5. The Web User: Older Adults
Part of evaluating usability is considering the special needs of target audience segments. This chapter presents the specific characteristics of older users (age 65 or older) as an example, as there is significant research available on the special needs of this segment.
5.1 Older Adults and the World Wide Web
The author tries (a little to emphatically) to sell the importance of catering to the needs "older" adults. Truth is, if a significant portion of your audience is codgers, then serving them is important - otherwise, not. The same can be said of any market segment.
5.2 Characteristics of Older Users
The effects of aging impact the capabilities of the user, and these limited capabilities must be considered in design. Specific examples include:
- Motor - Older users have problems using a mouse to precisely place a cursor
- Vision - Older users have trouble with visual acuity (seeing small items, especially type), discerning between hues and shades of color, or even noticing when something flashes (changes then changes back) too quickly
- Hearing - Older users have difficulty hearing low volumes and low-pitched sounds, as well as rapid changes in sound
- Cognitive - Older users have difficulty focusing and maintaining attention, remembering details (both short- and long-term memory), or understanding complex relationships among data
He elaborates quite a bit - fundamentally, there's a lot of statistical evidence that backs stereotypes of old people.
CLASS="en">EN: A note: there has always been statistical evidence to support prejudice, and such conclusions should be regarded with some reservations.
5.3 Web Design Features to Avoid
This section uses a few examples of sites that would be less usable for older users based on the characteristics above. I'll skip the elaboration, as the design guidelines are given afterward, and this merely lampoons examples of "bad" design before providing any useful advice.
5.4 Design Guidelines
The design guidelines provided stem from the characteristics in section 5.2 of the document. The way in which guidelines are derived is very straightforward and self-evident. Examples:
- Reading small type is hard for older people - So make the type larger
- Shades and hues are difficult to discern - So don't use analogous colors for links and text
- Controlling a mouse can be difficult for older people - So make buttons large and put some space around them
- Understanding speech is more difficult for older people - So direct actors speak loudly and slowly and provide a text alternative
The author goes into a lot of detail to illustrate the various implications of the limitations of older users, but the examples above should suffice to illustrate the point.
5.5 Usability Testing with Older Adults
The author stresses the importance of actually conducting usability testing rather than relying on generalizations or conclusions. This is probably evident in the general nature of the guidelines above (for example, type must be larger to be legible for older users ... exactly how much larger?). In some cases, there may be secondary research - but even then, use it as a starting point for developing test cases.