performing tasks online.

So what can you do as a UX designer to help these people?
First of all, a major issue is that lack of self-confidence around electronics in the older generations. They might be afraid of doing irreversible damage to either the device they are using or in the task they are performing. It is therefore very important to be clear about what the consequence of and action is and if it will be reversible or not. Also, being clear about how they can go back to a previous page or how they are able to change something can help them feel more secure.
Using tooltips to provide extra information can help make it easier to understand for the user what they are doing and how they should do it.

It is good to understand that a lot of websites and apps that seem intuitive, use small cues that people who have experience dealing with them recognize. For example recognizing buttons as elements that you can click on, or swiping as a means to change between different pictures stored on your phone. People that have not dealt with online environments a lot miss that experience and might not recognize these options. This can even go as far as people having trouble recognizing icons because they have never seen them before. For many of us, the gear icon used for the “settings” option is very clear, but for someone that has never seen it before it will not immediately be clear. Adding a label to icons can help solve this problem.

Even though it might be clear where each action leads to, people make mistakes. They accidentally click on something, click the wrong element or click on something and want to go back. For experienced users, it is an instinct to use the back button on our phones or go back a page in or browsers, but for the inexperienced users, this can be confusing. Be clear on how they can go back. Make a clearly visible button. An arrow to the left is recognized as “back” for most of us, but only because we learned that always means “back”, and an arrow right means “next”.

When designing for elderly, take issues as visual impairments into account as well. Make sure the font you chose is legible for everyone. Flashing or moving items can be distracting for someone who has to focus on finding their way on your site, so leave them out.
Also, make sure people know how to use items as checkboxes or drop-down menus. An arrow pointing down makes it clear for experienced users that they can click on it to show options, but for a person that has never seen on before this is not clear.

It is not per se clear for inexperienced users how to use this box.

So when designing an app or website that has elderly as a part of the target group, be sure to really think how you can make the site useful for them. It is very important that they feel confident in their actions. Smart UX can help them to achieve that feeling. Just dumbing down a website will only make them feel bad about themselves. They just need a little more guidance in finding their way through the interface.