The internet became mainstream in the 1990s. So what? Well, it means that only people aged 31 and under are genuine digital natives, born into a world where there was an online, as well as an offline, existence. While people up to the age of 40 might rightly argue that their formative years were still spent waiting for dial-up to connect, those over 50 were into adulthood when navigating websites became a thing.
The issue of native and non-native becomes an issue when you put some key facts together. Fact 1: the average age of a web developer in the US is 29. Fact 2: Google offers answers to the question “Is 30 too old to become a web designer?” Fact 3: People over 50 spend almost £15 billion on internet shopping.
In short, web developers are young, and huge spenders on eCommerce sites are not as young. Therefore, there is an experience and mindset disconnect between the designer and the audience. Here we offer some crucial advice to help the developer attract some of that wealth generation for their clients.
As we grow older, our vision changes. We see at our best at the age of 30 and post-40 our sight declines significantly. Presbyopia, or age-related long-sightedness, is likely after 40 and results in all those middle-aged people extending arms to read small text on labels. It is also common for people to become less sensitive and perceptive to colour, making it challenging to discerning similar coloured text from the background.
There are some obvious takeaways from this for web developers. The size of the font could be a barrier to your audience reading your copy. Advice stands that a size 12 font or above is suitable. Also, when designing the colour palette for your website, having a significant contrast between the background and the text, using fewer images to act as a background to copy than you normally might. Using a white background and black text makes your site accessible to people with dyslexia, who can use coloured glasses with your palette.
Audio on websites offers another dimension of experience, especially with the introduction of video. However, our hearing declines significantly after our 50th birthday and more than 50% of people over 60 experience some degree of hearing loss, even deafness. Therefore, getting the sound right on your website is going to be one of those essentials.
Your first task will remove avoidable background noise, which will likely distract and disturb your user. Second, you will need to provide closed caption subtitles on your videos. There are software packages that can do this automatically and even on live streams, though they vary in quality.
Another feature you might offer is a transcript, especially with key explainer videos. The information in the subtitles may take too long to read and process, so a transcript will allow the user to seek out crucial details later.
In our later years, our fine motor control can also lessen, as can our hand-eye coordination. As many users will be accessing web content via a smart device, the ability to hit a spot on the screen becomes a challenge. Imagine on top the person struggling with arthritis or rheumatism in their hands, and then consider how to make their experience with your website the best it can be. By serving these people, you capture everyone who is seeking to navigate through your site.
The obvious solution to decreasing fine motor control is more white space around the links. Equally, you could use clickable buttons as opposed to word-based hyperlinks.
One of the biggest differences between a digital native and a non-native is the mindset. People who have lived with the constant evolution of the internet expect change. They have a mindset that accepts innovation. However, when the whole idea of the online world is a challenge itself, you need the rules to be predictable and the changes to navigation unthreatening. It is not a matter of refusing to move with the times and more a reluctance to keep making mistakes. The drop out rates from tasks online for people over 50 is 50% higher.
The answer for web developers is to keep to the standard rules of website navigation that are accepted. A navigation bar and a menu system, avoiding flashy features like an automated carousel that can fluster novice users.
Delivering for all
A lot of these assumptions are based on statistics about the rate of decline and generalisations about mindset. Not all people over 50 are going to need you to offer this level of accessibility. However, a lot of will, and catering for these people will not preclude anyone else using your site. You are doing what you can to open your door to more potential clients.