According to a study by the Annenberg School at USC, American Internet
users include…

– 75% of adults aged 56-65
– 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.


The “older people are just technophobes” stereotype doesn’t hold water.
According to a recent study by O’Hara, the top reasons older people don’t
use computers are:
a) lack of motivation or reason to use the computer,
b) lack of experience with current technology, and
c) 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!!!


“Newly old” — between the ages of 40 and 50
– Slowly deteriorating vision.

“Middle old” — between 50 and 65
– Slight/moderate degradation of vision
– Not able to retain as much information in their working memory
– Not able to process information as fast as they once could.

“Older old” — between about 65 and 80
– Significant deterioration in motor control and visual acuity.

“Very old” — those over 80
– May not be able to accommodate these persons’ deteriorating faculties
via conventional Web design.


According to the work of Kurniawan and Zaphiris…

Target (button/link/menu) design: Use larger targets, and provide a clear
confirmation of target capture. Make navigation menus and action buttons
bigger and use mouse-over effects and other methods of showing target
affordance, or “clickability”.

Text treatment: Use a sans serif type font – i.e. Helvetica, Arial or
Verdana of 12 or 14-point size.

Text presentation: The National Institute on Aging’s checklist suggests
that lines be double-spaced for ease of consumption by older users.
1.5 spacing may also be a reasonable compromise. This extra spacing
makes 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.

Cognitive design: Give the user ample time to read information before
refreshing pages, and reduce the demand on working memory by supporting
recognition rather than recall. Older users, especially those over 60-65,
take longer to process information, and have more difficulty remembering,
for example, entries made two screens earlier in the workflow.

Graphics: 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.

Navigation: Provide “bolder” navigational cues, including the location
of the current page. Most older users – except perhaps for the “new old”
– tend not to do as much “mouse minesweeping.” So pull-down menus
should generally be avoided for these users.

Search features: Cater to spelling errors. Use auto-suggest of 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.

For a complete list of heuristics, check out the list of Research-derived
“Web Guidelines for Older People.” You may also want to reference the
“Making Your Web Site Senior Friendly” checklist produced by the National
Institute on Aging. Both of these sources will help you to “wear your
older persona mask” when you design your next site or application for
this type of user group. Note that many of these guidelines overlap with
the standard best-practice guidelines, and with the accessibility
recommendations made by the W3C. This reinforces the fact that
best-practice, accessible design better serves all types of users.

References for this newsletter are posted at: