Mobile app design tips for all generations
|Janani Vasudev in iOS Thursday, July 12, 2018|
Mobile app design is a challenge when it comes to communicating a similar user experience across generational gaps. Here are some tips for you to navigate those waters effectively.
The way we use technology to communicate varies drastically based on age, perhaps most conspicuously within family circles. Communication between a brother and sister, or another generational peer, is typically a much more fluid experience than with a parent, grandparent or distant relative. While younger generations have commonly adopted social media platforms to stay connected, technological accessibility often leaves older generations out of the loop. As our ecosystem of communication technologies grows more diverse, how can we look to develop experiences that are easy for older, in some cases less technologically-savvy generations to adopt, while still keeping younger, digital natives engaged?
When conceptualizing a communication platform that is accessible across the generational divide, email and texting are the most familiar, and respectively accessible formats. The paradigm for texting applications is primarily designed for a near-synchronous communication - most conversations happen in real time, with the 21st Century social contract demanding a timely response. Email is on the other end of the spectrum, where delayed responses are somewhat more acceptable. In the context of family communication, especially, the mandate for timely email correspondence is more relaxed. A platform that prioritizes access via these familiar channels will establish a happy medium, a family communication app that is more accessible than email but without texting’s expectation of instant response.
A mobile solution is practically non-negotiable
Cross-platform applications are ideal, but reliance on and comfort with mobile platforms are one of the most bankable common generational denominators. When developing mobile software for family communication, it’s important to include easily-identifiable and passive cues, including prompts to log on, reminders to check in and the ability to schedule messages with relative ease. Reminders reinforce adoption by combatting the “forget it” factor, and the ability to curate messages that are delivered periodically also serves as a nudge to engage with family. With robust and clear notification features, a platform can leverage the immediacy of texting against the ease and relaxed pace of email. It’s a tricky brew, but there are a few critical elements that can increase the chance of user adoption:
App layout & graphics
When designing an app for use across generations, it’s crucial that a UI be clear and simple for all users, without appearing ageist or patronizing. Some apps built for older demographics include skeuomorphic references to walking sticks, grandfather clocks, and other items associated with age in the UI. Research shows that seniors don’t want to feel the stigma associated with old age, and when designing an app for all members of the family, consciously avoiding those references can be beneficial. Addressing the needs of all users means creating an interface that feels vibrant and intuitive, and that eschews the typical “hand-holding” instinct could patronize older users and alienate younger ones.
Mobile nav transition and flow
Organization is also a central concern when designing an effective user interface. A clear, easy-to-navigate homepage with effortless transitions to other pages minimizes confusion and optimizes the experience. For messaging, a contact screen should display all contacts in one single place, organized by the most recent message. This screen should also include alerts and the option to add additional contacts. When a new notification or alert hits, consistent colors and images can help create a visual language without too steep a learning curve. Including the option to send multimedia messages can also enhance the user’s experience, adds a deeper sense of connection to family members and really sells the value proposition of digital communications. Who wouldn’t love cute videos of their grandkids?
Setup and personalization
Personalization features, including a profile, contact information, and images, increase a sense of ownership and commitment to a platform. Many apps include integration with platforms like Facebook and Twitter, to streamline the process, but supplementing those integration features with standalone profile creation can minimize a barrier to adoption.
Creating a UI/UX that is easy to adopt while making users feel alive and empowered enhances experiences and makes them more likely to utilize the platform. As with any piece of software, the more friction, the less likely target audiences will utilize the application. For younger generations, this means keeping it quick and easy. For older generations, it means avoiding confusion and making the experience feel as natural as possible. If the interface is clean and the interactions natural, it will be invisible, and serve as a showcase for the rich social engagements it enables.
App testing with your targets
Regardless of which demographic a product is designed for, generational or otherwise, members of that audience must be present throughout the design phase. If a product is designed for older generations, it is important to keep them involved in the pilot process to identify challenges, areas of success and any red flags that a younger generation might not notice in the pilot stage.
A study from Pew Research Center found a steady increase in social media use in older generations over the last few years, with the strongest upticks starting in 2010. Forty-one percent of adults 65 and older are on Facebook, with platforms such as Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter showing lower traction. Since regular social media users often find it easier to adapt to new platforms, it’s easy to imagine that testing a new application with an older generation will come with challenges others may not easily identify, such as navigation issues that may otherwise seem obvious. It’s critical to take this feedback seriously and address before launch. If this step is overlooked, you’re certain to find yourself with a product that is designed perfectly for one set of users while isolating the other.
Many have attempted the monumental challenge of bridging the generational communication gap, with varying levels of success. However, there’s still a massive opportunity for a savvy newcomer to create a solution that addresses user needs across a gulf of time, experience, and perspective. By shedding preconceptions, listening to users, and eliminating friction, we’ll move closer to a solution that not only works but has true staying power.
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