Published on May 10th, 2019 | by Emergent Enterprise0
I Wrote the Book on User-friendly Design. What I See Today Horrifies Me
Would you ignore an entire demographic of people in your user experience design? The legendary Don Norman writes at Fast Company that it happens all too often as designers of, well, almost everything, overlook the elderly. This growing segment of the population has different requirements for usability and meeting them could mean a better overall UX for everyone.
Photo: Tetra Images/Getty Images
The world is designed against the elderly, writes Don Norman, 83-year-old author of the industry bible Design of Everyday Things and a former Apple VP.
More people than ever are living long, healthy lives. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the average life expectancy is 78.6 years for men and 81.1 for women. More relevant, however, is that as people grow older, their total life expectancy increases. So for those who are now 65, the average life expectancy is 83 for men and over 85 for women. And because I’m 83, I’m expected to live past 90 (but I’m aiming a lot higher than that). And these are averages, which means that perhaps half of us will live even longer.
Those of us who are still active and healthy at advanced ages–I qualify–discover that we aren’t quite as capable as our younger selves. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t healthy and workable–I still have a very active job and travel on business around the world, but I have to admit that I’m getting slower and weaker, with diminished eyesight, hearing, taste, touch, and, well, almost everything physical. The number of active, healthy oldsters is large–and increasing. We are not a niche market. And businesses should take note: We are good customers often with more free time and discretionary income than younger people.
Despite our increasing numbers the world seems to be designed against the elderly. Everyday household goods require knives and pliers to open. Containers with screw tops require more strength than my wife or I can muster. (We solve this by using a plumber’s wrench to turn the caps.) Companies insist on printing critical instructions in tiny fonts with very low contrast. Labels cannot be read without flashlights and magnifying lenses. And when companies do design things specifically for the elderly, they tend to be ugly devices that shout out to the world “I’m old and can’t function!” We can do better.
WHAT OLDER CONSUMERS WANT AND NEED
As we age, we have more experience with life, which can make us better decision-makers and managers. Crystalized intelligence, it is called, and it gets better with experience. A caveat is that we often face physical changes that designers fail to account for into their work.
Vision deteriorates. The lens of our eyes harden, making focusing more difficult. I used to be able to read tiny text by holding it close to my eyes, but my inability to focus at close distances defeats that activity. Floaters and debris start accumulating inside the eye, which scatters the light on its way to the retina, reducing contrast and making it more difficult to see small, low-contrast objects. For the increasing number of people who have cataract surgery, the eye’s lenses have ben replaced with plastic, which usually have a fixed focus. (Artificial lenses that can be focused are under development.) A flashlight has become an essential item, whether the one built into many phones or carried separately, because illumination makes tiny type easier to read although even then, a magnifying glass might be useful.