Often as designers, we’re told that excellent design needs to be inclusive to all regardless of users’ backgrounds or disabilities. And as great designers, we need to take these factors seriously.
But we tend to forget that one small, yet important factor when creating interfaces, and that is our users’ age.
When faced with a critique of older generations, we millennials tend to say ‘Okay, boomer’. But when it comes to design we need to make sure that older generations are also able to use our digital products. And it’s not just the older users we tend to forget. Our target audience can be teenagers, young adults, kids, or older adults. All of these groups come with their own set of needs and requirements. So from now on when we say that design is inclusive to all, let’s not forget about different age groups. Sounds good, right?
Now that we’ve established this, let’s dig deep and see how we can become even better at designing with our users’ age in mind!
Inclusive design challenge
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of design examples, let’s just see exactly how age impacts design.
As explained previously, each age group has their own specific needs, requirements, and demands. Not taking this into account when designing can lead to creating an interface that is not entirely accessible. No one likes to use an interface that has usability issues because it makes users feel frustrated or irritated. In order to avoid this, we’ll go over some recommended good design practices to make sure that the user experience is top-notch.
When talking about usability in general, some of the factors that can help you make an interface accessible is taking into account color and contrast for optimal visibility. Imagine using an interface where the contrast is too low and you can’t read what is written. Doesn’t this sound frustrating?
Another important factor is font size. Some users will have difficulty reading the content if the font is too small. And that doesn’t really sound inclusive to all. So making sure that type is big enough to be read is necessary.
It doesn’t take much to make the whole experience better.
Design for Kids – Tap, tap, tap the screen
Source: Unsplash, McKaela Taylor
According to research conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group, when working on a design specifically for kids it’s important to target a very narrow age group.
What this means is that it’s not a good idea to design for children and then include everyone between the ages of 3 and 12 because there is too big of a discrepancy in age between these groups.
Instead, we need to distinguish between young (3-5 years), mid-range (6-8 years), and older (9-12 years) children. Each of these groups has different behaviors, and cognitive and physical capabilities. Also users get substantially more tech-savvy as they get older. So it really isn’t the same thing to design an interface that will be used by 5-year-olds and 9-year-olds.
Studies have also shown that young users have reacted negatively to content designed for kids that were even one school grade below or above their own level. I mean do you really want 8-year-olds to say that your design is for babies? I’m sure you don’t, so keep that in mind.
Once it’s established who our target audience is we need to make sure that the user experience is consistent throughout the entire app or site. Don’t target different age groups throughout pages because kids will notice discrepancies and this will confuse them. So instead, stick to one age group and design for them in your product.
Now that we’ve concluded what not to do and why it’s not enough to just design for kids in general, let’s go over some design recommendations for young users.
What to do (Recommendations)
When working on a design for young users, it’s really important to give clear and specific instructions. You can do that by stating the goal of a game or task, and how to achieve the goal. Basically, provide them with clear instructions and examples.
First you can show how kids can successfully complete this puzzle and then show them how to complete this (by dragging the hats with their finger)
But it’s not enough to just give instructions. Keep in mind that kids have different levels of understanding so these instructions need to be written accordingly. Make sure that they’re in alignment with their reading and overall comprehension.
And lastly, young users have already developed certain mental models and knowledge about the world, so it’s always a good idea to make use of this in your designs. Including metaphors of the real world reduces the amount of effort that is required for young users to understand what is expected of them and how to use your product.
A drawing app interface like this is based on the mental model of a coloring book, so colored pencils would be a familiar metaphor for young users.
Design for older people – I like big fonts, and I cannot lie
Source: Unsplash, Beth Macdonald
Next up we’ll go over some do’s and don’ts of design for senior citizens. Before we begin, let’s see what type of users belong to this group. Senior citizens are users of 65 years or older.
When working on designs inclusive to older users, we need to be aware of the facts that hearing, vision, and manual dexterity decline with age. All of these factors affect how older users use and interact with our designs.
Studies conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group have shown that small type sizes and targets are considered an issue among older users, and this in turn means that readability is still a big issue on the web and apps.
Two other big issues have also been mentioned in these studies. One of them is that users often see interfaces as inflexible and unforgiving when making a mistake. And the second issue mentioned is that older users often feel left out when it comes to the content of sites or apps.
What to do (Recommendations)
In order to make your design accessible to older users, it’s important to avoid font sizes that are too small. You can also provide your users with the choice to make the font size bigger. Also make sure that the targets aren’t too small and that they can be easily clicked or tapped on.
Providing users with the option to change the font size to increase readability
In addition to avoiding small font sizes and small targets, low contrast text should also be avoided because it adds to the issue of low readability. Making sure that you have enough contrast in your designs has really become easy to do nowadays. You can easily check if you have good contrast with the help of various plugins in the design tool of your choice.
An example of why contrast matters in design
Every user can make a mistake when using an app or site. So don’t punish your users if they do make a mistake and make it easy for them to fix it.
Keeping this in mind, you should really avoid making your design seem inflexible and unforgiving. In order to avoid this make sure that you provide your users with the option to easily change and correct their mistakes.
Also, user actions should be considered in a wider range. For example, allow for different methods of input – allow for a manual input, not just select.
And, of course, make sure that error messages are clearly worded and placed near the error on the interface. Studies have shown that the wording in error messages is often seen as too complicated and unclear, which does not add to a good user experience.
This is an example of how to word an error message and where to place it
In the end
In this blog post we’ve gone through some examples of good design principles and practices when designing digital products for various age groups. These are just some guidelines you should follow when designing interfaces. Each user group has their specific needs, requirements, and goals, so try to align with those as much as possible. Keep in mind that the goal is to make your design inclusive to all and you should definitely avoid making your users feel frustrated when using it.