Have your parents ever come over and asked for your help with one of their electronic gadgets? It’s a scenario filled with genuine intentions, often accompanied by a sense of amazement. Just imagine this: You turn on their phone, and suddenly, it becomes as dazzlingly bright as the sun. The font, larger than life, forces you to strain your eyes to read it. And if that’s not enough, the volume is set so high that it seems determined to wake up the entire neighborhood. These moments, a blend of amusement and insight, illuminate the challenges older adults navigate in the digital landscape. They made us rethink our approach to designing for this demographic.
How can we craft digital experiences that are considerate, intuitive, and tailored to their distinct needs?
As we delve into this journey of understanding, it’s essential to recognize that aging is a natural evolution that shapes our bodies. With time, subtle changes unfold: vision might lose its sharpness, fingers their nimbleness, and cognitive processes might find a slower rhythm. These changes, inherent to aging, shape a unique technological experience for older adults. This experience is not solely shaped by physical transitions, but it is also influenced by a complex interplay of factors.
For some older adults, technology exposure has been limited, or they’re more attuned to technology from different eras. Think of phones from yesteryears, contrasting starkly with today’s devices. In 2017, research indicated that only 42% of older adults ages 65+ owned smartphones, while 58% held onto basic cell phones¹. This statistic might hint at the challenges some older adults find with smartphones, leading them to opt for simpler alternatives.
Furthermore, older adults often approach new technologies with skepticism, emphasizing the perceived lack of necessity or relevance over cost when choosing basic cell phones instead of smartphones, as shown by a Pew Research study on smartphone adoption².
Despite sharing the same age range, there’s considerable variation in familiarity, comfort, and competence with digital tools among this group. In one of our projects, we noticed that there are different types of digital adopters within this demographic. Some are eager to learn and adapt quickly, recognizing the potential benefits of technology in their lives. This group actively seeks ways to incorporate digital tools into their daily routines. However, there’s another segment of older adults who prefer manual or traditional methods, even though they acknowledge that technology could assist them in various tasks. They exhibit a reluctance to fully embrace digital solutions, often opting for familiar, time-tested practices.
This diversity presents an opportunity for designers to customize their strategies for fostering technology adoption among older adults. It highlights the importance of employing a personalized and empathetic approach in design. In the following section, we will delve into our insights regarding presenting ideas and other design considerations.
Adapting the Design Process for Older Generations
Catering to Cognitive and Physical Limitations
To understand how to best cater to this demographic, we took steps to tailor the process. We might be familiar with the concept of short attention spans, this influences how we conduct studies together with our elder groups. One significant adjustment we made during our process of better understanding them was simply reducing the number of discussion points from the usual ten to five. We found this to be crucial because, during our sessions, we observed some participants encountering cognitive challenges midway through. These challenges often led them to prematurely claim understanding even when they hadn’t fully grasped the concept.
Moreover, our approach took into account the physical limitations that some older participants faced. We made sure that the sessions remained manageable and didn’t overtax them. For instance, we were mindful of participants who expressed discomfort with prolonged sitting, a common physical challenge among older adults.
To address this concern, we implemented a thoughtful approach that prioritized their physical well-being and comfort. We structured our sessions to be of shorter duration and included regular breaks to alleviate potential discomfort. These breaks allowed participants to stretch, move around, and recharge, ensuring that they remained physically comfortable throughout our discussions.
By making these thoughtful adjustments, we aim to create an environment where older adults could comfortably engage with the material, allowing for more accurate and meaningful insights to emerge.
Crafting Effective Visuals for Senior Engagement
By switching from lengthy mobile interface screens to Figma prototypes, we were better able to communicate design ideas to older adults. Our observations revealed that displaying mobile interface screens on a laptop screen led to confusion among our audience, as they found it challenging to understand the purpose of these elongated frames, especially when designed for smaller devices and displayed on larger desktop screens.
Designing for Familiarity Vs Novelty
Perspectives Across Generations
Through research and getting to know our customers better, we discovered the importance of maintaining a consistent interface across all digital products. In the context of financial digital products, many of our participants expected the mobile banking interface to closely resemble that of an ATM. This is because they’re accustomed to the technology that the bank has offered. The discrepancies in steps or terms between the two can lead to confusion, especially because they tend to memorize the steps they take to complete a task, relying on muscle memory rather than intuition or textual cues. This means that relocating a feature, such as the “profile” menu, could pose challenges in finding the correct button to tap on.
Difference In Digital Comfort
This aspect highlights a fundamental distinction that sets apart designing for older adults from designing for younger demographics. The younger generation embraces personalization, their tech-savviness makes them comfortable with novelty. Think back to the peak of the millennial digital adoption era, when platforms like MySpace and smartphones with customizable cases took off and allowed us to show off our individuality.
This concept of personalization extends across various aspects of our lives, including interactions with financial services. Our Islamic banking case study was designed with the younger demographic in mind, all sharing a common faith but potentially having unique financial preferences. Some prioritize halal investments, while others value Islamic events or prayer reminders. This personalization approach resonates with users by offering a modular interface that adapts to their habits and content preferences.
In contrast, the older generation often approaches technology with a different mindset. They are rooted in an era when a phone’s primary purpose was making calls, and a bank’s role was primarily focused on facilitating monetary transactions. These well-defined boundaries were the norm during their formative years, shaping their expectations and interactions with technology. The idea of personalization, to them, may seem foreign or even unnecessary.
This struggle to comprehend and navigate the digital landscape echoed a similar experience many of us might encounter when navigating in a foreign language. Just as older adults found themselves grappling with unfamiliar digital interfaces, we can empathize with their situation through our own challenges in a linguistic context. The digital realm, like a new language, presents its own vocabulary, syntax, and rules that can be puzzling and disorienting for those less accustomed to it.
Easing Tech Fears, Offering Reassurance
Some participants in our study expressed apprehension about fully embracing technology due to their fear of making mistakes. This hesitation, coupled with their familiarity with traditional methods, underscores the need for a hybrid approach that combines digital convenience with in-person assistance.
It’s noteworthy that research states only 18% of seniors feel confident in navigating digital devices independently, without any help³. However, this data isn’t just a limitation; it’s an opportunity for innovation. It encourages us to explore services tailored to their needs, embracing a more gradual pace of interaction while offering professional guidance.
Throughout our exploration, we’ve closely examined the experiences of older individuals, considering the unique circumstances of their formative years during the height of the digital revolution. What has become evident is that novelty doesn’t come naturally to them. An era when devices had clearly defined and constrained functions has significantly shaped their technological interactions.
In this context, a report from Alive Venture resonates deeply: older generations desire experiences that reflect their preferences and insights. They long for inclusive, pleasant encounters that validate their life experiences, rather than conforming to external notions of how older individuals should engage with technology. This challenge isn’t solely about making technology accessible; it’s about empowering them to navigate the digital world on their own terms.
¹ Anderson, M. (2019, December 31). Technology use among seniors. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2017/05/17/technology-use-among-seniors/
² Part II: Barriers to Adoption | Pew Research Center. (2019, December 31). Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2012/11/30/part-ii-barriers-to-adoption/
³ Smith, A. (2019, December 31). Attitudes, Impacts, and Barriers to Adoption | Pew Research Center. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2014/04/03/attitudes-impacts-and-barriers-to-adoption/