Do seniors use the web differently? Are we losing a potential web audience by not catering to their needs on sites that would interest them?
Test participants I worked with recently when testing an arts booking website were mostly over 65, and all were engaged frequently with the online world. They had recently booked overseas flights, and regularly bought products online. In the test, participants were required to book tickets, select their own seat and create an account, so there were a number of stages in the process.
Without wanting to generalise too much, I did observe some differences in behaviour on the web from those over 65:
Less inclined to explore
When presented with a new challenge, there was a tendency to sit back and observe the page, rather than interact with the page. This may come from a fear of breaking the system, perhaps a hangover from the early days of the web when systems were difficult and hard to learn. In any case, minimal web design can go too far, and lose this group of users if they have to mouse over everything to find its function.
Seniors read instructions
Following on from the previous observation, users felt a level of comfort when they found an instruction. A number of users actually read the instruction out loud to me. Users also made a lot of comments about the language and terms used for instructions and labels when they were not precise enough.
Mouse skills can be poor
A couple of users had problems navigating sensitive mouseovers that disappeared too quickly. One user slid off the dropdown menu when trying to reach the last item, which was the all important Donate button! Another was trying to select the ticket type in a pop-up and she kept sliding off.
You need a Home button; search needs an icon
In a previous test, there was no Home button, and several users just clicked the back button repeatedly. They did not know that the logo was a link to the home page. Likewise, a search button without an icon confused one user, who didn’t know about clicking Enter.
Legibility and contrast are important
It may be an obvious one but using small font and poor contrast mean you are going to make things difficult. The tendency for lots of grey in modern web design can also present problems.
More time may be required
Participants mentioned that on other sites, the systems timed out way too quickly for them. Most took their time to work through the stages of selecting a section of the theatre, selecting the seat and then the ticket type. And creating an account took some time, so the minimal number of required fields is recommended for these users.
So what were the recommendations? Here they are:
- Make clickable things look clickable.
- Make instructions explicit, and close at hand.
- Make clickable targets large; even larger than the button if possible.
- Add a Home button.
- Use lots of contrast with a legible font.
- Carefully order items on dropdown menus – your users may not get to the bottom.
- Allow plenty of time.
The older you get, the harder it is to get around, and so doing things on the web can save a lot of hassle. When I am designing now, I think about my octogenarian father who managed to do his tax online!