It is a statistical fact that year on year the ageing population is growing. As our lives become more intimately intertwined with technology, is it therefore wise that technology continues to be designed by younger people for younger people? Very soon one in five consumers will be in their later life and companies ignore this group at their peril.
In the first instance companies at the forefront of designing new technology should include in their research and development an awareness of why and how older adults choose to use their devices. Their needs would differ greatly from those of the younger generation. Another interesting fact is that the use of tablets is far higher among the 65-year-olds than the national average in the UK. If that is the case, how is the technology adapted to take this into account?
There are some differences between us oldies and the younger generation when it comes to our needs of technology. In the first instance our vision tends to diminish, as we get older. In order for websites and apps to be attractive to the older generation they need to give consideration to size and font size, allowing users to adjust these to meet their particular individual requirements. One example of an app that has spotted this need and responded to it is Silver Surf.
Apart from the physical design of technology, of equal importance is the psychological aspect of its use. Designers of products need to understand the relationship older users have with technology including their concerns about the use of modern technology. One such example is the concern regarding safety and security. Not addressing these issues may very well alienate potential users from their products.
One of the cardinal sins committed by designers is the making of assumptions. These assumptions tend to be associated with a much younger generation and their knowledge, experience and expectations of technology. People that haven’t grown up with computers and smart devices interact very differently with the technology.
One example of the difference between the generations is that of managing short-term memory loss. This will vary from individual to individual, but the older we get the more we rely on the use of calendars and diaries to support our memories. Technology has tremendous potential in this one area to provide timely and paperless reminders of important actions.
An interesting fact designers may not necessarily be aware of is that the older generation excels when it comes to attention span, persistence and thoroughness. This is particularly significant when the average person’s attention span has dropped to below that of a goldfish. The relevance is that older people will find things that younger people may skip over. On the flipside, the pace of completing a task will be slower.
The benefits of modern technology to the older generation, especially if they have mobility problems, are endless. Furthermore, it has the power to support individuals in staying connected with the world in the comfort of their own homes. A common problem for many older people is issues of social isolation resulting in feelings of loneliness.
Technology that takes into account the differing needs of an older generation can single-handedly make a monumental contribution to supporting people to remain independent. Not only does the design of technology with older people in mind make business sense, but it also makes moral sense.
In previous posts I’ve made reference to the significant benefits associated with learning new skills as we get older. Therefore, supporting older people in learning to use technology and integrating it into their daily lives will have the added benefit of exercising their mental abilities. It will also go a long way in helping them to develop and maintain their confidence.
My advice to designers is to go out and talk to your customers, both young and old. You may very well come away with product design ideas that you could never have envisaged otherwise.