Designing a mobile interface for older people

Tomáš Slavíček
Nov 25, 2014 · 7 min read

Not so “smart” phones

Most phones currently on the market have a touch screen. The touch-based interface can be confusing for many people. The only possible way how to interact with the phone is to use virtual on-screen buttons and gestures on the display. These interfaces are mostly not optimized for people with vision or fine motor skills problems.

Our granny doesn’t feel old

The first idea came about from talking to our granny. She had trouble using her phone. She was unable to read SMS messages from us, or find out who called her. We had to write down all instructions on paper telling her how to use the phone.

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Android launcher as a solution

We investigated a number of possible solutions. Android is a great platform; the entire phone user interface can be replaced by an alternative launcher. We found a couple of simplified launchers, for example the BIG Launcher, Necta or Phonotto, but none of them were ideal.

What do older people really want?

We wanted to identify the best phone interface design possible. What do older people really want? How do they use their phones, what they like and what they dislike?

Impairments of older people

Some individual abilities decline with age. The most significant of these is vision; older eyes receive only a 1/3 of the light compared to younger viewers. The eye lens develops a slightly yellowish color and it becomes more difficult for people to distinguish between shades of blue and purple.

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Technology yes, but with a real benefit

Familiarity with technology usually decreases with age. Older people avoid technology when the product is too complicated for them, or when they do not trust it. The common stereotype is that the elderly do not want to use modern technology at all. This is not the case; they want to understand modern inventions and keep up to others. They can learn even a complicated technology, but they need to see the real benefit for them.

Survey results

Almost 3/4 of people above the age of 50 needed to wear prescription glasses. 48% would appreciate a larger font on their phone (more than 70% of people with classic feature phones have this problem). 80% of people above the age of 50 years thought that their phone had more features than they would ever utilize.

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Dana and David

We found two distinct types of people: Dana is an older pensioner who has only a few people in her phone’s contact list. She wants to be notified very loudly when she receives a SMS or incoming call. Dana wants one dedicated button on a phone to call help, the phone should also be able to read out loud what is written on the display. Dana is concerned that she might delete something from her phone by mistake.

What about me?

Interestingly, it is not only senior citizens who want to have an easy-to-use, fully-featured phone. A large percentage of normal, ordinary people still use classic phones with hardware buttons. They are afraid of touch-screen devices or they simply do not like them.

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How to create a great interface

We have discovered that the ideal touch-screen phone interface should be very simple and easy to use. Basic navigation buttons (hardware or virtual) should be visible at all times and the navigation model should be consistent across the entire interface. The structure of screens should be shallow; each complicated screen should have a descriptive label with meaningful instructions clearly displayed.

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KoalaPhone

As the images show, we have designed a new interface called KoalaPhone, based on our research findings. It has been designed for anyone who wants a simple phone with a large keyboard. It is very user-friendly for people who want to browse photos, use their phone camera and other smart features, but do not want to fight with their phone.

Tomáš Slavíček

Written by

Postřehy ze světa, studia grafiky a UX na ČVUT, vývoje pro Android a Windows Phone (v C# a MonoGame). Autor http://t.co/h5RabShePy a http://t.co/GLFNoulXW5

Tomáš Slavíček

Written by

Postřehy ze světa, studia grafiky a UX na ČVUT, vývoje pro Android a Windows Phone (v C# a MonoGame). Autor http://t.co/h5RabShePy a http://t.co/GLFNoulXW5

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