What we can learn for our business applications from designing IT for the elderly

When designing with the users in mind, we are required to design for specific groups of people, rather than for specific business requirements. For instance, a hospital examination system is most likely to be used by nurses, who are most likely to be females.  An online pension system might mostly be used by the elderly, to monitor or withdraw their pension.

In Germany, the percentage of population over 65 years rose to 21%, and remains the second highest in Europe. Understanding their needs, and providing technological support for the right services (such as paying bills, booking tickets, online shopping),  instead of thrusting communication medium (such as Whatsapp or Facebook) and overloading them is the way to go. However, these systems are often not designed differently, as per the expectations and preferences, and taking into account that elderly have what has been termed as a digital threshold (Arnstad, 2018). This failure has led to more skepticism and poorer adoption of technologies despite being extremely useful for everyday activities. In this article, I summarize a few pointers for application designers to consider for IT systems for the elderly, based on surveying extant literature.

UX Elderly 1

Figure 1: Summary of design guidelines for the elderly © OPITZ CONSULTING

  1. Easy access: The important content needs to be readily and easily available on the system, and additional information is to be avoided as much as possible (Advertisments, mutliple tabs, long scrollable pages, etc.). Thus, like in several effective systems, the users should receive an instant reward using the system that they can achieve their goals, and hence are motivated to continue using it. For e.g. – in online payment systems, the user login screen could be typically placed upfront so they are not left searching for it.  Links to pages about summary and main actions should be readily provided, and features not regularly used should be avoided altogether.
  2. Time on task: Studies show that elderly users take atleast twice as more to complete a certain task than the younger users. Time pressure on the users would be a big no when designing such systems. Hence, design forms with longer session time out and longer overall session duration.
  3. Minimal changes: Generally speaking, the elderly population tends to have stable and fixed preferences. They are like to have a predictable routine, and avoid changes to these routines as much as possible. Hence, a system for the elderly, should factor this in.  Designers should minimize product release cycles, and aim for one shot systems which are designed as simply and adequately as possible. The look and flow of main processes shoud not be changed often. In the case changes have to be made, they need to be communicated diagrammatically in a timely manner, with a detailed help page which explains changes from previous system, if required.
  4. Fonting: Consider good sizing and spacing when designing touch interfaces, or interfaces with button inputs. Consider good and clear font styles; avoid serif fonts (e.g. Arial, Helvetica are preferred over Book Antiqua). Make sure users can increase their preferred font size readily on the system, especially on smaller devices (mobiles, tablets).
  5. Detailed user scenarios: Older people might have higher expectations to detail, and use cases which the average population, or the lesser experienced developer or designer might not think of. Hence, designers need to take time to think of scenarios which might be expected by their target users, and give a bigger bandwidth for mistakes and helpful messages guiding them through the process. The range of information fields and input combinations available in a form, date of birth or legal or procedural systems which might have existed earlier, options in dropdowns, or validating inputs with special characters and extreme cases.
  6. Polite and gentle wording on the website might motivate elderly to use the website.
  7. Regular usage feedback needs to be gathered, to “listen” to their discomforts, and make changes where appropriate. Even small pilot usability tests of 2-3 people could inform design substantially.
  8. Neurophysiological measures to integrate in usability study of the elderly

Finally, mouse tracking methods such as the screenshot shown below is a novel technique to study website usage patterns of users (Jung et al. 2018).  The package BrownieR could be used to examine in a half an hour session, which URL’s the user visited, which areas were navigated, and the duration of navigation on each URL. The below analysis and summary of mouse movements was performed using the BrownieR package, available for download here. Although the detailing level is not as high as the eye-tracking devices, the information provided by such mouse movements could definitely be a first step to identifying erraneous moves by the users, or poorly designed pages. The Brownie workspace and R script used to generate these analysis is attached here.

UX elderly 3

References

  1. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-for-senior-citizens/
  2. Coyne, P. K. (2003). Web usability for senior citizens: design guidelines based on usability studies with people age 65 and older. Nielsen Normal Group Report.
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326147055_BrownieR_-_The_R-Package_for_Neuro_Information_Systems_Research
  4. http://sciencenordic.com/seniors-and-technology-help-family-members-not-always-best-solution

Code examples

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