4 Tips for Designing Apps for Older Users

Jonathan Shariat
May 13 · 4 min read

At , we’re designing digital products that help doctors and patients make better decisions about cancer care. One way we do this is by bringing the patient voice to doctors, enabling patients to track their symptoms and report any side effects of medication immediately as they happen.

Because many cancer patients are older and may have varying degrees of familiarity and experience with tech, we’ve had to be extra thoughtful about how our app is designed, and make some important choices to facilitate usage amongst an older population.

Here are some of our design considerations:

1. Make the text easy to read.

One big consideration when designing for an older population is readability, starting with . We’re using a minimum of 16pt and in some cases 18pt or more to ensure that older users can easily read the text. In fact, most people will benefit when you increase the font size… because even if they can read it, smaller font size can strain the eyes and slow down reading.

We’re also paying close attention to the contrast between the text and the background for optimal readability. Bolding the text against a dark background works well, as can picking colors with high contrast or different colors altogether.

(One other thing to note: don’t rely on color to convey meaning — not everyone can make out the difference clearly, or their eyes might not be able to distinguish that color normally).

2. Go for bigger touch target sizes.

Something else to consider carefully is touch target size. Think about what might be going on for an older user, especially one battling cancer: decreased dexterity, impaired vision, fatigue. You don’t want to add frustration to this list when they aren’t able to navigate your app successfully.

I like what Anthony T of UX Movement had to say about this challenge in on mobile touchscreen target sizes:

Small touch targets make users work harder because they require more accuracy to hit. Users need to reorient their finger, from finger pad to fingertip, to hit the target with clear visual feedback. Using the finger pad would cover the entire target, making it impossible for users to see the target they’re trying to hit. Users use the fingertip to hit small touch targets because it gives them the visual feedback they need to know that they’re hitting their target accurately. But when users have to reorient their finger, it slows their movement down, and forces them to work harder to hit their target.

Not just that, but small touch targets can lead to touch errors. When small touch targets are grouped near each other, users can accidentally hit neighboring targets and initiate unintended actions. This is because the user’s finger overlaps on to the neighboring buttons. And if pressure is not carefully applied in the right spot, it’ll trigger the wrong action.

We’re using a minimum of 44pt (as recommended by Apple) for touch targets to make it as easy as possible for our users to hit the mark and minimize errors. Remember that the target doesn’t need to be the same thing as the visual size. For example, you might have a link which is small text, but the target size is a 44pt tall container.

3. Break tasks down to one thing at a time.

We’ve also found that breaking things down to one task at a time can make a huge difference in reducing errors and frustration for older users. So for example, when the user is signing up for an account or getting started with the app, we ask them to enter their email, date of birth, gender etc. using one question per page, rather than requiring them to scroll through a long sign-up page. While younger users might get annoyed with this process, most older users don’t mind spending the time if they know they’re making progress.

4. Keep your wording clear and simple.

Finally, the wording you use to describe actions has to be really thoughtful with an older population. Make sure your copy is crisp and clear, with no slang, and aim for a basic reading level to cover a very broad audience (i.e. around 5th or 6th grade level to be safe). There are many tools available online that will evaluate your copy for general reading level — that will run your copy through a number of different readability formulas to give you a range.

While these suggestions might seem kind of obvious, I’ve found that many popular apps catering to this audience aren’t following these simple best practices. Perhaps because most app developers tend to be fairly young and in good health, they may not be able to imagine what it’s like to navigate an app with poor eyesight, or arthritis, or chemotherapy fatigue. So take a quick pause right now and assess your app: is there anything you could improve for older users?

Here at Project Ronin, we’re continually looking for ways to become even more empathetic in our design so our users get the most value out of our technology.

Want to join our team? We’re hiring!

Project Ronin

We’re on a mission to transform cancer care by helping doctors and patients make better-informed decisions about treatment. Come join our team: projectronin.com

Jonathan Shariat

Written by

Dream. Think. Do. I am a UX Designer with a passion for simplicity and ɹoıʌɐɥǝq ɹǝsn ƃuıʎɟıpoɯ. Follow me @designuxui

Project Ronin

We’re on a mission to transform cancer care by helping doctors and patients make better-informed decisions about treatment. Come join our team: projectronin.com