Web Usability and Age Thomas S. Tullis (firstname.lastname@example.org) Ann Chadwick-Dias (email@example.com) Human Interface Design Department, Fidelity Investments Materials for AARP Panel: Tyranny of the Tiny Type March 4, 2003
Research on Web Usability & Age • Our overall goal is to improve the usability of Fidelity’s web sites for users of all ages. • Some specific questions we have been studying over the past year: • Does age affect how users interact with web sites? • Is this independent of web experience? • Does age affect users’ subjective reactions to web sites, such as their level of trust in financial web sites? • What design factors improve usability and subjective reactions for different age groups?
Why Are We Studying This? • Increasing number of older adults in the US, as shown by the 2000 census. • According to the Administration on Aging (2001), there are an estimated 4.2 million Internet users over the age of 65 in the United States. • As older users are increasingly exposed to technology, understanding their unique requirements will become paramount in the design of human interfaces. • In short, older adults are a very important group for our company, and we want to provide them with the best possible service.
Overview of Our Studies • Study 1: • Learn whether there are differences in how users of various ages interact with a web site, and whether text size has an effect on usability. • Study 2: • Redesigned the prototype to address specific usability problems encountered by older users in Study 1. • Study 3 (still underway): • Confirm some of the earlier findings with a wide variety of live financial services sites. • Investigate subjective factors, such as trust.
Common Approaches– All Studies • Used external participants of varying ages: • Not Fidelity employees or current customers. • Tried to control for web/PC experience across ages. • All studies were conducted in our Usability Labs in Boston. • All studies involved asking the participants to perform representative tasks. • Displayed sites in 800x600 resolution on a 17-inch monitor using Microsoft® Internet Explorer® version 6.0. • Data collected: Subjective ratings, task duration, task success, click data, and extensive observations.
Studies 1 & 2: Overall Conclusions • Even when level of PC/Web experience is controlled, older adults experience more usability issues on the web than younger adults. • When specific design modifications were made to accommodate the unique needs of older adults, the modifications improved usability for all users, with equal effect. • But we still did not “close the usability gap” between younger and older users.
Lesson 1: Reading • Older adults tend to read most of the text on a page. • Design Implications: • Reduce the amount of text on each page while conveying the required information and not compromising the effectiveness of instructional text. • Be as concise as possible when providing instructions.
Lesson 2: “Cautious Clicking” • Older users tend to be more cautious in everything they do on the web, including clicking on links. • Design Implications: • Use action-word links– links that clearly explain what will happen when the user clicks the link. • The more clear the resulting action for the link, the more likely older users will click it (and the faster they will click it).
Lesson 3: Larger Text • Even though it may not significantly improve overall performance, older users prefer larger text. • Design implications: • Use a “medium-sized” default font. • Provide an obvious way for older users to increase text size, like a visible button. • Use “scalable fonts” or fonts that will allow the user to increase and decrease text size using the browser functions (View > Text Size > Larger).
Lesson 4: Links • Older users are more likely to click objects that look “clickable”, including bullets, headings, etc. • Older adults have difficulty clicking small text links. • Design Implications: • Use an obvious and consistent method of displaying text links, like blue underlining with red on mouseover. • Use image-based links that provide a larger target area for the user to click. • Increase redundancy in links (making text AND bullets links) to increase the chances that older users will successfully reach their target.
Lesson 5: Confidence & Anxiety • Numerous experiential differences contribute to older users’ overall level of confidence and anxiety in using the web. • The more success older users experience with a particular site, the higher their confidence level will become, and the lower their overall anxiety. • Design Implications: • Keep your design simple and stable. Too many changes in the design over a short period of time will force the older users to re-learn how to work with the site.
Lesson 6: Terminology • Older users often do not understand terms that younger users consider common knowledge. • Some of these terms include Back (or go Back), link (click the link), URL, menu bar, toolbar, IM, minimize, Login, and home. • Design Implications: • Do not use web or other technology-related terms without defining them. • Keep terminology as simple as possible throughout your site.
Lesson 7: Consider Disabilities • As people age, they have an increased likelihood of disabilities, including visual (myopia, cataracts, etc.), fine motor (tremors in hands), muscular/skeletal (bone disease like arthritis), and cognitive (short-term memory decreases). • Design Implications: • Review the W3C’s Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. This provides recommendations for supporting assistive technologies and designing for users with disabilities.
Lesson 8: Too Much Detail • Older users have difficulty working with pages that are dense or have too much detail. • Design Implications: • Keep pages as simple as possible so that older users do not encounter “information overload.” • Provide concise instructional text and break information up into separate pages if necessary, so that no one page presents too much information or requires users to remember too much.
Conclusions: Studies 1 and 2 • Older adults probably experience lower usability because of a myriad of contributing factors, including site design factors, as well as social, cultural, cognitive, psychological, and physical factors, and overall differences in life experience. • Site design modifications that help older users will often help younger users too. • Additional research needs to be conducted to learn more about how to design interfaces to better meet the needs of older users.
What’s Next? • Finish this third study! • Determine which specific site design features impact subjective reactions such as trust and whether this differs by age. • Consider multiple “life-stage-based” designs for web sites (based on what we learn in the current study). • Test different age groups on different prototypes. Ultimately learn how to design web sites to optimize the experience for users of all ages.