A few months ago, I conducted a usability test of the website OperationSmile.org with my 77-year-old grandfather and my 44-year-old mother. While my mother seemed to have no trouble navigating and performing the tasks asked of her, my grandfather struggled immensely. When I looked at the site, I agreed that it wasn’t the most usable, despite not holding large quantities of content. But, it was intuitive enough for me to navigate around it, but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for my grandfather and wonder how difficult it must be for him to use the Internet not having “grown up with it”. (My family actually didn’t get our first home computer until 1999; I was in 6th grade).
My grandfather has been sitting on his city’s council since I was a little girl. His office is littered with papers and books, typical of any retired professional. The city council gave every member an iPad to ‘help’ make note-taking, communication, and productivity easier. After observing my grandfather’s experience on the OperationSmile.org website, I assume that it has become a hindrance rather than an aid.
After that moment of deep empathy I felt for my grandfather, I took some time to reflect on that experience. I thought about how I perceive design and how it may, and does, differ from others’ own perceptions. I knew then that I wanted to design to make peoples lives better.
The iPad, as a tool, is an enrichment to daily lives of people and in the business world. There’s no reason people should be scared of it; my grandfather never uses it. It just sits there, looking at me, telling me to pick it up and play with… I look back at it, secretly wanting to take it home with me… (someday I’ll be able to justify spending money on anything but gas and diapers…) I imagine that these devices and website interfaces look horribly foreign to some users, like they just walked into Chinatown from rural Wisconsin.
How do we consider designing user interfaces for the elderly? I imagine & hope that my grandfather will be on his city council for more years to come, as well as still playing his solitaire, and maybe even opening up to the idea of using his iPad and computer for other ways of entertainment and learning. I just can’t help but feel a sense of guilt for older generations; like we younger folks have a “leg up” on them and they’re just falling behind. I know that’s not true– they have the wisdom of life that one can only require through years, not an iPad or a high-tech GPS system. As a tribute to our mothers, fathers, grandfathers, and grandmothers, web designers should probably hook up with a UX designer and design something to make their lives a little better. That’s my pursuit: life made better by design. That’s what I breathe.