UI/UX for the Elderly: Compiled Research

No, this was not inspired by the SNL skit, Alexa Silver, but that skit is amazing and if you have been living under a rock you should crawl out and watch it.

In all seriousness, this is research I compiled during early stages of an openIDEO challenge on dementia. I hope my legwork (cough cough access to pay-wall blocked articles) can be useful to you in your own design work.

“Alexa Silver”

Visuals (icons, colors, text)

• Apply grouping design principals to organize interface when there are many app icons on one screen
• Desires for large screen and text, and buttons
• Maintain link underlined
• Because of vision differences, it should be possible for users to adjust their font sizes as needed
• Elderly need stronger color contrast, have better color discrimination towards warm colors vs cool colors
• Trouble identifying low contrast, light colors, grayscale, and objects in peripheries
• San-serif font for legibility, light gray background with black text color
• Icons minimum of 48 px/ 9mm wide
• Keep icons and buttons spaced far enough apart for touching intended buttons/operations; Maintain minimum spacing of 44 pixels between interface elements
• Add label text to all icons and buttons. (words rather than symbols are better for understanding, symbols as simple as “back” may not be recognized) make sure to use words that suit older adults’ semantic fields


• Keep the same positioning of the elements in the interface and in their respective operations
• Use the home screen menu as a safe point of return
• Maintain a “return” function apparent on the interface; a back button that is a safe guard for older adults when they are not sure how to solve a give problem

UX Structure

  • Elderly prefer systems of applications that are easy to use
  • Outline the main features of the system
  • Menus with multiple functions or sub-levels are too complicated
  • Maintain the focus of the system on the current user action without displaying secondary functions
  • Avoid instant features that change with each new interaction such as filters and auto-completion


  • Elderly have physical mobility to touch/swipe etc, but require more time
    Elderly use one hand for typing, as in handwriting
  • Keep gestures simple to perform basic commands of the system; elderly have difficulty differentiating between gestures
  • Acceptable gesture is the horizontal swipe. This is a natural gesture and physically easy. Comparatively the vertical swipe requires a repositioning from a hand that is already in rest
  • Avoid creating gestures with fast movement, complex positioning, or multiple gestures that combine more than two fingers and require the use of both hands, or gestures that require advanced motor controls, such as long tapping and swiping, stick to tapping
  • Show visual, audible or haptic feedback when users do touch configuration
  • Recommended that a zoom interface is included with something like a magnifying glass feature, or on screen zoom button, rather than standard two-finger zoom touch interface gestures
  • 10.1” screen is not suitable for zooming, dragging, or scaling operations
  • For a drag task, Elderly group primarily
    used the right index finger
  • Users that didn’t know how to perform a scroll action were able to perform this after being reminded that there was more content to see. The gesture needs to be demonstrated for older adults to realize it is an option


  • Outline the main features of the syste
  • Use the home screen menu as a safe point of return
  • Use the back button as a safeguard for older adults when they are not sure
    how to solve a give problem.
  • Display a help panel and tips about the features in the first user access
  • Provide easy-to-understand icons followed by caption or description
  • Use words that suit older adults’ semantic fields
  • Elderly participants read all instructions before tapping
  • Prompt boxes are really helpful/can make a big difference
  • Guide the user by means of messages in clear, objective and educational language
  • Temporary notices can be missed by the elderly, also notices that are positioned in the screen peripheries


  • Elderly tend to use technology such as mobile phones only for emergencies
  • Mobile and touch-based interfaces are suggested to be preferred by those
    in the studied age range, 55–75
  • Motivation is essential for elderly users, which makes tablets ideal. The touch-based interface demands less little to no computer literacy, and the gestures are the most intuitive. (Werner et al.)
  • Elderly have lower cognitive ability to learn, must use an approach that encourages engagement in new technology and minimizes their processing efforts
  • Participants expressed desires for caller identification in chat functions
  • Option for turning on/off with attention: “We developed a module that tracks if the user is paying attention to the system. By using the Microsoft’s Face Tracking SDK, we developed an algorithm that detects when the user is looking at the screen, allowing the system to perceive if users are paying attention and then act accordingly. This allows interaction scenarios such as pause media playing as the users turns his face to talk to someone, and then resume playing when the user looks at the screen again.” (Developing
    a Multi-modal Interface for the Elderly)


Bong Way Kiat, Weiqin Chen, Mobile Instant Messaging for the Elderly, In Procedia Computer Science, Volume 67, 2015, Pages 28–37, ISSN 1877- 0509, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2015.09.246. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050915030926) Keywords: Mobile instant messaging; social integration; elderly; usability; accessibility; user-centered; participatory action research

Rafael Xavier E. de Almeida, Simone Bacellar Leal Ferreira, Horacio Pastor Soares, Recommendations for the Development of Web Interfaces on Tablets/iPads with Emphasis on Elderly Users, In Procedia Computer Science, Volume 67, 2015, Pages 140–149, ISSN 1877–0509, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2015.09.258. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/ S187705091503104X) Keywords: elderly; usability; tablet; interface; ipad

Chang, Hsien-Tsung & Tsai, Tsai-Hsuan & Chang, Ching-Ya & Chang, Yi-Min. (2014). Touch panel usability of elderly and children. Computers in Human Behavior. 37. 258–269. 10.1016/j.chb.2014.04.050.

Ana Correia de Barros, Roxanne Leitão, Jorge Ribeiro, Design and Evaluation of a Mobile User Interface for Older Adults: Navigation, Interaction and Visual Design Recommendations, In Procedia Computer Science, Volume 27, 2014, Pages 369–378, ISSN 1877–0509, https://doi.org/10.1016/j. procs.2014.02.041. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S187705091400043X) Keywords: Older adults; usability tests; recommendations; smartphone; user interfaces

Élvio Rodrigues, Micael Carreira, Daniel Gonçalves, Developing a Multimodal Interface for the Elderly, In Procedia Computer Science, Volume 27, 2014, Pages 359–368, ISSN 1877–0509, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procs.2014.02.040. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877050914000428) Keywords: Multimodal interfaces; elderly; multi-touch tablets; body gestures; text-entry performance