Geezers and iPhones

Shortly after I relocated to the United States I realized that the term "geezer" wasn't a reference to one of those dodgy, fast-talking, wheeler-dealer character types from "Eastenders" or "Only Fools and Horses", but to an, eh, more mature person. All sorts of labels apply to the older generations: seniors, senior citizens, old folks, the elderly, old age pensioners, and so on. From a design perspective though, whatever you call this group of users, one thing is clear: the last thing you want is a UX that screams "older user", something I was reminded of by this Irish Times article.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the smart phone space. Instead of offering older users dumbed-down and patronizing designs with over-simplified features and larger controls, it is possible to offer a graceful, highly intuitive and classy design for all. The iPhone for example is one such device that works for users of all ages simply because of a great universal design, and one whose form factors--the large display and controls--work especially well for older users (though perhaps some of the finger-based gestures not so, maybe). Compare the keyboard experience when sending an SMS message on the BlackBerry with the iPhone, for example.

keyboards_compared.JPG

The Nokia 6310 phone was another device example, cited by the article, that was very popular with older users, yet like the iPhone was never marketed specifically for that age group (mind you, an endorsement by Jeremy Clarkson of any product would be enough to put me off it for life).

nokia_6310s.jpg

These older users must not be forgotten from design perspective. They're active with technology and online too, and besides the obvious social inclusion aspects of universal design, to not consider their UX needs leaves designers missing out on a very large global audience, one with a lot of economic clout. And, of course, we're all getting older too. If we consider ageing as an accessibility issue, then remember we're all "temporarily abled" up to some point in time, so designing for age is a wise investment, one that doesn't mean compromising on features or usability in any way (in fact, designing on accessibility ground has often led to improvements for the entire community). For details of the importance of this group in Ireland as well as some general observations, see the proceedings of the Business of Ageing conference.

So, it's not just "UX for kids"  that we need to think about.

Addendum: I picked up some great Tweets on this subject from CHI 2011, triggered by Alan Newell's presentation: Older people - a commercial imperative.

@chatchavan: #chi2011 Alan Newell: older people don't want "accessiblity". They just want to use the damn system!

I must read that paper!

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Oracle applications user experience (UX) assistance. UX and development outreach of all sorts to the apps community, helping to design and deliver usable apps.

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Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @ultan

See my other Oracle blog about product globalization too: Not Lost in Translation

Interests: User experience (UX), user centered design, design patterns, tailoring, BYOD, dev relations, language quality, mobile apps, Oracle FMW and ADF, and a lot more.

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