Sunday, March 19, 2017

Building Good Software for the Elderly

By Alexandre Gesnot-Dimic.

In this post, I will explain the problems commonly linked to growing age and give recommendations about how to make good software for the elderly.

The senior population is forever growing, in 2002 the United States had an estimated 4.2 million Internet users over the age of 65. By 2012 this number had grown to 19 million American seniors on the Internet, a growth rate of 16% per year [4]. The number of older Americans is expected to reach around 70 million (19% of the total population) by 2030 [3], and this trend continues to 2050 where the population of Americans over 65 is projected to reach 20.2% of the total population[5].

Ageing also comes with its fair share of limitations and with the changes in demographics around the world, the issues of impairment and disability will become increasingly important.
The commonly accepted limitations that often arise during the normal ageing process are [2]:
  • Vision decline
  • Hearing loss
  • Motor skill diminishment
  • Cognitive decline

This aging society is becoming a great business opportunity since seniors are expected to do online more and more tasks that were previously paper-based such as filing tax returns, banking or interacting with their brokerage. Therefore it is important that software meets the needs of the senior population.

Some recommendations when designing interfaces to make them as usable as possible for the elderly are:
  • Using a sans-serif typeface (such as Arial, Tahoma or Verdana) [1][2]
  • Allowing enough white space to ensure an uncluttered look and putting a space between paragraphs) [1][2]
  • Using a text size of at least 12pt/16px and letting users increase text size [2][4]
  • Using a medium or bold typeface and avoiding all caps or italics [2]
  • Using a dark text against a light background and avoiding patterned backgrounds [2]
  • Using clear and easy to understand questions in forms. [2]
  • Using pictures to accompany your text [2]
  • Having closed-captioning available on your videos [2]
  • Using consistent navigation and avoiding navigation changes [1][2]
  • Avoiding dropdown menus and using instead static interface widgets [1][2]
  • Avoiding popups [2]

Additional suggestions to make the software as accommodating as possible when handling errors are:
  • Using more straightforward error messages [2]
  • Having tolerance for the format when entering phone or credit card numbers [2]
  • Being tolerant of search requests, offering suggestions for misspellings [1]
  • Using single clicks or screen taps to access information [1]
  • Treating double clicks or screen taps as single clicks.


  1. Anon. 2016. Making Your Website Senior Friendly. (July 2016). Retrieved February 12, 2017 from
  2. Arch A. and Abou-Zhara S. 2004. How Web Accessibility Guidelines Apply to Design for the Ageing. Challenges for Assistive Technology 20 (2004), 937–941.
  3. Campbell O. 2016. Designing For The Elderly: Ways Older People Use Digital Technology Differently – Smashing Magazine. (December 2016). Retrieved February 12, 2017 from
  4. Nielsen J. 2013. Usability for Senior Citizens. Retrieved February 12, 2017 from
  5. Ureel L. C. and Wallace C. 2013. Software for senior citizens: An experiential learning course in gerontology, software usability and digital literacy. 2013 IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE) (December 2013). DOI:

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