I joined The Joy Club a couple of months before launch and it was always going to be a fast learning experience. My career has consistently involved building technical products but never have the end users been such a specific demographic — people aged 65 and over. As with all startups, you are failing, learning and changing rapidly.
The Joy Club is an online activity club that connects retired members to activities that support social connection, physical activity, intellectual stimulation, mental wellbeing and joy. Free activities, discounts and income generation opportunities for members to help pensions go further so they can do more.
Our demographic will never be synonymous with the word ‘technology’. However, the population aged 65 years and over is the fastest growing population of technology users in the UK, with 2019 figures indicating that 84% of men and 82% of women aged 65–74 self-reported having used the internet in the preceding three months.
More recently, a report from Age UK indicated that the pandemic has increased internet use amongst our demographic, with 41% of 65–74 year olds and 24% of those over 75 saying they have used the internet more since the coronavirus outbreak. However, as the report also suggests, there are still a large number of older people not using the internet and greater support is needed to enable them to feel confident and safe to do so.
From my short time at The Joy Club so far, I wanted to share a few of the things I have learnt about designing a product for our members.
End user involvement is key
It sounds obvious but often companies think that because they like the product they are building and they find it easy to use, their users will too.
Involving users through the whole process is especially important for The Joy Club. We are in a somewhat unique situation where none of our employees are (nor are they likely to be within the near future) part of our target demographic as the majority of our members are retired. So, in the absence of being able to recruit full-time employees who are over 65, we involved our users right from the beginning (market research, ideation, platform design and brand creation) and as we approached launch created a Member Steering Group.
The Member Steering Group is made up of members who we consult with to gather their input and feedback on how we can improve. We meet with them on a monthly basis to help us make decisions about ideas, the website, designs, initiatives — anything that will affect our members!
And the one thing I love about our members is that they will always give brutally honest and transparent feedback — whether solicited or not!
Enlisting your end users for focus groups/user testing/feedback is invaluable and incentivising participants does not have to break the bank. If you are developing a Product that your users want, they are willing to help and want to be part of that journey.
Positive feedback does not mean it’s great
Working with our members, I found it is always best to give them alternative options when garnering opinion.
When reviewing existing pages of our website, we asked our users for their opinions — how does it look? Are the instructions clear? Is there anything that can be improved? — and the response was positive, indicating that no changes were needed. However, when we followed up by showing users proposed re-designs, the response was an overwhelming “Oh yes, this is much better!”
End users are not creative designers — they may not be able to suggest improvements because they don’t know what they are until they have seen them. Giving them options encourages comparison and therefore more opinions about their preference and the reasons behind them.
Throw away existing assumptions
There are many design frameworks or guidelines out there that set a standard on how to develop good UI for a great user experience. With mobile devices increasingly becoming the preferred way to access the internet, optimal mobile design to save screen space is required. We have all noticed the standard icons used to represent words in order to achieve this. We all understand that the bell icon means notifications, the cog means settings, the envelope means email…or do we?
Our website is mobile responsive and we used the standard ‘burger’ to represent the menu when viewing it on a smaller screen. A few weeks after launch, our feedback indicated that people were struggling to navigate the site and it transpired that multiple users did not realise that the ‘burger’ was a menu. They thought it was just part of the website’s design. This prompted a quick UI change to simply display ‘Menu’.
It sounds trivial but small icons that we unconsciously associate with a given function may not be clear for everyone, even for those who use the internet regularly. Calls to action should be clear and descriptive where possible.
Slap your users in the face
Not literally! When conducting post-launch user testing via remote screenshare, one of our users said something that has stuck with me ever since. While navigating the site, I observed that they did not do something that I would have expected them to and I asked them why they didn’t. After some discussion, they finally concluded:
“Somehow, it just needs to slap me in the face”
This is now my new design mantra for every feature that we build!
While we want our websites to look slick and beautiful, we should not prioritise style at the expense of clarity. If a call to action is not obvious or self-explanatory, it will not be clicked.
The presumption that “older people don’t do tech” has been a consistent barrier to innovation as companies continue to overlook anyone over the age of 65 in favour of younger, supposedly more tech-savvy users. This needs to change. The key to designing a product that is inclusive of older users is to involve them as consultants and testers to deliver something that is easy to use and of value. Technology can — and should — cater to and benefit people of all ages. No one should be left behind!