Many developers base their GUI design and implementation on two types of people. The first is the tech generation. They’re tech-savvy and connected to their gadgets pretty much constantly. They adapt to new technologies and understand how to navigate through systems with relative ease.
The second type is the older generation. These people are presumed to be tech-illiterate. They don’t understand how to use technology at all — and they may lack the built-in skills to learn how to use technology.
Developers tend to focus their efforts on younger audiences when developing menus and systems used in equipment and hardware such as refrigerators, exercise machines, etc. Their justification rests in a perceived stubbornness in older customers. These people will never know how to use technology, so why develop anything for them at all?
To put it bluntly, developers need to get over this prejudice when it comes to their older audiences.
Although this is a fairly common line of thinking, this polarizing perspective on demographics serves no practical purpose. Occasionally, when developers label their UI design as “young people friendly”, what they really mean to say is “overly complex and non-intuitive”, giving developers an excuse to spend less time making their GUIs more user-friendly.
The goal of GUI design within embedded systems and hardware should never rest in unnecessary complexity. It’s time for developers and designers to get over the so-called generation gap and get back to basics with their GUIs.
Tips for Generation-Free UIs
Beyond the basic tech barrier presumption, there are still obvious differences between older and younger adults. Developers can use these tips to ensure that their UI designs are accessible and useful for any age level.
Faster is Better
Speed is the name of the game on both sides of the generation gap. Younger users don’t want to waste time sorting through options to get what they want or need. Older users may not have the patience to go through a complex GUI, either. The common goal here is to keep the menu design aligned around quickly giving users what they need.
Improving the speed of menu access also boils down to simplicity. The fewer complexities users have in front of them, the faster they’ll find what they need.
Accessibility: A Fundamental Design Component
Sometimes basic, straightforward accessibility options can address problems older users may face. For instance, adding in a simple way to increase font size in the menus could make the text more visible to some people.
These types of additional options in design shouldn’t be implied or regarded as a secondary feature set. Instead, accessibility should stand as a primary component from beginning-to-end design. This focus will ensure the end result will be usable for people of all ages.
Make the GUI ‘Fear-Free’
While younger people tend to be more fearless, the older generation is a bit more tentative regarding technology. Older users often remain resistant to technology because they fear they will break or damage it accidentally.
The solution to this problem is to create a ‘fear-free’ interface. This relates directly to the simple approachability and function-first design stance. Give users the options they need upfront, and with as little work as possible. And keep everything straightforward so older users don’t have to feel afraid to touch it and “mess it up.”
When these types of design principles are applied throughout the development process, a better-designed GUI is the result. No matter what hardware the system operates, greater simplicity and user-friendly design always makes it a better experience for the customer. And this type of satisfaction transcends far beyond any type of age gap.