Seven tips for creating better digital experiences for older users

From a design perspective, the over-60 crowd isn’t getting the attention they should be… yet.

The population is shifting and the number of people in the over-60 age bracket is increasing. According to the World Health Organization, by 2050, nearly two billion people across the world are expected to be over 60 years old. That’s more than triple the number in 2000.

The over-60s are growing faster than youngsters, thanks to a longer life expectancy, healthier lives and declining birth rates in many countries.

United Nations World Population Prospects

In the US, a change will happen very soon. The 2030s are projected to be a transformative decade for the population. The population is expected to grow at a slower pace, and age considerably. Other parts of the world are changing as well. It’s predicted that nearly a third of Japanese people will be senior citizens by 2030.

Many UX designers are young and middle-aged, so it’s important they keep in mind that there are many people using their products or visiting their websites who are older than they are. Notice I say older, not “old”. I’m not here to debate what is considered old, but for the purposes of this article, let’s say 65+.

From a design perspective, it seems that the over-60 crowd isn’t getting the attention they should be… yet. Unless you’re designing products for children, it seems that age isn’t a primary focus.

In the future, I hope the UX industry will also have some career-shifting older designers. We all know older people who certainly don’t act like it, but the user experience should be considered to better serve them. In most cases, users who are older have different needs and preferences than someone who is in their 20s.

Accessibility for Digital Experiences 101

Everything you need to know about improving the accessibility of your digital products

Design considerations for older users

Older users haven’t been around the web their whole life, unlike much of the population. With that said, many in this demographic have become regular digital adopters. There isn’t a one size fits all approach since ageing is different for everyone, but there are some common things to design for.

If you’re familiar with designing accessible experiences that benefit everyone regardless of age, you’ll see how those principles also apply when designing for older users.

1) Content is key

Content has always been key, so this isn’t new information. There are some tips to make sure your users get the most out of it though (I’d argue this isn’t just for the 60+ crowd). Make sure that your content is well understood by everyone. Certain age groups may not be familiar with certain terms and acronyms. Be mindful of unnecessary jargon that could potentially confuse users. Make sure the content is clear with an intended meaning.

2) Make it click (and scroll) for your users

Motor skills change over time, which can make it harder to interact with web pages. Some users may find that using a mouse is difficult at times. It might be hard to click on a link if it is too small or they may have issues with a drag and drop interface.

To make sure the experience is as seamless as possible, make sure that clickable links and elements have enough padding and have a large enough minimum size. Depending on the device, there are different target size suggestions. Devices used are personal preference, but touch screen devices might be easier for some users.

The scrollbar can cause issues with users that have a motor skill impairment. They might find it challenging to get a hold of the scrollbar or individual items that scroll. Not all users have a mouse with a scrolling wheel or a touch device, so it’s important to be mindful of that. Scollbars should be easy to interact with. The option to click the arrows, click within the draggable portion of the page or area, scroll wheel (if applicable), or use the up and down arrow keys on the keyboard.

Space is key in the design. Keep enough space between UI elements that users need to click or tap to use. For example, make sure that there is adequate space in and around form fields to make sure that the user can easily access the intended input. Buttons should have extra padding to keep misclicks to a minimum.

3) Enjoy the longer attention span

It’s pretty great when you create content that users actually read. How many times have you heard that “users don’t read”? With this age group, I’d argue that users DO read. Older users have a long attention span, persistence, and are thorough when exploring your website or product.

It’s pretty refreshing to have a user base with a long attention span that (in general), doesn’t get easily distracted. This makes it extremely important to design your content in the best way. Since this group is so thorough, provide them with the most efficient way to explore the content.

Keep in mind, the longer attention span probably makes multitasking a bit more difficult for this group. They most likely prefer to do one task at a time and don’t like to divide their attention. It’s not a bad thing. However, keep in mind that the pace of completing a task might be longer. Things like timeouts should be planned out accordingly. Banking websites often have this, for good reason, but you don’t want to timeout on a user that is actually interacting with the page content.

4) Typography

Typically when people hit the age of 40, the lens of the eye begins to harden. Or in my case, much sooner. This is when people need reading glasses. Fun fact, the name is called presbyopia. It’s a normal part of aging, but it can be hard to read text that is small and close without glasses.

From a web accessibility perspective, text readability will help the web experience. Not all users may know of the option to zoom-in to increase the font size. Some websites have the obvious option to increase the font size. White space is great! Designers know this, of course. It’s not just aesthetics though – older users benefit from it.

Make sure your content is broken into shorter sections with whitespace so there is contrast and so users aren’t overwhelmed. It needs to be readable and easy to interact with.

Suddenly Senior is a great example of readable text and whitespace.

You might be used to a high quality display as a UX designer. I’m certainly a bit guilty of this from time-to-time, but testing how things look on a lower res monitor helps. Users have different preferences and access, not all will have the latest and greatest display.

5) Color considerations

Older users may also know that their color vision changes over time. Because of this, it’s important to pay attention to contrast ratios with the text color and the background. Some may find that they have a hard time distinguishing between similar colors.

I didn’t know this until very recently, but shades of blue may appear to be faded or desaturated for some users. This is important to note because many companies use blue in their branding.

It’s not necessary to completely avoid blue for important interface elements, but keep in mind contrast when designing. For example, a blue call to action button needs to be readable and distinguishable.

6) Visual look of links

Remind your users where they have been. Make sure there is a clear distinction between links and visited links. Because they tend to interact with the content quite a bit, they may lose track of where they have navigated to.

This could certainly happen to any user of course but designers should be mindful of the user’s time and the fact that they may have difficulty remembering which parts of a website they have visited.

This is especially true on large, complex sites. Users should not be wasting time repeating actions and returning to the same locations if this isn’t their intention.

7) Audio considerations

When designing for audio components, it’s important to know that hearing declines as well. A large proportion of people over 65 have some form of hearing loss. There’s wide variability among audio limitations and this impacts how users consume audio content.

For some, it might be difficult to hear high-pitched sounds or low-pitched sounds. Also, a user may only struggle with one range. Some may be affected by specific words and separating sounds. One ear may hear better than the other. In many cases, controlling the audio with volume will help.If there are situations where there is background music and talking, this may pose a challenge.

It’s important to think about audio content. If you’re designing a UI, think about volume control and the settings that go along with it. Most users with hearing loss know how to accommodate, but it’s important to provide subtitles/transcripts with your audio content.

As a reminder, make sure that there isn’t any audio that plays automatically. If you have issues hearing, you may not realize this is happening. Sadly, this does happen from time to time. It’s distracting, annoying, and can be very confusing for all users.

These are a few tips that will help improve the experience for older users. It’s important to consider users of all ages. To gain more understanding of how users interact with your designs, there’s no substitute for running user research with this demographic.