Designing Technology Products for the Elderly

When working in the technology industry, it becomes almost second nature to design technology products with the assumption that everyone has the same knowledge you possess. This is why today, technology is designed for young people, because that is who is working in the industry. Being surrounded by similar people and hoards of information can make it easy to forget that older people exist in the world of tech, which is unfortunate since technology can offer great benefits to the aging population if used correctly. In fact, for the first time ever, in Canada, seniors make up a bigger share of Canada’s population, at 16.9%, than children do. With that number expected to rise to 20% by 2024, it is important to begin to think about this senior population when designing new technology, to avoid missing out on a large portion of the market.

As people grow older, the way they interact with things changes, and catching these changes are crucial to the design process, in order to make technology the most inclusive it can be. What is important to note is that the elderly population can include people from the ages of 60 to 80+. This large age range contains many differences, so to ensure your technology is easily accessible, take note of these five things when designing senior-friendly technology.

1. Vision and Hearing

As people get older, it becomes increasingly difficult to read, due to the fact that the eye lens begins to harden. Additionally, colour vision reduces and distinguishing between shades similar in colour becomes harder. Along with weaker vision, older people also begin to develop hearing challenges, as hearing loss becomes an issue. With these physical changes in mind, it is important to design your technology products accordingly. Firstly, be sure to avoid any small fonts as well as low contrast between background and text. Making important information legible to those using the technology is the first step to ensuring that they are using it correctly. Therefore, make sure fonts are at least 16 pixels and avoid placing light coloured text on white backgrounds. For those who have trouble hearing, make sure subtitles are offered anytime there is a video or audio recording.

2. Motor Control

Along with our vision and hearing, our motor skills also decline greatly as we get older. This could make it harder to use certain technologies, such as a mouse for example. However, studies show that senior citizens have an easier time using touch devices, such as smartphones, than they do mouses and keyboards. In both cases, it is important to make sure that the distance between each button on an interface is large enough and well spread out so that nothing is accidentally clicked.

3. Privacy and Security

Because the rise of advanced technology involved such rapid growth, the technology we have today seemed to have just quickly appeared in the lives of these seniors. As we grow older, it is human nature to have a more questionable and critical outlook on life, especially when exposed to something brand new. This critical nature of seniors, especially towards technology, should be greatly considered in the design process. The issue of privacy and security are already major concerns in technology, so it is important to make sure that you are always clarifying why you would like to acquire personal information such as names or emails. Also, as a rule of thumb, avoid sign ups if possible or simply present them as an optional step.

4. Clear Communication

For many seniors, learning to use new technology can be like learning a new language. Therefore, you want to make sure that all the information you are conveying is straight and to the point. Avoid any unnecessary jargon and as a tip, always assume that your user does not have any technological background. This will help you formulate accurate information that is sufficient, but not dumbed down.

5. Complexity

Lastly, with the growing rate of technological advancements, seniors may find it hard to keep up. For any technological product that is focused on easy accessibility, it is important to limit the amount of ‘noise’ on the interface. Prioritize the necessary first before moving into any aesthetics. Having a cleaner interface will make the user more comfortable with the technology, hopefully opening them up to try new products.

Augmenting technology to be accessible to the elderly population is a small step anyone can take to offer great benefits to both the user and the creator. The senior population is already so large and is growing every year, so having even a portion of them using new technologies can benefit both parties.

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