Designing and Evaluating Web Interaction for Older Users

Designing and Evaluating Web Interaction for Older Users

Gabriella Spinelli (Brunel University, UK) and Seema Jain (Brunel University, UK and Age UK, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5129-6.ch011


With the unprecedented changes in demographic structure, the ageing population is becoming a more powerful and attractive audience for Web-based services. To provide this group with satisfying user experiences, it is necessary to understand the impact that the ageing process has on abilities, needs, and expectations. While researchers and practitioners can apply inclusive design and methods to centre the development of Internet-based services around lifestyle and behaviours of the ageing population, it is also important to consider what innovations can be introduced to online services to make them more attractive and sustainably adopted among older people. The chapter is centred on issues affecting the online experience of users in later life: physical and cognitive abilities, aspirations, and constraints. It then provides an overview of the methods inspired by User-Centred Design. Finally, it considers challenges that go beyond the remit of design but still powerfully affect the Web experience of older users.
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The UK’s population of the over 50’s is projected to increase by 1.7 million over the next five years (ONS, 2012). With such growth, the commercial targeting of this age group has consequently increased (Coleman, 2004). The Internet and digital technologies are a huge part of most people’s lives, with companies and the government moving more of their services online to reach a greater number of people and reducing costs. Choudrie, Weerakkody and Jones (2005) explain that governments all over the world are aiming to make public sector services and products available online. Whist moving services online can be considered a positive transition, it is also imperative to understand that access to the Internet is not universally available throughout the UK, both for the unavailability of fast internet connection in rural areas, the unfamiliarity with online services among certain social groups and the, although declining, cost of PCs. The Office of National Statistics –ONS- illustrates that socioeconomic background, geographical location, age and gender characteristics are all determinants of Internet access (ONS, 2013). The older and disabled are identified as the groups who are less likely to have ever used the Internet, with approximately 6.3 million people in the UK aged over 55 having never used the Internet (ibid). Initiatives such as the Go On UK, aim to improve the skills of individuals, SMEs and charities to facilitate access to digital infrastructure and services online for all (Go On UK, 2013). It can be said that web-based services and applications are intuitive for younger users given the great exposure and familiarisation accumulated in their life-time. On the other hand, a successful user experience for the minority groups mentioned above is a challenge that needs more attention and careful planning.

To a great extend a satisfactory user experience of web-based services is determined by the usability of the designed system. A plethora of guidelines for web accessibility and usability are currently available to practitioners from bodies such as the British Standards Institute and the Web Accessibility Initiative (BSI, BS 8878.2010; WAI, 1998). One main lesson highlighted with the hope of aiding older Internet users’ online experiences is the importance of not creating an information overload for online pages (Gao, Sato, Rau and Asano, 2007; BSI, BS 8878.2010; WAI, 1998; Coleman, 2004; ONS, 2012) as this confuses and disenfranchises the users, making online satisfaction a hard goal to achieve.

Although 6.3 million people in the UK aged 55 and over have never used the Internet, the number of older people taking up the Internet has increased over the past two years (Ofcom, 2012). From 2010 to 2012, broadband take-up increased from 46 per cent to 62 per cent amongst those aged 65 to 74 and from 21 per cent to 25 per cent for those aged 75 and over (Ofcom, 2012). The increase in the up-take of broadband services with the UK older population supports the case for online and multichannel services to adopt accessibility and usability guidelines to facilitate older users’ experiences online. It is also imperative for businesses to offer online commerce channels that can attract and flexibly manage the demands and expectations of a broader user audience (Curran, Meuter, and Surprenant 2003). This, while it represents a benefit for users who can browse and shop ubiquitously, also helps the businesses in cutting down costs for physical retail outlets and personnel. Considering the rising up-take of Internet technologies and the fact that in the UK, the over 50s control approximately 80% of the country’s wealth, the silver surfers have certainly become a high priority target for many businesses (DWP, 2005). For this age group, the Internet should represent a viable channel for information, entertainment and retail.

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