June 14, 2022

UX Design for Seniors




Poor vision was a common complaint among seniors in all three rounds of our research. Some seniors in our studies modified the display settings of laptop computers and mobile devices to increase the contrast on screen and the size of the text shown. Others adapted their behavior, moving screens closer to their eyes so that they could see what was displayed.


Several study participants became uncomfortable using a trackpad on a laptop due to arthritis or joint pain in their hands. One study participant noted that she preferred to browse the internet on her iPad because gestures on a touchscreen were more comfortable for her joints than a keyboard and mouse.


We recommend that designs for all users promote recognition over recall whenever possible. For seniors, designing for recognition rather than recall is particularly important. Approximately 40% of people over 65 have some type of age-related memory impairment. Several seniors in our study described themselves as forgetful and forgetting information was a common cause of task failure. In several instances, seniors:

  • forgot where they had previously navigated to or what they had previously clicked on and revisited those areas and pages again;
  • had trouble making comparisons, especially when the information they needed was on more than one page; and
  • didn’t remember a previously fruitless search query and repeated the same search query.

Information Processing

Seniors have trouble encoding and retrieving information from their memory systems, which reduces the speed in which they can process information. They also have trouble making decisions and often take longer to do so.

In general, seniors:

  • processed information more slowly than younger users did,
  • took longer to read and intake information, and
  • took longer to make decisions about where to navigate.

Long, dense pages of content, especially when comparing products or offerings, as well as convoluted navigation systems seemed to slow older users down.


Readability and Clickability

Designs that target seniors should use at least 12-point fonts as the default. And all designs, whether or not they specifically target seniors, should let users increase text size as desired—especially if the site opts for a smaller default font size.

For links and interactive elements, large text is especially important for two main reasons:

  1. to ensure readability of these essential design components, and
  2. to make them more prominent targets for clicking.

Dropdown menus and other moving interface elements cause problems for seniors who are not always steady with the mouse. On mobile, large touch targets helped seniors accomplish their goals on different apps.

Supportive and Forgiving Design

  • Define different colors to clearly distinguish between visited and unvisited links, seniors easily lose track of where they have been.
  • Forgive simple query typos and hyphens or parentheses in a telephone or credit card number.
  • With error handling: focus on the error, explain it clearly, and make it as easy as possible to fix.
  • Provide voice input (a highly supportive feature for older users who are often more comfortable speaking than typing)


Although technology changes quickly, the human mind evolves slowly, but we have observed some notable shifts in how seniors interact with digital products. User experience professionals should keep these changes in mind when designing for seniors.

New Devices Offer Flexibility

  • Several seniors were more comfortable using tablets than desktop computers.
  • Seniors found smart device voice control functionality to be especially convenient.
  • Many seniors in our study used many different devices to access the internet. But even those seniors who adopted new, portable digital devices still used home computers for many tasks.

Demographic Changes

Seniors today are more comfortable with digital products than they have been in years past. They are more likely to adapt their behavior to avoid what they dislike online.

Evolving and Rising Expectations

Seniors’ expectations of digital products are increasing over time. Many seniors expected that content would be personalized to their interests: one senior said that sites needed to show her relevant content immediately because “if they can catch my interest right away then fine, I’ll stay – but if not I’m gone!”

Many older adults expressed specific concerns about data privacy online. Seniors were reluctant to trust companies that got “greedy” about data, particularly location and purchasing history.


Here are some of the main activities seniors do online:

  • Health
  • Travel
  • Volunteering
  • Hobbies
  • News
  • Finance
  • Shopping
  • Social


Here are the types of content and common activities seniors access online:

  • Health-related Information
  • Travel
  • Hobbies and Activities
  • News
  • Bank Online/Invest
  • Shop (and Sell)
  • Keep in Touch with People


Here are the types of content and common activities seniors access on smartphones:

  • Communication and Social Connection
  • Games and Entertainment
  • Hobbies and Leisure
  • Calendar, Maps and Other Utilities


General Interaction

  1. Prioritize accessibility and readability.
  2. Optimize your product for discoverability through common search channels.
  3. Design for flexibility of display with responsive layouts.
  4. Support a variety of user inputs. Prioritize accepting voice input for simple tasks.
  5. Allow users to view, understand and control the data that they share.

Content Strategy

  1. Avoid patronizing language when planning content to include on your site.
  2. Create content for a broad range of interests. Do not assume that all seniors are interested in the same or limited topics.
  3. When creating content, write in a style that is direct and emphasizes facts.
  4. Arrange content by topic, not by ages or demographic characteristics.
  5. Separate information that is directed at a particular professional audience from information directed at a more general audience and label the professional information as such.
  6. Present complex information in a way that is easy to understand. Write at the 8th grade reading level or lower.
  7. If using technology-related terms, consider defining them in place. Avoid using them if they are not necessary.
  8. Use descriptive terms, not marketing terms, for products, descriptions, and links.

Page Layout

  1. Prioritize information on the page. Focus on common tasks and answering frequently asked questions.
  2. Lead with information-carrying words for all page elements, including headings, sub-headings, summaries, links and bulleted lists.
  3. Present information in an easy-to-scan format. Divide information into chunks of content labeled with clear headings and descriptions.
  4. Use information-layering techniques to present long or complex content.
  5. Make it easy for users to compare offerings or information without excessive scrolling.
  6. Design layouts that invite scrolling by avoiding the “illusion of completeness.”
  7. When appropriate, use tables to present information. Take advantage of the relationship between headings, columns, and rows.
  8. If presenting information in a table, use proper formatting to make it scannable. Ensure that headings, in the top row(s) or left-side column(s), display differently from the text in cells.
  9. Place links to related information in close proximity but outside of the body of main page content.

Information Presentation

  1. Ensure font size is at least 12 points by default on desktop and at least 16 points on mobile.
  2. Offer a button to increase text size.
  3. Ensure that there is strong contrast between the text color and the background color.
  4. Use graphics to aid comprehension. Supplement text with visual elements but do not replace text entirely.
  5. Always use clear, descriptive text links. Avoid presenting image-only links.
  6. Display words horizontally.
  7. Offer PDF documents for materials that should be printed and read. Clearly label PDF links as such and open them in a new window.

Error Messages

  1. Present error messages in direct, descriptive and non-threatening language.
  2. Describe the actions that users can take to correct the error.
  3. When error messages are triggered by interactive elements, place error messages in close proximity to the element.

Personalization and Customization

  1. Present personalized content when users are likely to expect it.
  2. Provide a clear explanation of why personalized content is being presented.
  3. Offer users the ability to control and opt out of personalized sections of content.

Social Media

  1. Provide text labels to distinguish following and sharing actions on social media.
  2. Post clear, concise and engaging content on social media.
  3. Separate company-created posts from sponsored social media content.


  1. Adhere to common navigation design conventions that are appropriate to the device being used.
  2. Use a clear navigational structure with mutually exclusive categories.
  3. If opening menus on hover, close them when users move the cursor off of the menu. Delay the closing of the menu to ensure that the action is deliberate.
  4. Thoroughly test the timing of opening menus and other UI elements on hover, tap, or activation.
  5. Create clear and descriptive categories and links for all items in a navigation interface. Avoid using branded language and jargon in menus.
  6. Use signposts (such as page titles and breadcrumbs) to help users understand where they are and where they can go.
  7. On desktop, add a link called Home or <Company Name> Home on all pages, except the homepage. Also, ensure that the company logo links to the homepage.
  8. Be mindful of major navigational redesigns.
  9. Visually differentiate interactive elements from static elements.
  10. Set a consistent style for constructive actions compared to destructive actions.
  11. Always change a link’s color after a user visits it, especially in navigational elements and menus.
  12. Create large interactive targets with adequate spacing around the target.
  13. When graphical elements appear close to a text link, make those elements part of the working link.


  1. Use images that add value and contain informative content.
  2. Ensure images are easy to see.


  1. Allow users to pause, play, and control the volume for all video content. Display controls clearly and prominently.
  2. Provide closed captioning and a transcript for videos.
  3. Let users opt out of any playlists, previews or any type of video content intended to extend a viewing session.


  1. Avoid overly distracting advertisements.
  2. If video advertisements are used, offer controls to pause the video and mute the sound.
  3. Use understandable, visible, large click targets for the Close action in advertisements.
  4. Promotions created by the organization itself should match the site’s style. Paid advertisements for outside organizations should be designed to look like advertisements, not site content.

Search Field

  1. Follow design conventions when presenting a search field. Place the search function in an easily recognizable location appropriate to the device being used.
  2. Provide a search box that allows at least 18 characters to be visible at any given time.
  3. Display search query text in a large font and ensure proper contrast between text color and background color.
  4. Consider using search suggestions for popular search queries.

Search Results

  1. Create a thorough index and cross-reference terms an average person might search for.
  2. Return relevant and appropriate results for search queries.
  3. Be forgiving of typos and provide query suggestions on search results pages.
  4. Clearly differentiate paid results or listings from organic results.
  5. Ensure that several search results are visible on the search engine results page without having to scroll.
  6. Clearly repeat the user’s query.

Frustrations of Shopping Online

  1. When showing pictures of items, ensure that they are clear and large enough to be legible and zoomable.
  2. If senior citizen discounts are offered, they should be advertised, thoroughly described, and easy to take advantage of.
  3. Make registration or sign-in optional.
  4. Clearly differentiate the actions and controls for creating a new account, signing in with an existing account, and continuing as a guest.
  5. Explicitly describe the benefits of signing in (or creating an account) versus checking out at as guest.


  1. Ask for only necessary information.
  2. Suggest likely options and use predictive text with common responses.
  3. Expose required fields by default.
  4. Correct common misspellings, offer autocomplete when relevant and direct users on how to correct errors.
  5. When possible, limit the use of pull-down menus and scrolling lists.
  6. Accept dashes, hyphens, and spaces as part of the string of credit card numbers.
  7. If you must ask for the users’ occupation, be sure to offer a choice for retired and deal with the entry intelligently on the backend.
  8. Do not ask users to fill in a salutation in the order form. If you must collect this information, offer a dropdown list of choices.
  9. Avoid using a Reset button in most forms.

Customer Support

  1. Provide easy-to-find contact information.
  2. Consider providing online chat options. If offering online chat, do not automatically pop up the feature. Instead, make the chat feature easy to notice and easy to dismiss.
  3. If online chat is offered, ensure that any preliminary information provided by the user (name, reason for chatting) is carried over to the live chat.

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