User Centred Web Design

User centred web design and the older person

The concept of user centred design (UCD) is well known when associated with the design and development of products and services. When it comes to web design there seems to be a gap in the understanding of UCD when considering the older user. Understandably, the older person is not usually considered as the core target market for websites and social media due to their lack of engagement with technologies. However, data from Ofcom (2011) shows us that over half of 65-74 year olds in the UK actually do have access to the Internet in their home and the uptake of broadband has increased significantly over the past two years1.

“Age and any associated issues do not prevent the consumer from adopting new technology”

Whilst legislation and web accessibility guidelines dictate that we have to consider the needs of a wide group of people with different capabilities when designing a website, there is little specifically focusing on the older person. The changing demographic in the UK means that there are now more people in the UK aged 60 and above than there are aged 18 and below. The number of people aged 60 and over is projected to be over 20 million by the year 2031, an extremely compelling argument for businesses to take note of the needs for such a rapidly growing consumer market2.

From my own experiences carrying out usability testing with older users, it is not that they are disinterested in learning and adopting new technologies, it is the complexity and confusion they can experience which present a barrier. To put it succinctly, websites are just not intuitive enough to aid the navigation and interaction of novice and unconfident users. Including older users in the testing of websites and mapping their user journey will help overcome this and the return on this investment would allow business to tap into a growing market that has an interest in interacting with technology. From research carried out by English Longitudinal Study of Aging (ELSA), it was found that 71 percent of over 50s mentioned that they never or rarely have too little money to spend on their needs3.

The above argument shows us that the older population has a spending power and an interest in learning about technologies. Despite this, digital illiteracy in the older population has been amplified by the change in technologies and the trend in accepting Internet access on the go through smart phones and tablets, as well as through personal computers and laptops. This has made the connection between the product and its functions somewhat elusive to some and when Internet access is presented in a new device, it can seem alien to the older user.

Marketing is changing, and placing the user firmly at the centre of the design and development process, whatever their age or ability, is becoming increasingly important.  Age and any associated issues do not prevent the consumer from adopting new technology, it is just another set of characteristics that should be addressed in the successful design of products, services and websites. Take the 99 year old from Oregon who rediscovered writing through her iPad.

Is now the time to ensure that accessibility is taken seriously as a way of extending marketing reach, and not simply some legal hurdle that has to be crossed?

Written by Seema Jain, digital designer and research associate at the Engage Business Network, part of Age UK.

The Engage Business Network has been set up to foster the best in inclusive design across a wide range of products and services, help businesses to understand the benefits of marketing to an ageing population and thereby improve the quality of later life.  The over 50s population is the fastest growing demographic in the UK, and represents 80% of the country’s wealth.

1&2. Age UK: Later Life in the UK. December 2011. Available at: http://www.ageuk.org.uk/Documents/EN-GB/Factsheets/Later_Life_UK_factsheet.pdf?dtrk=true

3. English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. 2006. Available at: http://www.ifs.org.uk/elsa/report_wave3.php

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