Top 5 things we learnt while designing for senior citizens

At The Data Duck, we strive to design with empathy because that’s core to our UX approach. It’s what we believe best helps our users accomplish their tasks. However, when you’re working with hipster designers, iconoclastic product managers and savvy marketers, it’s easy to get lost in this brave new world and forget the needs for the elderly. Over the years, we’ve worked on a few projects where the seniors have been a significant proportion of the user base, and here we are trying to cover some of the critical lessons we’ve learnt.

#1. Disproportionately prioritise visibility

Take a moment to consider that your users’ vision is not optimal. Further, they need a nudge on the right area of focus on a page. Once we took this into account, our design decisions were simplified. We tested the correct font size (a minimum of 12 pt. on copy worked better, so did Sans Serif fonts), we ensured that colours and contrast were focused on the primary actions and used ample white space to provide minimal visual load. The key lesson here is seniors get overwhelmed faster, and as designers, it is our responsibility to ensure that does not happen.

#2. Provide a sense of control via simple and linear choice architecture

Here are some of the things that generally don’t change as we age: long term memory, procedural memory (how to do something). However, our attention span gets shorter, short-term memory reduces and therefore, our ability to learn new concepts like interaction with new interfaces becomes more challenging. For this reason, we used standard icons, navigation patterns, clear breadcrumbs to help seniors with the ability to complete their tasks. Further, we avoided links which are not 100% necessary. All of this will help the seniors with their sense of control when navigating apps and websites we’ve designed.

#3. Buttons

We think Buttons are so important that they deserve a blog post (or two) by themselves. Further, getting your buttons right is super important no matter who your users are. However, with seniors, we need to keep in mind that hand-eye coordination and motor skills are the limiting factors. Keeping this in mind we’ve learnt a few things:
– Follow the best affordance practises (make sure buttons look like buttons)
– Make the button size easy to select (especially on mobile), we’ve seen seniors getting frustrated to the point of quitting their tasks
– Make the button action clear, what exactly will clicking this button do
– Avoid using too many buttons
– Provide visual and/or audio feedback when a button is clicked
As we’ve said, this is important for all users but in our experience, this matters a lot more when dealing with the elderly.

#4. Experience with Technology

This one should be obvious, but it is just easy to forget very often. Our experience (and comfort) with technology should not drive our design decision. So while we know that a search icon when clicked opens a search bar, this is something which we noticed was totally being missed by the seniors and therefore search as a feature was hardly being used. Now when we make design decisions, we try to question every element. Are these things which WE understand or is commonly understood and used by our audiences? It may take away some nifty designs or micro-interactions however, it helps improve usability for our users, and that’s what matters.

#5. Some things are universal

One, everybody – including the seniors – like good aesthetics and design. Because a website or an app is focussed towards elders is not a reason for it to look staid. It’s our job as designers who blend the best aesthetics and design sensibility that we currently know to match the capabilities of our users and find a solution.

Second, making websites or apps which are accessible and senior-friendly improves the design for everyone. This should not surprise you, reducing cognitive loads, having a clean Information Architecture, paying attention to making sensible buttons has helped all our users complete their intended tasks and not just the seniors.

Are you working on a product for seniors or have any experience designing for them? We are looking to create a ‘Best Practice’ club where we connect once a month and tackle a problem and brainstorm solutions together. Please email us on or comment below to join!

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