The secret of designing websites for older users

Every website visitor is different. They have different goals, ideas, levels of expertise and opinions on what they find. One such demographic above all others is growing in confidence, and that is the older web user, or “silver surfer.”

The older generation took much longer to accept the internet as somewhere they would want to go, but now they have there’s no stopping them. Considering the older user is a useful exercise when designing websites that targets the older generation. There are five secrets to designing websites for older users, and we’re going to discuss them here.

Make it obvious what is clickable

Clearly distinguishing what is a clickable button or link and what is not goes a long way to avoiding confusion. It is a rule of web design that spans the entire genre, but one too many designers seem to forget. Using simple elements like cursor changes over links, or clickable buttons that change color make it obvious to a user what to click.

Use buttons over dropdowns

Menus and navigation is a notorious hurdles for older surfers. Some dropdown menus need a very precise and steady hand to make them function properly, so it’s best to avoid them if you’re targeting older users. Use buttons wherever possible, or use side navigation that doesn’t need a dropdown.

Use a shallow hierarchy

While you don’t need to be old to get lost in some websites, you need to bear it in mind when designing an effective site. Keep the hierarchy logical and ensure your visitors can find what they are looking for within a few clicks. Also keep the path clear of distractions such as flashing banners.

Make a prominent sitemap

For the most part, sitemaps are ignored by the majority of users. When targeting older surfers, they become much more relevant. Make any sitemap you use prominent and obvious so your audience can always find what they are looking for.

Keep the language straightforward

While we aren’t saying older people are stupid, far from it, many will not have a grasp of tech jargon, txt spk, or slang. Keep the language simple, descriptive and unambiguous. Be honest and explain everything clearly without being condescending.

Appear trustworthy

The internet is a mystery to many older surfers, meaning they are naturally cautious when using it. Appearing trustworthy goes some way to alleviating that fear. If your site collects data, tell the visitor. If it involves filling in a form, tell them how you look after that information. If they are buying something, tell them how you protect that transaction.

Designing websites for older users is much like making one for any audience. You need to research them, explore how they use the net, how they use websites and what they expect to see. Incorporating all that into your design ensures that although the website is original, it’s familiar enough that they feel comfortable using it.

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