Designing for an older audience

If the average user on your site is what we would politely referred to as “mature�, then you definitely need to check out this excellent report from webCredibles.

I don’t know how it happened but somewhere along the line Headscape has ended up doing a disproportionately large amount of design work for an older audience. Perhaps this is something to do with the fact that we are an aging population with the number of people over 60 dramatically out numbering those under 16. Whatever the case, the fact that I design regularly for an older audience meant that this report from webCredibles caught my eye.

webCredibles compared 16 usability test sessions, 8 using an older audience (over 65) and 8 with a younger audience (under 40). The comparison led to a number of interesting observations as well as some excellent advice on designing for an older audience.

The recommedations

Their recommendations (with which I totally agree) included:

  • Designers should investigate innovative ways to communicate the fact that a page had not finished and requires scrolling
  • Technical terms should be avoided if possible – and where they have to be used, a clear explanation must be easily accessible (including examples wherever appropriate)
  • Links should be identified in a consistent and obvious way (e.g. blue, bold, underline, red on mouse-over)
  • The attention-grabbing features on a page (e.g. headings, pictures, icons, instructions and bullets) should be links
  • Visited links should change colour
  • Provide an HTML-version of as much content as possible and do not require users to install software (even Adobe Acrobat) in order to be able to access information
  • Make content as concise and clear as possible – consider providing two versions of the same content (‘simple’ and ‘detailed’) and allow users to decide which they want to access
  • Sites should provide a ‘Make the writing bigger’ link with accompanying illustrations/icons and always use high contrast to display text e.g. black text on an off-white background (N.B. using an off-white background is preferable to white because it reduces the chances of eyestrain for people who are slow readers)
  • Provide explicit instructions by using the imperative forms of verbs (e.g. ‘Go to more details on…’, ‘Find a…’, etc.)

Dealing with scrolling

All good advice and particularly relevant for me as I am currently working on a site aimed specifically at the over 65 market. One particular problem that I am working on is how to encourage users to scroll. It is interesting to note that although webCredibles raise this as an issue they offer no real solutions.

One possibility I am currently working on is adding a fixed position (doesn’t move when the page scrolls) message explaining there is more content below the fold. When the user clicks the message, the page automatically scrolls down revealing more content. There is a whole bunch of usability and technical problems associated with this, but it might just be a viable solution. I will let you know if I get it working.

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on encouraging scrolling. If you have any great ideas, post a comment here.

  • Excellent article……I just completed an article on my site that was close to this topic. These are important point to a successful site

  • Ed

    Don’t forget to make sure the “hint” about there being more content goes away when there is no more content to get to. If the user can’t realise there is more content by scrolling, they might not realise there is no more content if they are being told there is some!
    I helped out at a coffee morning for over 50s where they got to use the net, and learnt a few things that might be helpful there. For example:
    1. I was asked to go to one of the user’s houses to see why their “compose email” page was different to the one at the coffee morning. It turned out we had a different screen size to them, so they just had to scroll down a bit to see the “send” button….it was just the same page a bit smaller!
    2. Another user took about 3 months to learn how to use their webmail system, and then over the summer the webmail provider totally changed their design, leaving the user back at square one!
    3. One user just didn’t get the fact that you had to click into a text box to have their typing go in there – they would always just move the mouse over it and start typing. Something to think about perhaps?

  • Those examples Ed, sum up the problem completely. We are so used to using the web its hard to image users not realising that they have to click a text box to type!

  • Very nice article Paul! Very helpful “recommendations” to remember. You have a good idea with the fixed positioning message, but instead of clicking on the message it could just be stationed at the bottom of the page until the user gets to the bottom and then the message will disappear. My email system (Gmail) does this, but sometimes I get annoyed with the message and scroll down just to get rid of it. So therefore I guess it works :)

  • Yeah I agree Shane, it would definately need to vanish once you have scrolled.

  • What about using a list of anchor links in a fixed positioned element, a la Thomas Rutter and Alex Walker’s Catfish ad?