Make the font larger:
Designing for the Active Ager audience

by Chris Brown

If you were designing a website for an active ager, how large would you make the font? Is 18 pixels large enough? What about 28 pixels? What would the ideal size be?

When it comes to discussing design for an aging population, conversations like this tend to drift towards the limitations that come with aging. These ‘design for seniors’ discussions typically touch on issues affecting vision and hearing, motor control, memory and cognition.

While there’s no denying that natural changes affect a person’s body as they age, putting too much emphasis on these limitations when designing for the Active Aging population could put you at risk of alienating some of the very people you are trying to reach.

We see some examples of this in the industrial design space.  For instance, let’s take a look at the mobile phone industry and how two different manufacturers have approached the aging population.

The JitterBug phone is a cell phone that was designed specifically for seniors. There is something very striking about the design of the phone itself and the marketing materials used to promote it. The JitterBug seems to treat this population as being defined by its limitations. Its marketing seems to sell the phone based on what’s not included vs. what is.

“It’s not overloaded with all of the newest ‘technology’ and it’s not difficult to use. There’s no swiping and tapping on the screen, no ‘app store’ and no confusing navigation.”

The Jitterbug Phone

Above: The Jitterbug Flip, a big-button basic cell phone for seniors.

The Active Agers of today have been on the forefront of many technological breakthroughs over the past 50+ years, including the advent of cellular technology, the proliferation of the internet, mobile computing and more. It’s shocking to assume that this group would be uninterested in new technology, and would actively want to dismiss services that their friends and relations are using, such as an ‘app store’. With more and more people working into their 60, 70’s and beyond, what message does a phone like this send to their colleagues and clients? Would an active, 60+ professional feel comfortable pulling out a JitterBug during his/her next business meeting?

If we compare this example to the design of an iPhone, the contrast is remarkable.

There’s no age limitation imposed on the iPhone. You could be 14 years old, or 64 years old, and not look out of place using one. While the Jitterbug was designed specifically to address the limitations certain seniors have, the iPhone was designed to be accessible to a wide consumer market.

They achieve this through updates and revisions to the phone’s software and operating system. If you need larger font sizes on the phone you can customize them in the operating system for something more comfortable. Instead of designing a limited experience, the Apple designers focused their efforts on making the phone’s unique experience accessible to all. In fact, there are a number of ways Apple and Android phones enable users to change the experience based on their preferences or needs. The key is, the user has control.

As an agency that focuses on the Active Aging demographic we believe there is great value for brands in highlighting examples of inclusive/accessible design. By focusing too much on the limitations of aging, we risk alienating a large and affluent generation of consumers, the Active Agers, who are not defined by the traditional view of aging.

It is with this inclusiveness in mind that we developed a design manifesto that would help guide our own design process at Age of Majority.

For us, design is a process.

Design, at its core, is about conveying ideas, experiences and meaning. At Age of Majority we look at design through the lens of ‘what problems are we trying to solve?’

For us design is about that journey. We don’t always know where we will end up at the start, but through our process we know that we will arrive at a solution that creates value for those involved.

We see our clients as partners in that journey, and as such we want to share our design manifesto publicly, so our partners know how we view and approach design. This manifesto is a distillation of our beliefs, attitudes and approach to design for the Active Ager.

If you would like to talk to us about how your own marketing and promotional materials could be updated/adapted to better fit the Active Aging market, please contact us.

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Jeff Weiss
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jeff@ageofmajority.com
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