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Usability for Senior Citizens - Understanding Hesitation, Discouragement

Understanding why senior users feel discouraged and hesitant when interacting with digital platforms.

Photo of Hasan Ahmed Ansari
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According to a report published by the Nielsen Norman Group, 45% of seniors showed behaviors that indicated they were uncomfortable trying new things or hesitant to explore. For example, when they failed in their first attempt at a task, some seniors were hesitant to try alternate paths.

On the other hand the younger users in the control group were twice as likely as older users to try more and different methods—such as site search, contextual help, or online chat—to find the answers to their questions or to complete tasks.

Conversely, seniors were almost twice as likely to give up on a task. Among all users who quit a task without completing it, seniors gave up 30 seconds before the younger users did.

When users had problems, seniors blamed themselves 90% of the time, compared to 58% of younger users.

In my opinion, more than the senior users, the website and its designers are to be blamed as they were unable to come up with a suitable UX design for older audiences.

Aside from design, physical factors also come into play such as vision and control. Reduced visual acuity is probably the best-known aging problem, and yet websites with tiny type are legion. Sites that target seniors should use the standard 12-point fonts or have an increase-decrease font size options.

Other things, such as pull-down menus, hierarchically walking menus, and other moving interface elements are problematic for seniors who are not always steady with the mouse. Better to use static user interface widgets and designs that don’t require pixel-perfect pointing.


What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Due to reduced confidence, seniors are likelier to revert to search engines such as Google because of it's uncomplicated design. The other side of the argument could be that seniors are less receptive to change in comparison to younger users. According to the publication's study senior were more methodical in their behavior. Sadly, this slow and measured approach didn't gain them better results.

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I'm currently pursuing a Master's degree in Integrated Digital Media at the New York University.

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Hasan! Thank you for your post and for highlighting the challenges for seniors when they use websites with poor UX and design. Do you think this problem could be solved by web designers and developers working alongside seniors in the design of apps and services? Also, this issue has been touched upon by a few research posts in this challenge, e.g. What do you think of the solutions they have proposed?

Photo of Hasan Ahmed Ansari

I was impressed by the recommendations that both Brian and Crystal made but a major obstacle that companies and designers tend to overlook is the physical aspect. For instance people in their 60's or 70's tend to have difficulty using an iPad or any other tablet for that matter because they can not hold it up for a long time or may even have problem reading the small font size.