Internet usability and older people

This guest blog was contributed by Seema Jain. Seema is a digital and web designer, and researcher, in Group Product Development within Engage Business Network (a part of Age UK which helps businesses better serve the needs of older people).

The internet is a huge part of most people’s lifestyle in the world today, and going by its development over the years, there will be a great deal more changes to come. These advances have even more of an effect for those who did not experience the growth of computing throughout the years and therefore are somewhat disengaged from its benefits.

Nearly 58% of people over 65 in theUK have never used the internet. Even for those who have, with access to the internet also growing into devises like smart phones and tablets, the connection between the product and its functions can be somewhat elusive to some. AgeUK is dedicated to improving digital literacy to older people.

When it comes to actually browsing the internet, I would like to think that web developers create websites to be straightforward to use by as many people as possible. However, when it comes to ‘novice’ and ‘non-confident’ users (which many over 65s are) this ‘ease of use’ may not be as easy as others believe. Research has found that even those creating websites with the user in mind still seem to neglect the over 60s in their considerations.

The older age group is equally if not even more diverse than younger age groups, and therefore their skills, physical and cognitive needs, and interests should be taken into account.

As with other users, older people’s experience or aptitude for the internet can be the factor in determining how successful their interactions are. For example, those users with limited experience using the internet such as carrying out one or two functions, like checking emails and looking for transport information, tend to find difficulties in searching around unfamiliar sites if the layout and menu organisation are not easy to follow.

On the other hand, as I found from research carried out with users, when a website is designed simply, offers a range of clear options for users to click through, and is not too text heavy, those with a lower aptitude can still successfully locate the information they require. Other features such as short cut links proved useful, but objects such as flashing or rolling images reels were regarded as confusing.

There are simple changes to layouts, style or just order that can be made to websites, which make navigating around unfamiliar sites much easier. Designers should keep the user and their needs, characteristics and wants at the centre of the design process.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” Steve Jobs

Read more about our work on digital inclusion

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