According to the U.S. Census Bureau, citizens 55 and older made up 22 percent of the U.S. population in 2003. In 10 years, that demographic is expected to grow to almost 26 percent.
Eric Schaffer, CEO and founder of Human Factors International, a user-centered design company based in Fairfield, Iowa, says an increasing number of his clients are reaching out to older consumers through their websites. “The population is aging, and certainly we see a general awareness of that. We also see specific sites that are oriented to older populations, particularly medical sites as well as investments,” he says.
When companies make their sites easier for older people to use, it enhances usability for everyone, says Harley Manning, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, who focuses on user-interface design. “There’s no downside to designing your site for the aging population, and there’s lots of upside,” he says. The following tips for designing websites for older users often translate to better experiences for younger users too.
- Use large, clear fonts. Your users’ vision is on the decline.
- Make sure color contrasts are clear. This increases visibility and response times.
- Enlarge buttons and tabs as well as the spaces between them. Making buttons and tabs bigger will help prevent users from accidentally clicking on the wrong thing.
- Create “alt-tags.” These little notes appear when you roll your mouse over an area of the screen, and explain what you’ll get by clicking on a certain link, making navigation easier.
- Build reassurance into transactions on the website. Give simple, clear, step-by-step explanations on how to place orders without forcing users to remember anything from one page to another.
- Use lurid colors. They appeal more to young people than to seniors.
- Use italics. They’re hard to read.
- Use anything that requires fine motor skills, such as pop-up menus or click-and-drag operations. People’s fine motor skills wane as they age, making it hard for the elderly to click that little X in the upper right hand corner to close pop-up menus or even to use pull-down menus.
- Use jargon and legalese. Use the simplest language possible.
- Use fancy multimedia, like Flash audio and video. Downloading this software can be confusing for people who think “plug-ins” are something you put in a bathroom to cover up odors.