The World Health Organization states, “Between 2015 and 2050, the number of people aged 60 years or older will rise from 900 million to 2 billion”. () This therefore means that in 2050, more than 1 in 5 people will be 60 or older.
The world is ageing rapidly: virtually every country is experiencing growth in the number and proportion of adults over 60, while the number of newborns is decreasing. But despite this increment, little attention has been dedicated to understanding and addressing the needs of older adults with the respect to the usability of mobile user interfaces.
We often ask why do the older generation commonly experience problems when working with mobile devices. Most people when they think about software for older adults, usually think about just a very simple interface with bigger size buttons. However, is a big button really enough? The core question will therefore be: how can mobile user interfaces be enhanced for older users?
As a global population we have witnessed the unprecedented development of computer and information technologies. Technology and the abundance of mobile services has dramatically changed the way we communicate, inform ourselves, entertain ourselves, work, shop, navigate and organise our daily life. All these activities provide sufficient opportunities to those who can properly use them. However, in spite of the increase of technology and mobile adoption among older adults in recent years, many still struggle to use technologies that have become an integral part of daily living, for instance, using computers, ticket machines, an ATM, mobile devices and even the dashboard system onboard vehicles.
Chapter 1 includes the definition of terms, literature survey and methodology. Chapter 2 defines the historical aspect, by exploring the question: has there been more focus on older people in general in design? Chapter 3 sets out by defining the cognitive decline older adults experience, limitations and analyses the structure of current mobile interfaces, evaluating its usability as far as the needs of older adults are concerned, whereas, Chapter 4 discusses the results from the experiments, potential solutions and possibilities for future research.
For older people, it would be a sufficient improvement if computerised tasks were
made easier, so they do not have to experience the consequences of having outdated knowledge. This dissertation is to define the greatest problems older users experience when working with mobile device interfaces and suggest possible solutions to these problems. The goal of this study is that this dissertation will serve as an information base for future usability designers and practitioners when designing user interfaces for an ageing population.
Chapter One – Definitions, Literature Survey, Methodology
1.1 Definition of Terms
The ageing population has been defined in a variety of ways. The World Health Organization WHO argues that due to the advancement in our sanitation, healthcare systems, housing and education, the global life expectancy has increased by 5 years from the year 2000 and 2015. Meaning in 2015, the definition for the ageing population was 73.8 years for women and 69.1 years for males (WHO, 2016), whereas, the UK Department for Work and Pensions DWP suggest the accepted chronological age 65 to describe the older generation. (DWP, 2017).
As aforementioned, the focus of this dissertation is to understand and address the needs of the often untapped demographic in UI design, by defining the greatest problems older adults over 60, experience when working with mobile device interfaces and suggest possible solutions to these problems. The definition of the term Mobile UI is the abbreviation for Mobile User Interface, which means the graphical user interface GUI display, that allows users to interact with the content, features, functions and apps on a mobile device. As stated previously, the core question will therefore be: how can mobile user interfaces be enhanced
for older users?
1.2 Literature Survey
In the process of researching user interfaces for older users it became evident,
there are numerous books and academic journals that discuss the older generation
in the context of HCI guidelines or evaluating the usability of web and computer interfaces. For instance, the journal article produced by PhD Student Valeria Righi,
Prof. Josep Blat, specialising in computer science and interactive media from the
Universitat Pompeu Fabra Barcelona, along with Dr. Sergio Sayago, who specialises in human-computer interaction HCI and Ageing from the Universitat de Barcelona, (reference) explores a similar area to this dissertation. The design research paper focuses on the use of computer technology in the older user target group, by addressing numerous challenges human-computer interaction researchers and designers experience when designing information and communication technologies for the ageing population.
Another example that discusses designing for this special user group is the book, ‘Designing User Interfaces for an Aging Population’ by Prof. Jeff Johnson from the University of San Francisco and Kate Finn, Co-founder and CEO of Wiser Usability, Inc., that presents well-established knowledge and best practice guidelines across a vast range of modern technology platforms such as hand-held devices, dashboard systems, online services to even interaction gesture controls
and Graphical User Interfaces GUI.
Jeff and Kate, defined age-related decline characteristics for instance, cognitive
and motor control and conducted life case studies. The aim of this research study was to aid usability and technological designers, advocates and engineers when designing online services and digital devices, that can be successfully used by the older generation and their younger counterparts.
However, although these literature review examples show a broad range of
research exploring the older generation needs in context of HCI guidelines
or in computer and information user interfaces, that has a likeness to this thesis, there has been insufficient academic research studies that focuses on addresses
the needs of the ageing population, in respect to the usability of mobile device
user interfaces. A gap in knowledge.

1.3 Methodology
Due to the lack of sufficient sources, addressing how mobile user interfaces can be enhanced to meet the needs of the continuously ageing population, this study, focuses on that specific area by adopting the qualitative research method. As aforementioned this dissertation uses the qualitative research method tools of questionnaires and a case study. These methods will enhance the value of this research topic, that aims to assist future usability and practitioners when designing mobile user interfaces for an ageing population. By defining and addressing the greatest problems older users experience and suggest possible solutions, that will not only aid older users but leads mobile user interfaces towards universal design.
However, relating to the literature survey, this was conducted with the access of
the University of Sunderland Library Catalogue database, intentionally built for
the retrieval of information, that contains a vast range of online resources and subsections tailored to academic work. By using the online Library Catalogue research source key words ‘Usability’, ‘User Interface’, ‘GUI’, ‘Older Adult’,
‘Ageing’, ‘Elderly’, ‘Application Software Development’, ‘HIG’, ‘Human Computer Interaction’, and ‘User Testing’, this enabled to produce specific targeted research within the broad scope of Mobile UI.
Chapter Two – Historical Overview
2.1 The Demographic Shift
Since the beginning of recorded human history 3000 B.C., children and young people have outnumbered the proportion of older adults over 60. However, as previously stated, due to the advancements in our sanitation, housing, economics, education and healthcare systems, plus the decline in fertility, we continually hear from print and broadcast media journalists, that for the first time in history, the global demographic has unprecedentedly shifted. Meaning as we are living longer,
people aged 60 and over will outnumber children under age 10 (Figure 1).
The United Nations Population Division, DESA Department of Economic and
Social Affairs reports that in 2017, the global population of older adults
numbered 962 million, has more than doubled from the 1980s, where 382
million people aged 60 or over was recorded.
Figure 1.1.
Another perspective is that, the United Nations DESA predict ‘in the year 2050, senior citizens will constitute for 35% of the inhabitants in Europe, 28% in Northern America, 25% in Latin America and 24% in Oceania’.. Consider the figure of people currently aged 60+. Figure 2 highlights the estimates and projections of the global population aged 60 or over by region, from the year 1980 to 2050.
Figure 1.2.
Proportion of the world’s population aged 60 or over by region,
from 1980 to 2050 (reference)
Due to the unprecedented change in our human demographic history such as, increased life expectancies and countries with growing percentages of older adults,
the statistics provided emphasise, the importance of addressing the needs of a population that is rapidly ageing.
2.2 Why should the Ageing Population matter to Designers?
Given the momentous shift in the world demographic and the growing expectation
that most people use information and computer technologies such as the internet
and mobile devices, designing age-friendly user interfaces and digital technology devices seems logical. The aim for this study is to provide a set of guidelines of the layout, features and gestures that will lessen frustration and confusion around older users using mobile devices, therefore, enhancing mobile user interfaces for the older generation and their younger counterparts. Some argue that UI specialists fail to recognise just how different and diverse older adults are in comparison to their younger counterparts.
By making mobile interfaces user-friendly, this allows the older generation to cope with the rapid changes in our modern society. Listed below are a few examples of the differences, struggles and complaints older adults have when using technological UI, in comparison, to the younger generation.
Typically, older adults from age 40, tend to find reading text that is too small or close together increasingly difficult, due to the condition “presbyopia”. Presbyopia is the medical name for long-sightedness, caused by elasticity of the lens of the eye becoming stiffer and less flexible.
The problem mentioned in the previous example, along with other age-related problems occur. Some people suffer cognitive impairment, motor control declines and some older users have problems hitting touch targets, so for those people it would help if the size of interactive buttons and gesture controls were bigger.
Elderly people, frequently get confused or frustrated when using technological device user interfaces, leading to them taking longer to complete tasks or learning how to use new devices and applications, than their younger counterparts.
As we are currently living in the phenomenon Information Age period, technology can offer people a wealth of knowledge, independence, authority and potential, however, as usability designers and practitioners we cannot justify denying any proportion of our modern society the wealth of information and the use of technology devices. We have to make technology accessible for all by designing user-friendly interfaces.

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