Why product managers should optimize design for older users

Edited excerpt from The Problem With Flat Design, According To A UX Expert by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan:

Kate Meyer, a user experience expert at Nielsen Norman Group, examined how different users approach flat interfaces. Younger users liked flat websites a lot more than their older counterparts. Older users said the flattest website designs were “boring,” while younger subjects described them as “professional.”

However, while young people seemed faster at navigating the designs, they also indicated they didn’t really understand the UI intuitively. For the most part they seemed to have pretty much no idea what they were doing. “It’s hard when you think something’s a link and it’s not. And you have to figure out how to get it another way,” one user said. Young people didn’t necessarily “get” flat designs. They were just better at quickly testing where and how to get what they wanted in the face of click uncertainty.

Paying attention to the older users might help to solve flat design’s usability issues sooner. Some technology companies are moving to “inclusive design”, the notion that by designing for ignored or underserved users—including the elderly or disabled—products will become better for all. It has quietly spurred some of the biggest technological leaps of our time. The typewriter, email, and even the telephone evolved out of designs for the blind and deaf.

Notes:
(1) Kate Meyer argues here that focusing on older users improves user experience for everybody. Perhaps that’s because older users are less able to tolerate “click uncertainty” and other user interface failures.
(2) Older users are also becoming more important in their own right, as demographic changes raise the percentage of older people in the population. And some services — such as investing sites like Seeking Alpha — appeal disproportionately to older users.
(3) The most obvious way to reduce “click uncertainty” is to ensure that what is clickable is obvious and differentiated from what isn’t clickable. (The most common error is to present links in the same color as non-clickable text.)
(4) See also Web design for seniors.

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