My Granny was given an iPhone for Christmas. At 92 she is probably a few years older than Apple’s average user, so I wanted to see how she was getting on...
Me: Hi Granny, how’s it going with your new iPhone?
Granny: I’m getting there, but it has been quite frustrating!
During our conversation, this feeling of frustration cropped up a lot and I was interested to find out why.
To set the scene, my Granny, while not completely new to technology (she’s been a iPad owner for a number of years now), is no whizz. She was first exposed to technology at the age of 16 when a phone was installed in her family home, albeit on a shared line. She has memories from her first job of being left alone over lunch breaks and being terrified the phone might ring in case she did something wrong.
Granny's iPhone frustrations...
Fast forward 75 years and this underlying fear of making a mistake is still alive and well. When you watch a young child engage with a smartphone, they are happy to tap around all over the screen without a care. My Granny, like many people her age, is much more cautious. Unfortunately, a lot of iPhone functionality relies on the user’s natural ability to discover how to use it, which requires the odd mistake now and again.
Granny: I'm nervous I might delete something so I won't just tap around"
This problem is compounded by a lack of consistency across app design. For each app, Granny has to learn a new process for how to use it. Click here to do that, swipe there to go back. The same actions do not have the same effect everywhere you use them, making the whole situation that much more complex (and she only uses a very small range of the apps available).
Most apps will open at the page that you left them. While I find this a useful timesaving feature, for Granny, it is completely disorientating as she is not seeing her expected ‘start point’ (i.e. the app home screen) and is unsure how to get back to it.
Granny: "It takes me longer to remember what I need to do"
The reliance on icons also causes issues. These are not always intuitive, especially for someone who does not have the years of digital indoctrination that us young’uns do.
And finally, you have the physical difficulties of being in your 90s and not being as agile as you once were. The small screen, tiny touchpoints and squashed together keys along with arthritic fingers and failing eyesight mean she is more likely make a mistake, which is then in turn harder to correct.
Granny's iPhone successes...
However, despite these hurdles, the direct communication link the iPhone has given Granny to her family has been revelatory, especially at the moment when face to face contact is limited. By being part of WhatsApp groups with her various children and grandchildren, Granny is more involved in our lives than ever before. And in a much more informal and engaging way.
Granny: “I really like the informal conversations. I get involved more”
It has also allowed Granny to discover the emoji 😊. We are lucky now if we receive a message from her that does not contain at least one of these jolly little images.
Granny: “I think emojis are great, they’re so fun and there are so many available!”
While my Granny might be an extreme example of an elderly user, many of the issues and frustrations she has experienced will be relevant to other users of an older demographic as well as those with disabilities.
For my Granny, it is quite clear that the social benefits of owning a smartphone are already far outweighing the frustrations of learning how to use one. So why can’t all our Grannies (and Grandpas) be using one?
How to design for my (and your) Granny...
- Don't forget about her! It's very easy to assume all your users are young and digital savvy. But this is probably not the case so make sure you test with a whole range of users.
- Follow convention in app design. Convention is your friend and the more similarity that exists across apps, the better the user experience will be for everyone.
- When space permits, use words instead of icons.
- But avoid jargon. Even seemingly simple terms such as folders, domains, URL, Safari and browser can be confusing for less digital literate users.
- Make buttons and links a decent size.
- Ensure colour contrast and fonts are nice, clear and easy to read even for those without 20/20 vision
- Keep it simple! There are currently three different ways to answer a phone call on an iPhone depending on whether the screen is locked, open or you are using an app. This is unnecessary and makes an already challenging online world worse for those who are less comfortable in it.