Time really moves fast as the baby boomer generation comes to retirement age. And like the rest of us, they are also active online users.

However, these users often have certain limitations due to declining health. Their visual impairment, mobility problems, and slow adaptation are the reasons why they cannot fully enjoy using the Internet.

In this article, UI Design for Elderly, we will tackle these issues along with the best ways to provide an easier and more fulfilling online experience for them.

This article will also discuss and cover the following:

Based on the 2017 World Demographic Perspectives: Revised Report, it is reported that people the age of sixty will double by 2050 or from 962 million to 2.1 billion. By 2100, this population will triple and reach 3.1 billion.

With this number, the group of people over sixty is growing more rapidly than any other demographic.

What does this mean in the digital space? We know that older people can have certain inevitable physiological and cognitive changes. Given that there are a lot of elders over sixty using digital technology almost their entire adult lives, we cannot ignore that those physiological and cognitive changes need to be compensated for.

Then there are also older adults who aren’t as comfortable or familiar with technology in general. These people need incentives to engage and may have vastly different usage patterns when it comes to apps as compared to the younger generation.

As the population ages, we can expect that there will be more senior citizens who will be comfortable with technology and only need compensation for actual physiological and cognitive changes.

Both UX and UI designers need to understand these changes to effectively master UX design for seniors.


Common challenges in user interfaces for elders

We just tapped into the issues that most elders face when it comes to interacting in the digital space. Unfortunately, there are still websites and mobile apps that are not always senior-friendly.

We can see some apps like online delivery apps or health tracking apps, where the user interface is too complex and overwhelming for senior users.

We can see that some new UX design for senior citizens patterns and unfamiliar user interfaces also post challenges to seniors who tend to adapt to changes slower and are more comfortable relying on their previous digital experiences.

In the US alone, reports showed that there are over 60% of Americans, who are 65 years and older adults, have difficulty with close vision. 15% showed struggles with distance vision.

The report showed that a big part of users ages 65 or older people struggle to use digital products that use smaller font sizes.

How can we improve the user interface to provide better user experiences to the older adults generation?

In the next section, we will discuss the best practices when it comes to several UI changes that you can apply to cater a better digital and mobile browsing for the older adults generation.


Improving the UI for elders

In UX, we all know that interaction is basic but fundamental to the senior user experience and visual cues are often vital to those interactions. Especially for elders, visual cues should be clear, easy to understand, and easy to interact with.

However, the UI should go beyond just making sure visual cues are clear since each part of the interaction should be kept easy to understand and complete. Especially with the target demographic age, where motor skills tend to decline with age, making things like complex gestures more challenging.

Make the fonts bigger

This is one of the first things you need to check when it comes to best practices or improving the UI for the senior. Make your interface decipherable by applying bigger or readable fonts.

As a UX designer, you need to consider that not every user has a high-quality monitor that is friendly to the eyes. For elders, small texts can be bothersome and if you are targeting these, we recommend that you do not go below 12-point fonts for body text.

Also, avoid interfaces with manual overrides. For example, while the option to control the font sizes in the web browser is a good feature, most of the time, however, this feature is not good for older people or older adults. Zooming in on a page can result in problems with function or display.

Also, it is important to provide shorter sections and utilize the white space properly to avoid overwhelming the elders with stuffed texts placed in small spaces.

Make use of color and contrast

The user experience is affected badly in cases where UI or UX designers neglect to apply the color guidelines.

This is where you should be mindful of color and contrast to your interface since they help seniors determine which UI elements allow them to perform certain tasks, keep track of where they have been within the page, and know which words link to separate pages.

For instance, the blue color in texts should only be applied for elements with links since this is the standard color for web links.

Language suitable for seniors

Jakob Nielsen pointed out that not all UI designers read the information on the pages they UX design for seniors, and therefore do not consider the effort it takes to engage with it.

Always consider how you present the information for seniors when it comes to creating user interfaces.

In this particular case, we take the principles that WCAG provided us, where content should be perceivable so someone with a particular difficulty can still experience the information presented.

For example, subtitles or captions in videos or audio content are essential to UX. A speech function is essential for those who need text read aloud.

Phonetics, slang, and wordplay can present challenges to certain age groups, especially elders. Slang can sabotage the experience you are trying to generate. Thus, make sure that the copy contextually appeals to the elderly. Avoid jargon as it can also confuse the elders. Try to utilize empathy mapping to help you create content that works for your particular target user group.

Easy clicks

Hand and eye coordination and motor skills tend to decline when a person grows old. And because of this change, elders most especially have a hard time when it comes to interacting with UIs.

In particular, the mouse can be an issue for elders with diminishing motor skills because it can be tricky to hit interface targets, move between UI elements, and respond to targets on-screen.

To resolve this issue, make sure that clickable UI elements are big enough and far enough apart from each other. Also, it is better to keep the mouse clicks down to a minimum.

Another element that poses a problem is the scrollbar. The scroll bar can pose accessibly issues for older users with motor skill impairment. More often, it is hard to scroll tiny elements or perform the scrolling action. For older users who have trouble reading, scrolling can affect their experience because they are constantly having to reacquire their position in the text after it moves.

Thus, you need to keep things simple when it comes to scrolling. Provide the senior several options as well such as clicking on the scrollbar arrows, clicking within the draggable portion of the page itself, dragging the slider, using the scroll wheel on their mouse, or using the arrow keys on their keyboard. Overall, when possible, avoid scrolling.

Thankfully, there are now touch screen computer keyboards and mobile devices that is helpful for seniors.

Memorable UI patterns

When it comes to completing a task in the interface, users should get from Point A (entry point) to Point B (where they complete their task) as quickly and easily as possible. This is where clear-cut UI navigation is so important.

However, the interface for seniors should be made even more straightforward because although our long-term, procedural memory (remembering how to do things) remains largely unchanged as we age, our attention spans tend to get shorter. This means that our ability to learn new concepts, such as interacting with a new interface for the mature generations, has its limitations.

A workaround, in this case, is to standardize icons and navigation patterns, such as the top horizontal bar that visualizes all options at once or utilize breadcrumb navigation that guides users towards specific locations with few clicks needed. All these help users get accustomed to where things are and how they should search for them on your website.

Additionally, avoid links that are not 100% necessary. This will help you gain user trust, and encourage users to click on links that take them to significant locations within your site or app.

Know your user base

To provide a memorable and enjoyable user experience to the older generation, aim to work within a scaffolding that captures the needs of users.

This is where you need to do user testing. Even when designers comply with guidelines laid out for older users, the only real way of knowing how someone will interact with a site is by testing it with them.

Try to conduct a think-aloud method of qualitative user testing, so that you are viewing everything that happens on the participant’s screen throughout the test. This will help you gain insights into the users’ cognitive processes as well as their physical limitations and determine which parts of your UI system need improvement.

One of the top pain points for senior citizens is not being able to see and read what is on-screen. Problems with or loss of sight or hearing mean that some senior citizen users may have a hard time interpreting content on websites, social media, and mobile devices that they interact with. By testing your user interface UX design out on real users with real problems, you will get a more accurate idea of the effectiveness of your solution.


The takeaway

As we have learned, the older generation is a growing market. Despite the decline in their physical ability, these users are tech-savvier than we may think.

Additionally, they comprised a large segment of our population looking for ways to connect with family, friends, younger people, and people of their age.

Like everyone else, seniors also prefer to use apps that help them track their health, shop, entertain, and more.

Hopefully, this article provided you with ideas on how you can pay attention to the older generation when it comes to their needs and capabilities.

When it comes to designing the interface for seniors, the UX for the senior should be logical and easy to navigate, while UX design principles for seniors should take the basics of the accessible design process into account.

Mary Ann Dalangin

About the author

A content marketing strategist and a UX writer with years of experience in the digital marketing industry.

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