Solid Digital had the privilege recently of designing and developing a website for GenSpace, which is a new initiative of the Annenberg Foundation, a longtime client of ours.
As GenSpace is an awesome new community space in Los Angeles, that’s focused on wellness, connection and lifelong learning for older adults, the process of designing the GenSpace website sparked some conversations and research on age-friendly sites.
Even though there are essential considerations to keep in mind for making your website senior-friendly, as far as we’re concerned, being mindful of the needs of an older audience amounts to being mindful of the right way to design and provide accessibility to all. We don’t view the process of ensuring that a web experience is appealing and accessible to older adults as a specialized discipline.
The design aesthetic that Solid Digital places the highest value on is very much cleanliness and intention with linear paths to engagement with users. Extraneous elements on a site essentially amount to clutter, and we believe that the more elements that the eye needs to process, the harder the brain needs to work to digest the experience.
We instead advocate for empathetic, intuitive, easy-to-follow user experiences. This aesthetic tends to align with the needs of older adults, but isn’t that essentially what every visitor wants from a website?
Engaging and Empathetic
The more we focus on and study the web accessibility guidelines for older users, the question that we consistently come back to is: “Why wouldn’t we do that anyway?” Good design is not something that any demographic should find annoying, difficult to navigate, or hard to read. Quite the opposite.
On the GenSpace website, for example, we’ve incorporated an “Increase Text Size” accessibility feature on the top right margin of every page. Users have the option of increasing or decreasing the font size to fit their specific need. We made a point to say “Text Size” thinking that the word “font” might not be in every user’s lexicon, and we opted for plain language vs. an icon to accomplish the same task.
The process of thinking through the importance of this one feature and the best way to communicate it demonstrates how a focus on greater inclusivity can serve to refine for all audiences.
The same principle applies to questions such as the following, for ensuring web accessibility for older adults. The bigger question is, to what age group do these kinds of considerations not matter.
- Is there adequate color contrast?
- Are hyperlinks and navigation buttons prominent with adequate spacing between them?
- Is the font large enough and readable? Far-sightedness sets in right around the age of 40 and some form of vision loss affects nearly 20 percent of adults over the age of 70.
- Are there clear instructions and error indicators when filling out forms?
- Is navigation consistent throughout the site?
An uncle of mine used to manage a team that designed software, and he would emphasize to his team, “My Mom (who was in her eighties at the time) needs to be able to use this product.” I believe that’s also a good guideline for creating web experiences.
Just Good Business
There’s largely a tendency among designers to envision younger audiences when developing websites and apps, and that might have been somewhat appropriate in a previous era. These days though, online interactions are the primary means by which most of us, regardless of age, conduct business and connect with the world. The pandemic served to accelerate this trend and I don’t anticipate it reversing back ever again.
Of course, focusing on a positive user experience for older adults is not just the right thing to do. It’s good business. Older adults have more disposable income than Millennials, but an essential generational difference is that Millennials tend to have a higher degree of patience or willingness to power through the navigation of a sub-par user experience. Studies show that older adults, on the other hand, are far more likely to abandon a website if it’s confusing, annoying, or presents an unexpected challenge.
That is to say, they take their business elsewhere.
We often hear that age is just a number and there are many ways to interpret that. For the web designer or developer who might be inclined to view older adults as less relevant than younger users or a group whose needs do not need to be top of mind, here are a few numbers to consider: Snoop Dogg turns 50 this year, Jerry Seinfeld is 67, and Jane Fonda is 83.
Interested in creating an inclusive, engaging web experience? That’s what we do! Let’s talk!