Why Design for Seniors?
I read an interesting article today about web usability and aging and the increased need of websites to adapt to the needs of the growing senior population. Designing a website effectively means making sure that the site is designed in a user-friendly way. If a visitor cannot use your site for its intended purpose, than you will lose that potential customer. Seniors are a growing demographic and adapting your website to the way in which this population perceives information just might provide a rewarding ROI. Plus, if you take the time to design your site for the most sensory challenged visitors, you will, inherently be optimizing for everyone. According to the article, “research has demonstrated that improving the usability of systems for elderly, limited cognition, or visually impaired populations allow the public, as a whole, to benefit from improved usability “ (Chadwick-Dias, McNulty, and Tullis, 2003).
How do we create a senior-accessible site?
Here are the areas in which seniors have sensory impairment: Reduced visual ability, Hearing loss, Psychomotor impairments, Loss of fine motor control, Attentional factors, Learning and memory impairments. There are design/usability elements that can be implemented to help the visitor compensate for these impairments.
1. Reduced visual ability-Consider your font size. According to usability.gov, 33% of the seniors in a study found 8-9 point font size too small with an additional 22% finding 10-point text too small. Jakob Nielsen, usability guru, recommends using at least 12 point font. Erring on the side of larger font will not only help your senior population but will also help prevent eye strain in your younger populations. Performing some basic usability testing on a handful of your audience is always a recommended approach.
2. Hearing Loss-Ensure that all videos or podcasts on your site have the highest quality sound possible. MP3 is the standard format for podcasts. Use the minimum bit rate that provide good results.
Here are some suggested settings:
- 48 – 56k Mono – sermons, audio books, talk radio
- 64k+ Stereo – music, music & talk combinations
- 128k Stereo – good quality music
Make sure you save it with a .mp3 file extension. For more information on podcasts, see Podcasting News
3. Psychomotor impairments/loss of fine motor control- can slow the visitors ability to think clearly and move fluidly. As a result, it may be more difficult for seniors to click on links, which can be either hard to see or hard to line up with the mouse. Make sure that links are clearly demarcated with a blue or another contrasting color than the rest of your text. In addition, make sure that images on your site are linkable in case it is easier for the visitor to click on the image rather than lining up the mouse cursor on a link. Products listed in an ecommerce feature should always click to the description page, for example. The fewer “wasted” clicks that your visitor makes, the more likely they will have a positive experience on your site and return in the future.
4. Attentional Factors-All people (as well as search engines) have a short attention spans online. The two click rule of the early nineties suggested that a user will take up to two clicks to find desired information before they abandon the site. This finding holds true today. Search engines will also abandon your site if their spidering is made harder by broken links, badly formatted code, extraneous code, etc….Therefore, you can improve the attention spent on your site by making your navigation simple and the “noise” on your site minimal. Reduce your usage of Flash and moving elements. Don’t include pop ups, pop unders, peel backs, or shifting ads, which can distract visitors and take away from their goal of finding content on your site. The more distractions your site has, the harder the visitor will have to work (cognitively) to find the information they need. NIHseniorhealth.gov is a well optimized senior site.
5. Learning and Memory impairments-Similar to the solution to attentional factors, keep your site simple with easy to use navigation and sub navigation. Ensure your site search is working optimally so visitors can find what they are looking for in as few steps as possible. (AKA information foraging). Make sure you have colors that distinguish between links that have been clicked on already and links that haven’t been clicked on. Finally, make sure you use elements like breadcrumbs which can guide the visitor through the site and let him or her know which pages they went to before. Breadcrumbs help visitors re-trace their steps on a website.
These are just a few ways in which you can make your site accessible to a greater number of people. The more people that can successfully use your site, the better the user experience, and the more likely that a visitor will become a customer. Making your site accessible to everyone is not only financially beneficial, but, most importantly, it is the right thing to do.