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

Go ON Give an Hour – Guest Blog By Martha Lane Fox, UK Digital Champion

If you’re here, you know how to use the internet. But did you know there are still 5.7 million older people in the UK who’ve never made a free Skype call to a loved one, explored their interests or got a great deal online

In fact, in the UK the average household can save up to £560 a year by shopping and paying bills online and over 25 million people are already using Facebook to share photos and news with family and friends – and it’s entirely free.  This is just one of the ways that being online can combat the social isolation and loneliness experienced by 3.1 million people over 65 year olds who see a friend, relative or neighbour less than once a week (Participle.net).

If you’ve got a relation, friend or neighbour who is missing out on the internet, they’re missing out on loads of ways to make their life easier and more enjoyable. 

On the 30th October the clocks go back and we all have an extra hour. Imagine how exciting it would be if we all used this time to help someone get started online….

Together with partners such as Age UK, the BBC, UK online centres, Three, Mecca bingo and the Post Office we’re asking the 30 million people who use the internet everyday to use this hour to help someone they know get online. If no one you know needs help, why not volunteer at a local charity, care home or social club?

Get your guide to what to do in an hour, watch inspirational films as famous faces show how they use the web, and find further local support or places to volunteer by pledging an hour at www.go-on.co.uk/giveanhour

Age UK also have a range of guides, films and suggestions to support you as a digital champion  to share your IT skills with older people you know at www.ageuk.org.uk/digital-champions

Remember, you don’t need to be an IT whizz to be a digital champ – the best thing to do is show someone how they can use technology to explore their hobbies and interests.  And, if the person you’re helping needs more time or knowledge than you can give, there are plenty of friendly places where they can get free or low cost help and support.

Martha and her Race Online 2012 team have been working with Age UK to help get the UK online since 2010.

Find out more about becoming an Age UK digital champion