User Interfaces for the Elderly
Most users of mobile applications are young enough. But you should not miss a target group of “elderly people”. According to the 2017 World Demographic Perspectives: Revised Report, it is expected that in most countries and regions the number of older people – those aged 60 years and older – will increase more than twice by 2050 (from 962 million to 2,1 billion), and three times by 2100 (up to 3.1 billion). Globally, a group of people aged 60 years and older is growing more rapidly than other groups of the population.
And so, getting old, we all undergo some fundamental changes. And not all of them are negative. For example, despite the deterioration of health, the elderly are usually much happier and better appreciate what they have.
But aging also complicates some things, and one of them is using modern technology. If you are developing or designing an application for older people, below are some facts and features that you should know.
Visual elements for users with impaired vision and hearing:
- Use large text and button size
- Keep the icons and buttons distant enough from each other. The recommended minimum distance between elements is 44 pixels
- Prefer the Sans serif family fonts for readability. Pay particular attention to the contrast with the text
- Avoid fonts smaller than 16 pixels (depending on the device, viewing distance, line height, etc.) %% another article says at least 12 pixels
- The best solution would be to give users the ability to adjust font sizes as needed.Avoid blue color for important interface elements
- Older people need more color contrast
- Less perceived: low contrast, light colors, shades of gray, and objects in the periphery
- Icons must be at least 48 pixels or 9 mm wide
- If possible, add text labels to all icons and buttons (it is the words, not the symbols, that are better for understanding. Such simple symbols as “back” may not be recognized)
- Be sure to use words and phrases that are as clear as possible to older people
Interaction with audio content
- Always test your product using screen readers
- Provide subtitles when video or audio content is important for interaction
Visual methods to improve interaction
- Reduce the distance between interface elements that are likely to be used consistently (for example, form fields), but make sure that they are at least 2 millimeters apart (about 10 pixels)
- Buttons on touchscreen interfaces must have a diagonal of at least 9.6 mm (for example, 44 × 44 pixels on an iPad) for the age of 70 and under and even larger for older people
- Pay attention to the dimensions in the human interaction guidelines (Luke Wroblewski has a good set of recommendations for various platforms)
- Elderly people use one hand for typing, as in handwriting
- Make gestures simple to perform basic system commands
- Acceptable gesture is horizontal movement. This is a natural gesture and physically light
- Avoid creating gestures with quick movements, difficult positioning, or multiple gestures that combine more than two fingers and require the use of both hands
Older people do not have much motivation to use mobile gadgets. Everything is too small and annoying on smartphones and computers require certain skills. So, the best solution are tablets.
Applications that are not useful enough can be left without proper attention. Notifications can be ignored for weeks. But if the elderly user see the benefits (they feel the importance for them and their health, for example) then the motivation is growing. As a result, the learning ability is also growing, notifications are read on a regular basis as per the elderly character. Therefore, the application should be as useful as possible.
- Older people tend to use technologies such as mobile phones only in emergency situations
- In the age of 55–75, mobile and touch screen interfaces are preferred
- Motivation is very important for older users, which makes tablets ideal
- Older people have lower cognitive ability to learn, so an approach that encourages participation in new technologies and minimizes their processing efforts should be used
Older people are more prone to a narrow circle of communication, especially if the questions relate to health. As an example, they tend to attend the same doctor for years and entrust their problems only to him. In this regard, they have less confidence in open discussions on the Internet, but prefer more narrowly focused communities.
- Add communication with a small, more important group of people (and not with a large undifferentiated social network)
- Do not overestimate security and confidentiality
Experience with technology
In order for any user to comfortably use your application, they must be able to quickly and easily get from point A (entry point) to point B (where they perform their task). That is why simple navigation through the user interface is so important.
But when it comes to older people, the user interface navigation system should be even simpler to facilitate the user’s journey.
- Use the main screen menu as a safe return point
- Keep the “return” function visible on the interface
- Older people prefer applications that are easy to use
- Menus with multiple functions or sublevels are too complicated
- Maintain the focus of the system on the current user action without displaying secondary functions
- Avoid instant features that change with each new interaction, such as filters and autocomplete
- Show help panel and feature tips when user first accesses
- Older people read all instructions before clicking
- Tips are really helpful / can make a big difference
- User’s Guide with messages in clear, objective and educational language
Consider possible problems with memory and concentration
- Gradually introduce product characteristics to prevent cognitive overload
- Avoid splitting tasks into multiple screens if they require memory of previous actions
- For longer assignments, give clear feedback on progress and reminder of the goal
- Provide reminders and alerts as tips for familiar actions
- Do not be afraid of long text and deep content
- Try not to divide the attention of users between multiple tasks or parts of the screen
Older people do not need a lot for comfortable use of your application. Just need to understand the physiological and mental features of this target group.
Usefulness, large and intuitive interface elements, well-readable fonts, clear wording and tips will greatly improve the user experience for an older audience.