14 July 2009

Designing web pages for "mature" users

As a "mature" user myself (I am almost 62 and now have to set documents in Word to 150% to read them), this was an interesting article. I've summarized the main points by Eric Schaffer [founder and CEO, Human Factors International, Fairfield, Iowa, USA], UI Design Newsletter, March 2007. You can read the whole thing at http://www.humanfactors.com/downloads/mar07.asp#kath

According to a study by the Annenberg School at USC, American Internet users include 75% of adults aged 56-65 and 41% of adults over 66. If we want to design for the bulk of our users, we had best consider the more mature user groups.

According to a recent study, the top reasons older people don’t use computers are lack of motivation or reason to use the computer, lack of experience with current technology, and cognitive differences and age-related declines. So it’s not that they don’t want to use your site—it’s that they find it too tricky or intimidating to be worth that effort at this point in their lives. As usability practitioners, we need to change this!!!

By tradition we must design for at least 90 percent of our users. So we see that age will be a factor for all but a few youth-oriented sites. He adds, “I also expect that the need to accommodate age will grow as the already technically savvy users grow old. I already buy watches based on my ability to read the dial at night without my glasses, and dump any news site that wiggles or pops making reading extra difficult. And they better keep redesigning PDAs to keep up with my rheumatism.”

You will need to overcome mature users’ slowly deteriorating vision, not being able to retain as much information in their working memory, and difficulty in processing information as fast as they once could.

What can you do?
**Make navigation menus and action buttons bigger and use mouse-over effects and other methods to show where to click.
**Use a sans serif type font such as Helvetica, Arial or Verdana and type of at least 12 or 14-point size.
**Use double or 1.5 spacing to make it easier for the eye to track from the end of one line to the beginning of the next. As always for the Web, keep text short and use bulletized lists to facilitate scanning.
**Use very little, and preferably no animation. Animation and scrolling text and graphics are the most distracting visual elements to humans overall. In addition, icons should be simple and should include a descriptive label so that your older users will not have to “guess” their meaning.
**Avoid use of pull-down menus.
**Use auto-suggest for likely misspellings to automatically show what a correct spelling would be. Then the user can click the suggested link without having to reenter their search terms.

Zaphiris, P., Kurniawan, S., Research-derived Web Design Guidelines for Older People, Assets ‘05, Baltimore, MD USA. ACM 1-595593-159-7/05/0010 (2005), http://www.soi.city.ac.uk/%7Ezaphiri/Papers/assets2005.pdf.

Chaparro, B., Minnaert, G. and Phipps, C., Mouse-over vs. Point-and-Click: It Depends! Usability News 1(2), February 1999,

Making Your Web Site Senior Friendly checklist, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/pubs/checklist.pdf

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