Monday, November 11, 2013

Life: Designing Graphical Interfaces for Seniors and Understanding Their Obstacles

Although there were few lessons that my parents can teach each year, I still learn many things from them without them tell me their experience. One of those things is technology. I'm in a world where we want things smaller, more portable, sleeker, cheaper, etc., my parents' generation complain more and more after each "upgrade" in their lives.

They eventually adopt but not because they really want to but more that they are forced to. At least with hardware, it is easier for them to see that things have changed. But with software moving more agilely, I am burdened more and more on explaining why certain things are happening. For some reason, it is harder to explain something that has changed in software. They are used to change, but sometimes the way software changes, changes.

For example, my mom just complained about the recent change in Yahoo! mail. To me it looks nice and a smooth interface. But to her, the problem was that she could not read the email as well as she used to. The font is thinner, the background color is a medium blue which made it more difficult for her to read. This was more difficult for me to understand because there was no problems for me to read what she was pointing at.

Surprisingly, I thought it would have been easy to change the colors but it did take me a few minutes that there is no configurations to do that. The way you have to change it is to change the theme. There was also another option which is to return back to basic mode, but there is no way my parents would know to do that. I do not regularly use Yahoo! mail so it was difficult for me to know too since I did not really know what it used to look like.

Because the changes are agile, my mom had an earful from me on trying to figure what she did to make the changes. To my embarrassment, I did not consider that the software made the changes on their own (of course, I wish she could explain problems better than "it is harder to read now" then repeating it as if the tone can explain the problem better).

The hardest part is when they ask why? How do I answer that within five minutes to someone who has practically zero interest in programming except that her son gets paid doing it? Either way, I tried and she will likely forget by the next time we have this conversation but at least the result is better than just saying that she won't understand. Who knows... maybe one day all the conversations will just click together (my hopeful thinking).

While on this topic, this makes it more complex for designers to consider all the demographics. Of course, time to market will dictate that you target your main audience. But certain things like the Affordable Healthcare (Obamacare) website could be geared to be more friendly towards seniors and/or non-English speaking citizens. Although I like to see more things on the screen (which is usually accomplished by having smaller text), I can survive reading bigger fonts and scroll a little more.

Actually if there was an example to provide, the older generation seems to love those chain mails with power points: huge fonts, each slide is very brief, very simple instructions (if it exists), and easy to use. Even my mom understands the jokes (some of them I was surprised that she even understood). They do not even seem to mind that some of the decks are 20 to 50 slides (although I do not recommend the length, but if necessary they prefer more brief messages than a short blurb).

In that in mind, one of the features I really like is the browser's ability to zoom. This seems to solve a lot of problems even with older coworkers. Although when screen-sharing, this becomes a little dicier depending on who and how many people are on the bridge. A presentation changes quite dramatically when you are comparing different options on a single slide as opposed to multiple slides. I think this adds unnecessary stress on the presenter but one that cannot be avoided at this time especially when the higher up the ladder you go, the older they get (usually).

Fortunately, I have not (at least to my knowledge) had a "senior" moment yet. But someday, I will also be in the same boat and hopefully by that point software development would have grown to already consider these factors so that I wouldn't even realize that I am getting older (one dares to dream).