Oct 26, 2020

Companies are designing their websites with older people in mind; here’s what to look for

As technology becomes an even more integral part of modern life, there are people who are feeling left behind. With important content often hidden behind drop-down menus and strange symbols, and text that is often small and hard to see, older people are struggling to participate in a world that is more and more online. 

Since the pandemic, this issue has been thrown into harsher light, as in many countries around the world, our day-to-day lives have been forced towards a more web-based user experience. 

In fact, a survey conducted by UK-based design and technology consulting firm, Beyond Consultancy, and Savanta Group Ltd, a marketing research firm, found that only 42% of older people said they find technology straightforward to use, and 13% consider going online a frustrating experience. 

However, older people were having difficulties navigating the online world well before the pandemic, with some companies already beginning to redesign and tailor their online experience to one that is easier and more enjoyable for older people to use. So far, most of the companies who have already committed to redesigns are companies that provide products and services tailored for older people, but it is clear that with the global ageing population, many more are going to have to fall in line. 

What is clear is that many older people will abandon a company whose website is difficult to traverse, says Nick Rappolt, the chief executive officer of Beyond. As the global economy becomes increasingly online, companies who are losing the buying power of older generations due to their inaccessible online experience will need to adapt and change their online presence to regain the trust and confidence of their older customers. 

But this isn’t just an economic issue. As more older people lose confidence in using technology and the internet, it is increasingly becoming an issue of social isolation, as has been made even more apparent in recent times. According to a study conducted by Pew Research Center in 2017, only 26% of internet users aged 65 and over reported being “very confident” with computers, smartphones or other electronic devices. For those older people who had health issues or disabilities, they were even less likely to use the internet. 

So what makes a website user friendly for older people? In focus groups conducted by USA-based company SingleCare, older people prefer websites where they can complete a single task in three steps or less. 

“As a result, we’ve streamlined our navigation, simplified nomenclature with user-friendly terminology and increased sizes of buttons for ease of use,” said Alex Zaky, senior vice president of product, speaking to The Wall Street Journal. 

Another easy way for companies to increase their online accessibility to older people is by increasing the font size. In general, a good rule of thumb is to either have a font size no smaller than 16, or to give users the option to adjust the size themselves. 

Using a basic font, one that doesn’t give letters tails or extra flourishes, is also a useful step in making websites more user friendly for older people. Those little tails on certain fonts can break up and make letters more difficult to distinguish as people get older and their eyesight begins to worsen. 

Websites that use non-contrasting colours in their text and background choice are also more difficult for many older people to read. Using colour choices that make the content really jump out at you is always going to result in a better user experience for an older person. 

Having options and website signposts clearly and effectively labeled is key in making a website user friendly. Easy to navigate websites will always be preferred by most people, even more so in older people. Auriens, a high end senior living apartment in London has opted to get rid of drop down menus on their web pages altogether, choosing instead to prioritise navigation through their website. 

“It’s all about being logical,” says David Meagher, CEO of Auriens.

Choosing the colours black, white and a warm toned yellow keeps the website clear and creates effective contrast. Large font makes all the information easy to read, and the clear layout of the navigation in the sidebar makes moving through the website and finding what you’re looking for incredibly easy. However, once again, this is a website that has been built specifically to service older people, so making it user friendly for people 65 and over is a clear decision. 

Most tech developers are in their 20s and 30s, so unfortunately keeping older people at the forefront of their design choices is not always their priority. However, as the world changes, and it is increasingly necessary for all people, no matter their age, to be able to use the internet easily and effectively, steadily more web designers and companies are falling in line to make their product more readily accessible and inclusive to older people. 

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