How to Truly Design for Older Adults

CAST | February 27, 2020 | by Donna Childress

Rethink the approach, not just the font size, to better appeal to all ages.

Truly designing for older adults means more than increasing font size. It means making sure that the design itself integrates their needs, and even their preferences. An insightful article in Marker suggests ways that designers can rethink their approach to create products that are fully responsive to an older demographic.

LeadingAge CAST has advocated for user-centered design since its inception. It even brought this concept to life in the LeadingAge HackFEST for a few years!
Age is usually presented as a potential contributor to impairments, but not an experience that might need intentional design, said “Tech Is Ignoring a Huge Untapped Market: Older People
The author presents two simple solutions:

1.  Include older adults in the design and development process.

Listen to people who grew up before the internet’s rapid spread—and before mobile phones—for their unique perspective.
When designing and building products for the general public, include people across the age spectrum just as you would involve people across racial and gender spectrums. You’ll get diverse perspectives and new ideas. And you’ll understand many more ways your new product can be created to function well for as many users as possible.
To hire top older talent to develop your product, check out the quoted Wired article "Surviving as an Old in the Tech World," which discusses the ways companies can attract and retain older innovators. Or do a search for similar resources.

“Residents and clients of LeadingAge members could potentially help technology developers and CAST members,” suggested Majd Alwan, Executive Director of CAST.  

2. Design products specifically for older adults.

Ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft offer an example of how to rethink design. Older adults use them far less than their younger counterparts, likely because of concerns about scams, safety, and privacy, according to a New York Times piece. In 2018, the Pew Research Center found that only 24% of adults aged 50+ used these services.
What if the services were redesigned so that passengers could pay in person, without the app storing their financial information? Doing so could increase ridership among older adults and improve security for passengers of all ages.
The Marker article also recommends designing for extremes—people who want the product early and those who hesitate—rather than designing for averages that may not fit anyone’s needs well.
Doing so can be profitable. As the article notes, "any extra time spent at the beginning of the process could easily translate to a wider user base and thus increased revenue as the product gets off the ground."