User interface considerations for older users
Proceedings of the 10th annual SIGCSE conference on Innovation and technology in computer science education - ITiCSE '05
There is an ever-growing need for computer application software designed with older users in mind. This poster describes research in human-computer interaction (HCI) targeting older users. According to the United States Census Bureau, 65 to 84-year old individuals comprised 10% of the U.S. population in the year 2000; it is predicted that this number will rise to 17% over the next 30 years  . Unfortunately, the software industry does not appear to be adequately addressing the technology gap
... hat exists between older users and younger, more-experienced users  . Mainstream computer applications targeting the mass market do not take into consideration the needs of older users. Since older users are different from, and have different needs than the younger "mainstream" users, designing software for them requires a different process. First, this age group is immensely diverse both in terms of physical and cognitive abilities and the level of comfort with technology. Thus it was important to observe and include users during the software design process as stressed by Norman. This is especially important when the user base is as diverse as the older user population and when developers have difficulty understanding or experiencing the software in the same manner as the intended user. Hawthorne [1,2] researched the impact of computers on aging. This research builds on his research and incorporates other human-computer studies. An interface for an e-mail client was selected for this research due to the popularity of electronic mail, and the belief that older users want to connect with their families. In order to develop methods of creating senior-friendly computer interfaces, an e-mail client interface called "SilverMail" was developed. From this research, a set of user-friendly design principals and suggestions were created. In this research, the design process itself was important. Older users were involved at three different stages of the interface design -a paper prototype, usability testing after an initial computer prototype and usability testing after modifications based on previous test results. There are several unique and interesting concepts developed or followed during this research project. One such idea is the use of metaphors. "SilverMail" was able to show consistently that the use of metaphors aids an older user's understanding of the interface. If older users are able to take a novel task, such as sending an e-mail, and relate it directly to a familiar one, such as sending postal mail, they are able to accomplish their goals efficiently and quickly. There were other discoveries and recommendations. Often, older users have difficulty assessing the functionality of a button. The concept of using clear, descriptive language to define a function seems like an intuitive idea, but when it comes to software interfaces this is often overlooked. Clickable text is a slightly debatable feature of "SilverMail". While it does give the user a greater opportunity for success, it also increases the complexity of the interface and may cause confusion. Dialog boxes were part of the original design of "SilverMail." After usability testing was completed, they were eliminated. They did not clarify the function; instead, they created confusion and frustration. Many standard GUI controls were required in "SilverMail." Some of these controls were found to be unsatisfactory for older users. Often they are not very intuitive, requiring some level of prior computer knowledge to use them effectively. One example is the scrollbar. The design of this feature often caused the older users a great deal of frustration. Results of this research provide an increased understanding of the technology needs of older users, specifically when using an e-mail client. However, some of the findings, particularly those related to the suitability of accepted GUI controls, are applicable to any age user. This research also highlighted the importance of incorporating the user in the design process. REFERENCES  Hawthorn, D. Possible implications of ageing for interface designers.