Start at the Beginning
Thankfully, recent years have brought many best practices to the web. Developers are sharing what they’ve learned about designing for an older cohort with less exposure to tech overall and numerous physical limitations. While not everyone will grow hard of hearing or become crippled with arthritis, the trick is to create a design that meets the needs of as broad a group as possible.
One designer writes that her first hurdle was to avoid assumptions. She detailed what she learned on UX Planet
, a dot organization (.org) “resource for everything related to user experience.”
She writes that designers need to realize seniors “may not understand things like scrolling or search functionality.” They may also fail to recognize common abbreviations and acronyms. Icons and symbols won’t be as clear, so always pair them with text on a plain background. A good practice is to involve older adults from the beginning to test design and function. Their feedback can be much more useful than what a designer thinks is optimal.
For instance, a hamburger menu can be confusing. Say what? Wikipedia explains that a “hamburger menu” is the same as a “hamburger button, so named for its unintentional resemblance to a hamburger.” Its function is to toggle a menu or navigation bar collapsed behind the button with what appears on the screen. It’s better to use clear signposts to return along your route, and to include a prominent home button.
Fonts and Color
Many designers stress the need to use a sans serif typeface (one that lacks the tiny flourishes at the ends of letters such as L [serif] vs. L [sans serif]). This page is typed in Calibri, a sans serif typeface. Avoid using multiple fonts (style, size and weight of typeface).
As we age, our lenses may become hard and allow less light to enter the eye. Cataracts or macular degeneration may worsen vision. Blues become harder to distinguish and should be avoided for important elements. Color should not be used to convey a message. Check designs with online visual impairment simulators
and convert designs to gray scale
to check for legibility.
Designs can also offer personal adaptations. Many older adults like to be able to increase the font size. Some with certain visual impairments can benefit by changing a page from black letters on a white background to yellow letters on a blue background.
Simplification can be vital for many seniors. It’s easier to slowly make changes on a site to allow users to adapt, and to make the information on each page cover a defined set of information that doesn’t require scrolling.
Older users can have a hard time seeing and touching the correct button when they’re small or placed close together. It can happen to anyone. (How many times have you accidentally hit the wrong button and deleted something?!).
are useful. Just like Hansel and Gretel, electronic breadcrumbs can help us find our way home.
Adaptations for Dementia Help All
While designing a site for Dementia Diaries
, a project detailed in this month’s Coffee Break section of Senior Spirit, designers aimed for the highest accessibility on a tight budget. Users and contributors would have every stage of dementia, which is more likely as people age.
Web developer Rory Gilchrist
built a site where people with dementia could record their own stories and read the stories of others. What he learned has implications that reach far beyond this population.
Gilchrist found key lessons covering:
As a final note, Gilchrist reminds developers not to shy from announcing that a website has made every attempt to be dementia (or senior) friendly. It can be a welcome relief to find a resource that is simple to navigate and easy to read!