Information on different categories of people for graphic communication, website and information designers including free reusable infographic

By Thomas Bohm of User Design, Illustration and Typesetting. Published 1st October 2021. Editorially corrected in March 2023.

Notes

This paper and infographic were originally published on Usability Geek in February 2018. As of May 2020, it was moved here. In March 2023 this article here on Medium, was edited more and corrected.

Photograph shows a lot of different types of people walking across a main road crossing using a light blue duotone

Introduction

You are not the only person using the design you create. Every day we use graphic communication design from reading letters that have come through the post, or the newspaper in the morning, to reading and using information at work, to travelling and navigating in the environment. How can we include as many people as possible when designing graphic communication and information, and how do we not unnecessarily exclude people? If your product or information is going to be used by many people and a diverse range of people, how do we design for the broadest range of people, so our designs work well and for the maximum amount of people? What are the requirements of people with an impairment or disability? What happens as we age, how does ageing affect our ability to use and process information? As designers we have a duty to make sure our designs work well. I will not attempt to build user personas about people, or make pictures stereotypically, instead, I will try and delve into data and know-how we have on people, and the issues that arise.

‘Every design project presents a problem or challenge that involves helping other people understand something’ (Cousins, 2017).

Who do designers design for?

Some people think design is a purely artistic job, but there is much more consciously involved and required, and that operates under the surface. As graphic communication and information designers, most of the time, we are designing for a wide-range of people. We could be designing a notice specifically for 1 person, or we could be designing a form on a website for the public to use, that the range of people using the item, could be very wide and unpredictable.

Who are we designing for? I am sure you have heard of the term target audience when working on design projects, and in client meetings. Do we design for a specific type of person or a wide-range? If we are designing for a wide-range, what does a wide-range of people look like, what are their make-ups, abilities and challenges? What does the population and make-up of your country look like? Thankfully, days when designers design purely for themselves are fast disappearing. Much more information is available and written about people and the challenges they face when using design. The term user experience has gained great exposure and interest over recent years (from 2010 onwards), seems to have taken over the term information design where concerns of clarity, usability and people 1st got involved with graphic design practice.

Why bother with accessible and usable graphic communication design?

We have a lot more information about accessibility and usability and about people today than in previous times. Accessibility and usability issues are continually evolving, and as people have to learn new systems, platforms and technologies. We have gone from clay tablets to Egyptian papyrus rolls, to Chinese books, to the codex, to medieval books, to book printing, to currently screens. Although Josef Müller-Brockmann (a notable Swiss graphic communication designer working in the 1930s–1990s) never labelled his work as accessible, he sought to make graphic communication design clear and above all objective (rather than subjective and about personal expression).

It is essential for information, design and communication to be accessible and usable to different types of people, so we do not exclude anyone. Not every person and user is highly abled, expert and knowledgeable (what typical designers think). The following is an edited extract from an article by Tom Graham & André Gonçalves (Graham & Gonçalves, 2017):

‘As a designer, you care and should about users — call it empathy in design or call it being a human’.

It is simple — by addressing different people’s needs, setups and requirements, your designs will address the issues they face. If your design does that, it will work better for them. The more people your design caters for, the better your designs will be. By making information and communication accessible to as many people as possible, they are given a fair chance of being able to use the information. You also reach and communicate with more people — the more people you reach, the more potential people you inform, communicate with, and also increase your customer base range. We can no longer ignore people and design just for the able designer (ourselves), or the client’s requirements. How would we like it if we gained an impairment or disability, and were not included and catered for with the design? Although maybe recently you experienced something whereby you could not do or accomplish a task, or were not provided with the information you needed, and felt left out…

Information on people and related issues

Here are some statistics on groups of the population (demographics), different categories of people, and related issues. I hope you will find this information useful when designing and envisaging for people.

Age

Children, 4–12-years-old

Definition

We define children as aged between 4–12-years-old. There are also 3 different distinctions of children’s age: young (3–5 years), mid-range (6–8 years) and older (9–12 years).

Statistics

  • 534 million people (8.69%) in the world are children aged 5–9. 1 person in 11 people worldwide is aged 5–9-years-old (World Health Organisation, 2001).
  • 1,278,982.063 billion people (16.93%) are aged 5–14-years-old, in 2017 worldwide. The world population in 2017 was 7,550,262.101 billion (United Nations, 2017).

Issues

In 2016 children in the United Kingdom aged 5–16, now use the internet for an average of 3 hours a day and watch TV for 2.1 hours a day (Child Wise, 2016). Does this mean children are very knowledgeable and skilful when using websites and information online? Are they better and quicker at solving technology problems? From usability testing, children are slow typists. They are also acutely aware of age differences and do not like being labelled as young, immature or even as children (Nielsen, 2010).

Different categories of people and different age-groups, have different needs and tastes. A child is likely to have different tastes than an older adult. Technology seems not to intimidate children as much as older people. Do children want things that are more fun and entertaining, while adults are looking for specific information and are willing to invest more time? How do colours affect the meaning and understanding of communication for this age-group? In a study of 60 children (30 girls, 30 boys), children had positive reactions to bright colours (like pink, blue, red) and negative emotions for dark colours (like brown, black, grey) (Boyatzis & Varghese, 1994). This age-group is likely to have a low reading level and developing literacy. Children are also quite open and influenced by advertising, more so than adults.

Adults, in general, are goal-oriented and tend to visit websites with explicit objectives (relying on search more than discovery), and they are usually more accustomed to (and forgiving of) quirks or problems in the user experience (Six Revisions, 2011), whereas children are the opposite.

Six Revisions mentions:

‘10 years ago; the average 10-year-old would have quite limited computer skills; this is no longer the case. Through early interaction with the web, children as young as 5 and 6 (even younger) are gaining rudimentary experience with devices and websites’ (Six Revisions, 2011).

What might designing for children involve? Drew Elrick outlines the following points:

  • ‘It has to be bright, engaging and easy to use’, says web and graphic designer Drew Elrick.
  • ‘When designing a website for kids, you want to appeal to the senses,’ says Carly Stunder, director of website and graphic design at Miles Technologies.
  • Carly Stunder raises the following issues: bright colours (happy colours) create a positive mood. Photos of happy kids, engaging cartoons and exciting imagery are sure to keep kids engaged. You also need to keep an eye on the different age-ranges, levels and abilities of kids: children aged between 3–5-years-old enjoy clean colours, interesting characters and a very minimal amount of text.
  • Children aged a bit older, 9–12-years-old read more and can handle more text content.

Teenagers, 13–19-years-old

Definition

We define teenagers as aged between 13–19-years-old.

Statistics

  • 596,816.289 million people (7.9%) are aged between 15–19-years-old in 2017 worldwide, the world population in 2017 was 7,550,262.101 billion (United Nations, 2017).
  • In 2012, the U.S. population was approximately 309 million. About 20.6 million, or 6.6%, were children in the 10–14 age-range, and 21.2 million, or 6.9%, are in the 15–19 age-range (United States Census Bureau, 2012). So that is about 13% of people in the U.S.A. in 2012 were aged 10–19-years-old.

Issues

Different categories of people and different age-groups often have different needs and tastes. A teenager is likely to have different tastes than an older adult. Teenagers usually have strong and firm ideas about brands (like clothing or products) and what it means to them and other people.

Usability testing has shown that teenagers have dramatically lower levels of patience than adults. Teenagers do not like to read a lot on the web, and nothing deters younger audiences more than a cluttered screen full of text (Loranger & Nielsen, 2013).

Research shows that the major difference between older adults, young adults and children, is that teenagers are more socially focused. While adults tend to use technology and information to achieve set goals, teenagers are more interested in interacting socially and being heard (Six Revisions, 2011).

General people, 20–45-years-old

Definition

We define general people as aged between 20–45-years-old, who do not have any other impairments or disabilities.

Statistics

  • 2,788,121.887 billion people (36.92%) were aged between 25–44-years-old in 2017 worldwide. The world population in 2017 was 7,550,262.101 billion (United Nations, 2017).
  • 81% (56.7 million people) of people in 2010 in the U.S.A. had no form of disability (United States Census Bureau, 2012).
  • About 17% (11 million people) in the U.K. in 2014, were classed as having a disability with a limiting long-term illness or impairment (GOV.UK, 2014).
  • The number of people in 2014 in the U.K. aged between 20–44-years-old (males and females combined) is 21,447,534 million (33.2%) (Office for National Statistics, 2016).

Issues

Have you ever been confused because something has been communicated or designed not clearly enough, that results in you having problems understanding it? Have you ever felt more stressed than usual because you cannot achieve something, that should be relatively easy or straightforward to do? Have you ever been charged for something because you failed to understand the terms and conditions or because it was misleading? Ever felt annoyed by design not giving you what you want? Have you ever not engaged with something because of how it looks? These are all issues to do with the design not working well. In a recent paper by myself titled Small print in graphic communication and information design: A discussion of issues and interactions (Bohm, 2017) I explored issues to do with small print in graphic communication design. You might think issues to do with small print are not important, but it is often a source of bad practice and routinely causes problems for people of all types.

People not only want to look at something appealing and beautiful but they equally want to be able to achieve things when using the graphic communication. They want to use the graphic communication to do something or find specific information usually within a short amount of time. Beauty or aesthetics does not have to be sacrificed in relation to concerns of accessibility or usability.

In a study by Jakob Nielsen the younger users in our control group (of testing a website) were twice as likely as older users to try more and different methods — such as site search, contextual help, or online chat — to find the answers to their questions or to complete tasks. Whereas 45% of senior citizens showed behaviours that indicated, they did not try new things, were cautious to explore further, or try alternative options. For example, when they failed in their first attempt at a task, some seniors were hesitant to try alternate paths (Nielsen, 2013).

Middle-aged adults, 45–59-years-old

Definition

Middle-aged adults are 45–59-years-old, who do not have any other impairments or disabilities.

Statistics

  • 1,246,154.578 billion people (16.5%) were aged between 45–59-years-old in 2017 worldwide. The world population in 2017 was 7,550,262.101 billion (United Nations, 2017).
  • Due to improvements in lifestyle, 28% of the world’s population between the years of 2000–2025 will be aged 45 and older (World Health Organisation, 2001).
  • 3 common conditions of ageing eyesight are the loss of light, inability to focus, and visual field loss (Pettengill, 2014). Reduced contrast sensitivity and colour perception also occur.

Issues

Everyone encounters issues, no matter how expert, or able you are. Middle-aged adults are most likely to have the most amount of money to spend. They are likely to have built-up barriers against advertising and may not even engage with much of it, or reject most of it. Common statements from usability problems could be:

  • ‘It looks great, but I cannot find what I am looking for’.
  • ‘I cannot proceed, because the website form is not letting me, for a reason I do not understand’.
  • ‘There is nowhere to find out how I can get help, so I am going to have to contact them to inquire further’.

Older adults, 60+-years-old

Definition
Older adults are aged 60+-years-old, who are more prone to developing impairments or disabilities.

Statistics

  • 962,263.476 million people (12.74%) were aged 60+-years-old in 2017 worldwide. The world population in 2017 was 7,550,262.101 billion (United Nations, 2017).
  • The number of people in the U.K. who are elderly is increasing, and we are living longer, the percentage of the population aged 65 and over, increased from 15% in 1984, to 16% in 2009, an increase of 1.7 million people. This trend is projected to continue. By 2034, 23% of the U.K. population is projected to be aged 65 and over (Office for National Statistics, 2010). Women born in 2030 are expected to live until they are 85.3 years, and men until 82.5-years-old (Vasilis et al., 2017).
  • From 2000–2050, the world’s population aged 60 and over, will more than triple from 600 million to 2 billion (World Health Organisation, 2011).
  • 3 common conditions of ageing eyesight are the loss of light, inability to focus, and visual field loss (Pettengill, 2014). Reduced contrast sensitivity and colour perception also occur.
  • About a third of people who are 60-years-old or older, have some hearing loss (WebMD, 2017).

Issues

A loud environment can impair hearing and is especially true for people who are ageing, or who are in a specifically loud situation, like talk to someone in a shop, with loud music playing in the background. Jakob Nielsen points out ‘Although fast response times are important for all users, they’re particularly crucial for seniors, who are more likely to forget things if tasks take too long’ (Nielsen, 2013).

With age, we lose muscle tissue and our muscles become more rigid and less toned, resulting in decreased strength and stamina, and more fatigue. Our bones also decrease in density, that leads to an increased chance of fractures (WebMD, 2017) and you may even become shorter in height. People who are ageing might also not be able to hold things as steadily as they once could, or be as physically agile and dexterous, as in previous years.

Tastes change, style comes in and out of fashion… For many people, the ultimate aspiration for style is often that of when they were in their late teens or twenties. Each generation (young, middle-aged, elderly) will have developed different sets of technological skills, knowledge and experience (Keates & Clarkson, 2004). Technology seems to intimidate older adults more than younger people.

Memory can decrease that results in forgetting things. Information processing can slow as we get older and multitasking can become more challenging (WebMD, 2017).

The elderly are living longer and are more active than ever before. In sport, we can note that many professional sports people, who maybe should have retired, and who would have retired earlier in their career years ago, are still right at the top sport. Phil Taylor (aged 56) in darts, is an example who still dominates the sport until very recently (2019), and of course, the genius snooker player Ronnie O’Sullivan (aged 47 in 2023).

As we get older, do we blame ourselves more for the problems we have when using information, or do we question and challenge more the author of the information and communication? Are older people more likely to complain and question the content, more so than younger people? Do older adults value familiarity and reliability over new and unknown products and services? When users had problems, seniors blamed themselves 90% of the time, compared to 58% of younger users (Nielsen, 2013). Older adults also may be less able to change their long-held opinions and to accept new information, a skill scientists call cognitive flexibility. Not all cognitive abilities decline with age. For example, most older adults maintain ‘crystallised intelligence’, the knowledge and skills accumulated over a lifetime. Past experiences are also part of crystallised intelligence. These experiences may help older people make decisions without conscious thought of all the details and alternatives. Years of experience provide references to help older adults identify their best choices, and eliminate the rest. Alterations to learning and memory may affect an older reader’s ability to absorb content, and the way information is presented may need to accommodate the cognitive and physical changes that often accompany old age (National Institute on Aging, 2017).

In the book Countering design exclusion by Simeon Keates and John Clarkson (Keates & Clarkson, 2004) they define 3 capability classifications:

  1. Motion capability — reach and stretch, locomotion and dexterity.
  2. Sensory capability — vision and hearing.
  3. Cognitive capability — communication and intellectual function.

From the data graphs on pages 182–205, it is clear that with ageing comes more chance of impairments and disabilities, as we age, we get more problems and issues. There are 3 exceptions though:

  • Cognitive capability.
  • Communication capability.
  • Intellectual capability.

It is essential to not over stereotype. Let me provide some examples: some older adults can open a pickle jar, but cannot remember where the bathroom is. Others are very sharp in mind, but cannot move anymore (van der Waarde, 2017).

Different categories of people and different age-groups, often have different needs and tastes. An older adult is likely to have different tastes than a younger adult. Time takes its toll as we get older. It will happen to you too, that is 1 reason — besides business gains — that everybody should care about designing for seniors (Nielsen, 2013).

Dyslexia

Definition

Dyslexia is a neurologically-based, often familial disorder that interferes with the acquisition and processing of language. Varying in degrees of severity, it is manifested by difficulties in receptive and expressive language, including phonological processing in reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, and sometimes arithmetic/numeracy (Bright Solutions for Dyslexia, 2010).

Statistics

  • 1 in 10 people worldwide show some signs of dyslexia (528 million people, 10%) (Pennington, 1991).

Issues

Typeface designers and graphic communication designers have tried to in recent years, design typefaces/fonts for people with dyslexia, see Letter and symbol misrecognition in highly legible typefaces for general, children, dyslexic, visually impaired and ageing readers [2019 fourth edition] (Bohm, 2019). While typefaces cannot cure dyslexia, they can often help. Acetate coloured overlays on top of information can also help people with dyslexia process and use information. Designers have even started to produce guidelines and recommendations for how to write, layout and illustrate graphic information, best for people with dyslexia. See for instance the PhD by Robert Hillier called A typeface for the adult dyslexic reader (Hillier, 2006).

Aphasia

Definition

Aphasia is when a person has difficulty with their language or speech, and is usually caused by damage to the left side of the brain (for example, after a stroke). Symptoms usually develop straight after the injury. Aphasia can last for a long time, 10 years or more, but it can resolve itself naturally.

Statistics

  • 0.06% (5.7 million) people worldwide can have aphasia. Up to 38% (2 in 5 people) of stroke survivors can have aphasia. 15 million strokes occur worldwide every year (Australian Aphasia Rehabilitation Pathway, 2020).
  • 33% of people in the U.S.A. (3 in every 9 people) who have a stroke, get Aphasia (The National Aphasia Association, 2016).

Issues

People with aphasia often have trouble in 4 ways when understanding and using language:

  • Reading
  • Listening.
  • Speaking.
  • Typing or writing.

People with receptive aphasia may have some of the following signs and symptoms (NHS, 2018):

  • Difficulty understanding what people say and understanding written words.
  • Misinterpreting the meaning of words, gestures, pictures or drawings, giving responses that may not make sense.

Designers can make information easier to digest, through general techniques that improve readability, like (Stroke Association, 2012):

  • A well-edited and as short as possible message.
  • Use simple and clear language (avoid complicated lengthy sentences).
  • Use easily and widely understood words that will be understood by a wide-range of people.
  • Use good layout and general legibility and readability techniques with plenty of white space.
  • Repetition of key messages and concepts helps.
  • If designing information that can be read-aloud, make sure it is easy to repeat or have the information re-read, for instance using screenreaders/VoiceOver.

As designers of information and communication we can reduce the load and complexity of information and enable people to re-read or re-use information and communication that they require, so they are then able to fully understand it.

Vision impairment

Definition

Refractive errors (nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism and presbyopia) account for 43% of visual impairments, cataracts for 33% and glaucoma for 2%, and colour-blindness affects approximately 4.5% of the population (World Health Organisation, 2017).

Statistics

  • 253 million people (3.35%) worldwide have a vision impairment (World Health Organisation, 2017). The world population in 2017 was 7,550,262.101 billion (United Nations, 2017).
  • 1 in 30 people in the U.K. has some visual impairment. In 2008 there were an estimated 1.8 million people (30%) living in the U.K. with some visual impairment (moderate, severe or total blindness) (Access Economics, 2009).
  • 1 person in 6 Americans (17%), 45 years of age or older, representing 16.5 million middle-aged and older adults, report some form of vision impairment, even when wearing glasses or contact lenses (The Lighthouse Inc., 1995).

Issues

The 1.8 million people with a sight problem in the United Kingdom have varying degrees of sight loss, ranging from those who have no light perception at all (total blindness), to those who have sight loss that is uncorrectable by aids such as glasses, medication or surgery. They encounter extra difficulty reading small print (like on food packaging, bank statements, and in newspapers), as well as text at a distance in the environment on road signs. People with vision impairments may not be able to clearly recognise the difference between letters like the capital I (i), lowercase l (el), or number 1, due to similarity of form, as stated and researched in my paper Letter and symbol misrecognition in highly legible typefaces for general, children, dyslexic, visually impaired and ageing readers [2019 fourth edition] (Bohm, 2019). Similarly they might be unable to see finer details such as underline/hypertext link rules, fine details in graphs and graphics, or superscripts/subscripts in texts. The vision impairment can be so severe, that the person has to use an aid: such as a magnifying device or screenreader software when using the computer. The person maybe also want to zoom-in to a webpage, and the design of the website, needs to accommodate the size increase of elements, to allow responsive reflowing.

Colour blindness

Definition

Most people who have colour blindness can see things as clearly as other people, but they are unable to fully see and distinguish between red, green or blue light.

Statistics

  • Colour blindness (colour vision deficiency) affects approximately 1 in 12 men (8%), and 1 in 200 women (0.5%) worldwide.
  • In Britain, this means that there are approximately 2.7 million people with colour blindness (about 4.5% of the entire population), most are male (Colour Blind Awareness, 2016).

Issues

Red can appear as dark green; green can appear as light blue and blue can look like a much darker blue or black. Using text and coloured backgrounds with combinations such as red text on top of a dark green background, is problematic. Also, light green text on top of a light blue background (and the other way around) is going to cause problems. Frequently, footwear or clothing websites rely purely on colour swatches, to signal what colour you would like the item in. It is better to use a colour swatch that also has a text label (Graham & Gonçalves, 2017).

Arthritis

Definition

Although the word arthritis means joint inflammation, the term is used to describe around 200 rheumatic diseases and conditions, that affect joints, the tissues that surround the joint, and other connective tissue. Rheumatic conditions are typically characterised by pain, aching, stiffness and swelling in and around, 1 or more joints (Nichols, 2017).

Statistics

  • In the U.S.A., 1 in 4 people (25%) aged 18+ suffer from arthritis (Barbour, 2017). Arthritis affects 1 in 4 people (25%, over 120 million people) of all people in the European Union (EULAR, 2017).
  • In 2010–2012, 52.5 million adults in the U.S.A. (22.7% of all adults) had doctor-diagnosed arthritis, and 22.7 million (9.8%) had arthritis-attributable activity limitation (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Arthritis affects about 1 in 4 adults (classed as 18+-years-old in this study) (Barbour, 2017).
  • Arthritis is more common among adults aged 65 years or older, but people of all ages (including children) can be affected.

Issues

Arthritis can impair a person’s ability to perform everyday tasks such as using a computer, opening packaging or operating a mobile telephone. Are the hyperlinks or buttons on webpages tightly compact, making it difficult to click or tap? Should more space be given to these kinds of items?

Text and numerical illiteracy

Definition

Literacy refers to the ability to read and write.

Statistics

  • 14.7% of people worldwide are illiterate. The global literacy rate for all people aged 15 and above is 86.3%. The rate varies throughout the world with developed nations having a rate of 99.2% (2013), Oceania having 71.3%, South and West Asia had 70.2% (2015), and sub-Saharan Africa at 64.0% (2015) (UNESCO, 2015).
  • Over 75% of the world’s 781 million illiterate adults, are found in South Asia, West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and women represent almost two-thirds of all illiterate adults globally (Wikipedia, 2017).
  • 1 in 6 people in Britain (16%, 5.2 million adults) are classified at entry level 3 or below (this means their literacy is below the level expected of an 11-year-old) (Department for Education and Skills, 2003).

Issues

If people or the users you are designing for, cannot understand the text, they will not be able to comprehend the information thoroughly and may reject what is being said or what you are communicating, or they might seek help via telephone or other sources, that could create more effort or resource required on the client’s behalf. If numerical data is not explained enough, people will not be able to see how you have arrived at the numerical values, as very clearly highlighted in the project by the Communication Research Institute called Credit card statements: communication benchmarks 2009 (Communication Research Institute, 2009).

Digital illiteracy

Definition

Digital literacy is the knowledge, skills and behaviours used when using a broad range of digital devices, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs.

Statistics

  • The number of smartphone users in 2017 was 2.32 billion (30%) (Statista, 2016), the total population in 2017 was 7.55 billion. (United Nations, 2017).
  • The number of internet users in 2016 was 3.42 billion (45%) (Internet Live Stats, 2017), the total population in 2016 was 7.46 billion (United Nations, 2017).
  • In 2011, EU Kids Online conducted a study that examined the number of time children in Europe spent on the computer. It was found that roughly 85% of European children use a computer without the supervision of a teacher or parent, showing that these children have acquired some form of digital literacy (Matyjas, 2015).
  • 12 million adults (25%) in the U.K. are incapable of completing 5 basic online tasks (Arnett, 2015).
  • 5.9 million adults (11%) in the U.K. have never used the internet (Office for National Statistics, 2015).

Issues

Many children now grow up using new technology and computers, whereas older adults today in 2017, might not have grown-up using the same complexity of technology. The more up-to-date and experienced someone is using technology, the more likely they will be able to achieve, what they are trying to do. An example could be finding a quotation (text extract) from an article website. If the person is not used to recognising the typical magnifier (search) icon, they may not be able to activate or visit the search box, option or webpage. There are also many other instances of mainstream websites using purely icons to communicate, when an icon with text explanation would be far more widely usable and understood. Is it obvious that a hyperlink or button can be clicked or tapped, to bring up a new section or information? These are old, but common daily issues.

Education level

People’s opinions, skills and needs, will be influenced by past experiences and knowledge. What people want, will be derived from their knowledge of existing products. This is very useful when re-designing a current product, such as a kettle, as very relevant comments and opinions can be obtained. However, when considering the design of radical new technology, the usefulness of the feedback will potentially be restricted by the ability of the participants to understand the potential of the new technology. Many older users have different educational backgrounds to younger ones. For example, they will be familiar with the concepts of mathematical logarithm tables and slide rules, but not necessarily calculators and computers, whereas for younger people, the opposite is almost certainly true (Keates & Clarkson, 2004).

There is also the issue of the person’s educational level. Have they gained qualifications at school, college or university? If so, they may be able to handle concepts and information better than someone who has not. They may be able to process written and graphic information better. However, this is not always the case, especially regarding processing concepts. And what they do for a job or occupation, could also be a factor in how they approach graphic communication.

Prior experience (knowledge level)

We can define 3 knowledge level classifications, people have about a thing:

  • Amateur.
  • Intermediate.
  • Expert.

If the person has expert knowledge about a subject or issue, they may be able to understand more of the information, solve the problem quicker, or better process the requirements of what they are being asked to do, and are trying to do. If the majority of users are amateurs, there may be a great deal of information they might not be able to comprehend alone, or require assistance with.

I personally have expert computer skills and design websites. Recently when I used a popular comparison website for air flights, the list of results at the bottom of webpages, only allowed me to go through 1 page to the left or right, at a time. It did not enable me to skip in 3-page stages, to the left or right. This was very frustrating because I was trying to get to a specific departure time. So after concluding I was getting nowhere, I studied the webpage for a while longer, and noticed on the left-hand side of the webpage, a slider option for outbound and return departure times. Have you started to use slider options from 2017 onwards, on websites? The use of slider options on websites, is a relatively new feature, and I would highly suspect non-expert people would not even acknowledge or know how to use them. As an expert user, even I felt I had done well, and used a new website slider option for the first time (that was not obvious at all).

Psychology

Some psychological issues are worth mentioning.

Tiredness

If people are tired, is the design clear and appealing enough to sustain use, or do users get bored and frustrated when using the item? They may even decide not to engage with the item, because they are too tired. Alternatively, the design may be so difficult to use, they feel they cannot use as much as they would like to, like a complex poorly designed default academic book, that over-works and drains the student late at night, while they are studying for an exam. For tasks, activities and information that are very hazardous or dangerous to use, does it need to warn against using the item when tired? When people are tired, they tend to make more mistakes and give less attention to care.

Motivation

How motivated are people to use your design? Do you need to design or communicate in a way to sustain and improve motivation levels? Is there a standard perception around the item, making people perceive it as being dull and boring, for instance, lengthy legal directive documentation. Could adding a progress indicator, as seen on online forms, be beneficial?

Stress

Stress can make people work and behave in different and unusual manners, they may rush when using the item, or respond more abruptly. How will and can your design accommodate this, is there anything you can do to reassure, or even streamline and clarify the communication and interaction experience, making it as hassle-free as possible? Can they quickly find what they are looking for, or does the designed item increase problems and difficulty?

Time pressure

We all have used items under time pressure, when we just want to complete what you are trying to achieve, with the least amount of hassle and fuss. People often forget necessary things because they are so preoccupied and not in a normal mindset. They block out other important concerns, for the most pressing. Under time pressure, people scan and skip information more frequently.

Appeal

How does appeal affect us? What about when we decide to go to a restaurant on the spur of the moment? How does the restaurant’s sign outside and overall corporate identity branding affect us, in deciding if it some where we would like to go? Does the corporate identity branding communicate credibility and trustworthiness?

The designer’s or client’s objectives in regard to the success of the design project

From the book Countering design exclusion by Simeon Keates and John Clarkson (Keates & Clarkson, 2004):

‘Designers typically design for themselves, unless explicitly directed to do otherwise. Consequently, the default user shares the skills, knowledge and functional capability profile of the designer. When considering designing inclusively, this is unlikely to be a satisfactory description of the users’.

Designers are usually highly able, flexible, able to quickly solve problems, and are equipped with expert knowledge. All of the later is not your usual person

The client of a design project, probably has very different aspirations and requirements for the project than the designer. These may not be aligned with the designer’s idea and motivations. Clients are likely to bring specialist, expert and inside knowledge, that designers do not have. What might be considered essential or a mark of success for 1 of the stakeholder, might not be what another 1 thinks.

From a designer’s perspective, can a thing like a universal design solution exist, that works for a very high percentage of people? Suzanne Scacca says:

‘If you don’t have a clear idea of which age-group your audience will attract, then it’s up to you to create a design that’s as universally acceptable as possible (Scacca, 2017).

Conclusion

The more people’s needs you envisage, cater and design for, the better your design is going to work. Thinking only about your own needs, means the design will probably only work for you.

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References

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About the author

Thomas Bohm studied graphic communication design at college (BTEC, Leicester College, U.K.) and university (BA, Norwich University of the Arts, U.K.). Runs User Design, Illustration and Typesetting, a graphic communication design, illustration, text editing and production service. He helps book publishers, organisations and businesses, design and communicate better with their users, focusing on graphic communication design that works well for all involved. Occasionally does self-initiated research, writing and publishing. Has published papers in Baseline, Slanted, Boxes and Arrows, Typography.Guru, Information Design Journal and Usability Geek. Has won international design awards and is a fellow of the Communication Research Institute.

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