High-Tech Design for the Older Generation

It’s easy to make fun of the difficulties older people sometimes experience adjusting to all the new technologies popping up at an almost impossible to keep up with pace today. However, designers of these new technologies aren’t laughing as they realize that come 2030 people over the age of 65 will represent about 19% of the US population. That is about the same number as owners of iPhones today. Therefore, designers are understandably considering ways to make their hi-tech products user-friendly for the older people among us. Here are a few issues designers are addressing as they create the next generation of gadgets for the oldest generation of users.

Impaired hearing and vision:

Because of a condition called presbyopia, which begins at about age 40, reading small text close together becomes increasingly difficult. Seeing color is also in decline, as is hearing. Designers therefore should avoid small fonts or let users adjust the font they prefer. Blue should be avoided in interface elements. Audio should be accompanied by subtitles if video or audio content is key to the user experience.

Motor control:

One researcher saw an 80-year-old using a computer’s mouse with two hands to maintain the control needed to guide the cursor accurately. Although for most people a mouse is a more accurate way to hit a target than a finger, for the growing older population, older people perform better with touch screen interfaces.

Relationships:

These are different for older people than young. Since older people have had more time to cultivate relationships they tend to have fewer friends but closer with much more trust. Also, mobility issues tend to shrink an older person’s social world. Since one of the most important uses for our new technologies has evolved to be social networking. Customizing this use for the elderly can be extremely important. Some suggestions for designers would be to enable connections to smaller, but more important groups of people, not a huge and undifferentiated social network that is of no use to older people. Avoid an overemphasis on security or privacy controls when the user is dealing with trusted friends and relatives. Be aware of and sensitive to isolation issues for users.