Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : Common Sense User Experience

Designing websites for Mum

Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : Common Sense User Experience

At the age of 35, many of my team give me grief about being over the hill on all matters web, technology and Internet.

That I have lost touch.

That I need my three and six year old boys to switch between HDMI1 and HDMI2 let alone help me find the remote to watch Foxtel through their (!) Xbox.

That I don’t know how to fix anything except by restarting it. And restarting it. And so forth.

And I get it.

I don’t really know or care about computer components like I did when I was 20. I don’t know what four of the five buttons on my home intercom do.

That I rarely go into ‘Control Panel’ on my computer, not like when I was 17, when changing desktop wallpapers and screensavers three times a day was all the range.

I don’t think I even have a screensaver anymore, let alone a ‘hot corner’.

Though as old and useless as I (purportedly) am, I still class myself as part of the ‘Net Generation’. Someone that grew up with tech, and enough of the Internet in my childhood that I know how it works and why it works.

As shaky and quivering and senile as I apparently am, I am not statistically old or senior.

I have the advantage that I understand the web. And user interfaces. And security and what is right or wrong.

The web is not a foreign, scary and lonely place for me.

It is just natural.


Which is not true for older users

The current web is largely designed by younger people (let’s say around my age and down) for younger people.

The web designers and a web developers I work with are younger, they live their lives online and they get how it works.

At work, there is no screen smaller than 24” and they trend quickly upwards. Our web designers have the latest MacBook Pros. Our Producers, UX Designers and Consultants have the latest Carbon Ultrabooks.

We have a 100MB Telstra Fibre Connection. And we all live in Sydney: Bondi, Cammeray, Marrickville, Barangaroo.

We have it all.

And I suspect we all-to-often design for that.

For if you are 50 or 60 years of age, this is all a foreign concept.

You don’t own a $4,000 laptop. You do not have SmartBoards in your house. You might have an iPhone, though you’re not jail-breaking it like my kids can.

You are very unlikely to be the ‘Net Generation’ unless you specifically are in tech.

And that is the problem with how we’re currently approaching web design.


Get Mum to test

The Nielson Norman Group (a pretty Gen X Internet company themselves) have released some research specifically on older people (they call them seniors) and how they interact with websites.

The long and the short of it is this.

  • Older users take longer to complete tasks when compared to younger users.
  • Older users need guides and do not have the intuition of younger users. As an example, they need link colours to tell them that a link has previously been clicked so they know not to click again.
  • Older users are tackled by forms that are not simple.
  • Older users do not persevere or find workarounds.
  • Older users do not understand or have difficulty reading errors.
  • Older users resent change to a website; half of the ‘seniors’ in the study had written notes of how to navigate through a website.


I have grouped older users with seniors to be simple. And I am being simple.

A 50 year old has far greater cognitive ability than a 70 year old.

Though I roughly group them because having done plenty of user tests between 25-year olds and 50-year olds, the gap is clearly yawning.

The knowledge and suspicion of technology huge!

And I roughly group them because users of the web fall into clear baskets as far as I am concerns being the ‘haves’, the ‘haves not’ and the ‘tech industry’.

Increasing font sizes, making links clear and making forms so clear your Mum could complete them on an iPhone don’t just help them, they help everyone.

Stop designing websites for yourself. We all know our parents are the ones with the money to burn and they’re the ones we want using our website. Every obstacle and small font and page they can’t click on the iPad we got them for Christmas is a sale lost for us.