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Designing Software for Elders


Interaction design, simple, tablet computers, older users, elders


Designing for older people can be more challenging than designing for other audiences. The constraints on the design are tighter, and users cannot be relied upon to actively explore a system to find out what it does. Training and documentation become a significant part of the overall design effort.

Rather than adapting existing software for use by elders a more effective approach is to design for elders from the ground up. This way complexity can be reduced by carefully selecting only appropriate functionality.

Few of the interaction idioms (widgets) that are available in typical desktop GUIs are appropriate for older users, due either to complexity or to difficulties with manual dexterity. A cut down selection of interaction styles should therefore be used. This also reduces the learning burden, which reduces the effort required to learn to use the system.
The overall ethos when designing for elders is to design information appliances, not application software. The emphasis should be on the device as a whole, not just on one part in isolation.

Guidelines for designing for older users have been derived from experience in designing a number of applications, and a platform on which those applications run. Prototypes of the platform and two applications, an electronic photo album and an instant messaging application, have been tested with older people, to try to understand where they find difficulties.


Guidelines for designing for elderly people




Peter Bagnall (Lancaster)


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