You would not knowingly ignore 80% of the online market in the UK, would you? 

Yet many websites, generally designed by younger people, forget that older consumers may not share their abilities or tastes. So their websites probably don't work as well as they should for the growing army of silver surfers.

However, designing to cater for the aging population is not always straightforward. Last year, Econsultancy’s David Moth spelt out six sensible tips ranging from increasing the font size to avoiding major navigation changes

As a senior facing yet another birthday (is it really a year since the last one?) I have six more tips to help younger designers appeal to that increasingly wealthy post-kids generation with time and money on its hands.

A few years ago, a consumer products manufacturer introduced a series of products designed to be simpler and easier for older consumers. They failed miserably for two main reasons.

  • Firstly, older people do not want to be thought of as old. And old is hard to define. It is most likely to be 20 years older than you are, regardless of your own age.
  • Secondly, older people are just as likely to be ‘feature hungry’ as younger people. Most of us listen to a very small number of radio stations or use a limited range of washing machine programmes but somehow we like the idea of storing twenty pre-sets or dozens of wash/dry cycles.

On the other hand, older consumers are likely to have different preferences (chintz anyone?) and reduced capability in vision, hearing, dexterity and reaction time. 

So here are six tips from the World Wide Web Consortium accessibility guidelines WCAG 2.0 that really resonate with me.

Provide alternative CAPTCHAs on the same page

Personally I prefer sites without CAPTCHAS but I accept that bots are a major problem. 

However, the odd fonts, spacing and confusing backgrounds do confuse us older folk with reduced visual acuity. 

Easy alternatives including real human contact or at least a different modality (for example audio as well as text) can make a big difference.

Make content accessible through keyboard use and tabbing

This not only helps old folk with shaky hands but also helps young folk with shaky hands or users in environments where it’s hard to keep still – walking?

Sitting on a bus? Of course you need to ensure that the tabbing order is sensible for the task. On a touch interface the layout of the fields may not matter but tabbing back and forwards is a no-no.

Provide ways of reducing or minimising distractions

One of the most noticeable differences between TV programmes aimed at 5 to 15 year olds and older audiences is that the screen is full of potential distractions, often with flashing banners, animations, loud noises and other ‘cool’ effects’. 

On a website, being able to slow these down or switch them off is a big plus for people, who really need to concentrate!

Allow users sufficient time to read messages or make it possible to freeze them

In the early days of online banking, I chose far too long a password to enter into the gizmo, which my bank provided. 

With its nasty rubber keys, I really struggled to type it all in before it reset. If allowing sufficient time is a problem, at least warn users so they don’t lose what they have been struggling to enter.

Use error prevention techniques to minimise errors

Various error prevention techniques can be used ranging from showing an example of what has to be entered and how (Name: eg Mr G Brown) to flagging input errors immediately and allowing them to be corrected (not clearing the whole form).

Make your site tolerant of older equipment/software

I recently gave one of my five year old grandsons what I thought was a slightly old but perfectly serviceable MacMini. 

It turns out that since its uses a PowerPC chip it cannot run later than the 10.1 version of FlashPlayer. CBBC and BBC iPlayer require version 10.2 or later. I can’t update the Mac OS, even if I buy new software. 

This is an irritation for me and him but if it was your website that I was trying to buy from, you would not be getting any money from me!  (By the way, if any techies out there have a solution, we’d love to hear it!)

Of course, not all older users should be considered disabled but as with automatic doors for wheelchair users, which also benefit folks with wheeled luggage and buggies, we can all benefit from accessible websites.

Tom Stewart

Published 21 August, 2014 by Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart is Executive Chairman at System Concepts, and a guest blogger at Econsultancy. System Concepts can be followed on Twitter here, and Tom is also on Google+.

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Comments (5)

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

almost 4 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, Founder and Author at Fresh Relevance

All of this advice makes perfect sense for all age groups, except "keyboard use and tabbing", as there are increasing many users who have never used an old-style computer keyboard.

But I'm slightly puzzled by the numbers, "You would not knowingly ignore 80% of the online market in the UK, would you? ". This article doesn't seem to specify an age range, but the previous one was about "senior citizens" and "people aged older than 65". Are senior citizens really 80% of the market?

Also your requested solution for your MacMini that won't run Flash etc?

I know of no significant eCommerce websites that rely on Flash, because that would prevent them working on mobile, which is more than 50% of the market. If a site that you care about is trying to use Flash in Safari on your MacMini, change its user agent to match an early iPad, e.g. see link, and it will likely stop doing that:

almost 4 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

Thanks Pete, link fixed.

almost 4 years ago


R San

Your grandson can still put that PowerPC Mac Mini to good use for online surfing. There is still a percentage of users online and several communities that are still programming software for it.

Flash 11.5. There's a hack someone created for it to run on PowerPC, but you run at your own risk. Most PPC users stopped using Flash since it's so buggy and full of security issues (on almost ALL versions, old and current).

If not Flash, just try the HTML5 YouTube setting. It works.

An ever better way to watch YouTube videos is through YouView by Mr.Gecko which uses the Mac OS Core technology instead of Flash.

FireFox dropped support for the PPC back in version 4. There's a current build by Floodgap which has kept it up to date (ver. 31) and is probably the best browser for an older Mac today. It's secure and modern.

Roccat is another great browser. They are currently working on version 4 which will run on PowerPC. I know because I'm on their beta test list. They utilize Webkit and it's a lot like Safari.

Tell your grandson he can follow these blogs below and find out more.

Apple is horrible at supporting anything that's more than 4 years old. But there is still life in that machine. A lot of PowerMac G5s were so far ahead in performance that they were faster than most of the early Intel Macs that were released in 2006-07.

almost 4 years ago

Tom Stewart

Tom Stewart, Founder at System Concepts

Thanks guys for fixing the link and also the helpful stuff to keep the MacMini useful.

The 80% came from who use 50 as the age for becoming 'silver'. Not 'old' by today's standards except that visual acuity and other faculties are already well on the downward slope for many people. But as you say, most of the points help everyone.
thanks again

almost 4 years ago

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