Designing for Senior Citizens | Organizing Your Work Schedule

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A column by Janet M. Six
May 17, 2010

In this edition of Ask UXmatters, our experts discuss the following topics:

Every month in this column, our Ask UXmatters experts answer our readers’ questions about user experience matters. To get answers to your questions about UX strategy, design, or user research in an upcoming edition of Ask UXmatters, please send your questions to us at [email protected].

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The following experts have contributed answers to this column:

  • Steve Baty—Principal of Meld Studios; Vice President of IxDA; UXmatters columnist
  • Dana Chisnell—Principal Consultant at UsabilityWorks; Coauthor of Handbook of Usability Testing
  • Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Publisher and Editor in Chief, UXmatters; Principal User Experience Architect at Spirit Softworks; Founding Director of Interaction Design Association (IxDA); UXmatters columnist
  • Caroline Jarrett—Owner and Director at Effortmark Limited; UXmatters columnist
  • Janet Six—Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design; UXmatters Managing Editor and columnist
  • Daniel Szuc—Principal Usability Consultant at Apogee Usability Asia; Founding Member and President of UPA China/Hong Kong Branch

Designing for Senior Citizens

Q: What fonts and colors are easiest for senior citizens to read online? Do you have any other tips for me? I am building an informational Web site for senior citizens.—from a UXmatters reader

Colors and Fonts for Legible Text

“When designing for older adults—that’s what we call them, because not everyone likes being thought of as a senior citizen—contrast is key,” answers Dana. “So, when you consider using colors next to each other, remember that many people can’t see different hues or don’t see the differences in similar colors—like blue and green—because of a loss of visual acuity that comes with age. If you want to put text on a colored background, make sure there’s plenty of contrast.”

“As for fonts, sans serif fonts are best,” recommends Dana. “Older adults and people with low vision have less difficulty processing type faces like Arial or Helvetica. Without the serifs, it’s easier to recognize characters. The thing you’ll hear the most from older adults, though, is to make the type larger. Young Web designers often start their designs with fairly small type. The thinking is that anyone can increase the size through the browser, but most older adults don’t know how to do that. So, go with 11-point or 12-point type, with plenty of leading, or line height.”

Caroline agrees: “For colors, you need good contrast between the foreground color and the background color. Use large, clear fonts. For both color and fonts, make sure your choices are adjustable, and make it very easy for users to make those adjustments.”

Good Legibility Benefits Everyone

“There is a recent trend in the design of Web sites and applications to design content using very small fonts and, often, very low contrast as well,” remarks Pabini. “I’ve coined the term the Wireframe School of Design to describe this trend, because the design of these sites tends to be as spare and colorless as a wireframe. While simplicity in visual design is a worthy goal, these young designers are carrying things too far. I know they’re both young and have good eyesight, because, otherwise, they’d realize their text is illegible to many people—and not just to older adults, but also to the many people of all ages whose eyesight is impaired or who have poor visual acuity.

Consider the following statistics (see “References” for their sources):

  • Of all Americans on the Web, 11% are now age 64 or older.
  • Boomers (aged 50-64) dominate the US population, making up 32.5% of the adult population and 36% of the adult online population and accounting for about one-third of daily Web traffic.
  • Over 4 million Americans have low vision—that is, impaired vision that neither corrective lenses, medical treatment, nor surgery can fully restore. Of these people, 68% are over the age of 65.
  • More than 50% of the US population need corrective lenses to correct some vision problem.
  • Myopia, or nearsightedness, affects more than 25% of the US population.
  • More than 25% of all American school-age children have a vision problem.
  • Approximately 4% of people of European descent either have color-deficient vision or are color-blind—specifically, about 8% of men, but only 0.4% of women.

“Extrapolate these numbers to the worldwide population, and you’ll quickly realize that poor legibility of text on Web sites impacts a lot of people negatively.”

“Expecting people to rely on browser controls to increase font size is no longer a viable approach—if it ever was and that’s doubtful—even for those people who know how to use them. Rather than just increasing or decreasing font size, modern browsers zoom entire pages in and out, increasing the size of images, too, and very quickly making the experience of reading on the Web not unlike that of reading on an iPhone. And then there’s the inconvenience of users having to zoom in or out every time they land on a different site.

“As both Dana and Caroline have mentioned, contrast between foreground text and its background is key to good legibility—particularly value contrast. On Wireframe School of Design sites, I often see fairly light gray text on a white background, with value contrast that is completely inadequate for good legibility. For more information about contrast, see my series of articles about color on UXmatters:

“As it happens,” Caroline explains, “large fonts and a good contrast between foreground and background are also recommended for many other people who have difficulty with reading—for example, younger people with vision problems, people of any age with attention problems, and people of any age who are reading in stressful or low-light conditions. We recently held a workshop at CHI as part of the Design to Read project. We’ve found that there is a remarkably high degree of overlap between the design recommendations for all the various groups who have difficulty with reading.”

Understanding the Needs of Older Adults Through Research

“In 2004 and 2005,” says Dana, “I did some work with Ginny Redish and Amy Lee for AARP, in which we developed a set of heuristics for designing Web sites for older adults: ‘New Heuristics for Understanding Older Adults as Web Users.’ Then we used the heuristics to review 50 Web sites from the point of view of older users, documenting our findings in ‘Designing Web Sites for Older Adults: Expert Review of Usability for Older Adults at 50 Web Sites’.” Caroline recommends following Heuristics 14 and 16 from “AARP Audience-Centered Heuristics: Older Adults,” saying, “This document is based on extensive research and a literature review Ginny Redish and Dana Chisnell conducted.” Dana also recommends some publications from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and the W3C. (See “References” for links to all of these publications.)

Organizing Your Work Schedule

Q: What are your favorite tools for organizing your work schedule? Do you organize such information on your computer, your phone, or on paper?—from a UXmatters reader

Approaches to Managing Time

“I like to keep my tools simple and use tools that require little additional time or learning to use them—otherwise, the effort required defeats their purpose,” replies Daniel. “Overall, I break my work schedule into Now, Mid-Term, and Strategic.”

“Most important,” recommends Steve, ”use a toolset with which you’re comfortable. I’ve seen really effective schedules that were never more than a week in advance or drawn up on a whiteboard at the beginning of each day. And then I’ve seen really cumbersome, bureaucratic, and difficult—but highly sophisticated—scheduling systems that everyone hated and no one would use.”

Personally, I like to plan my work using four time spans:

  • long-term goals—Where should a project be in one year—or later, if for a larger project?
  • mid-term goals—Where should a project be in 6 months?
  • short-term goals—What needs to get done this week?
  • microtasks—A checklist of what needs to get done today.

I add the most detail when planning long-term goals and microtasks. Mid-term and short-term planning ensure I’m on track to reach my projected long-term goals.

Specific Tools

“I keep track of all appointments in a Google Calendar,” answers Steve, “which I share with the Meld Studios team, so we all have visibility to each other’s movements. Calendar helps us look after small scheduling details and lets us keep track of holidays and travel.

“For a larger pieces of work, I start with pen and notebook and literally sketch out what a project looks like. I’ll draw out a series of panels for months and weeks and use the rows for tasks—almost like a manual Gantt chart. This allows me to play with the overall shape of a project—independent of dates. We then usually take this sketched plan into either a Google Calendar or an OmniPlan file, for a more formal version of the plan. This is often necessary so we can share the schedule with a client rather than because of any internal needs.”

Daniel describes his toolset: “My main tools for organizing work schedules include the following:

  • Google Calendar—for sharing projects, travel plans, and other activities
  • Google Tasks—a Gmail add-on for planning mid- to long-term tasks, including business development and strategic outlook
  • project plans in Excel—planning for current projects that includes three columns—Dates, Activity, and Who—the person responsible for an activity and/or deliverable
  • paper notepad on my desk, in the office—for items that are on my radar right now

“We’ve also made a conscious decision to move our email to Google Apps, giving us all of its productivity tools to use via PC and mobile, which helps us greatly.

“We don’t keep time sheets, because, over the last 10 years, we have designed our business to work and focus only on items that are of critical importance. We don’t want to burden people with another tool to use.”

Despite my degree in Computer Science, I find my best scheduling tools are pencil and paper. I prefer the use of paper, because I know that my paper documents will not crash, it is faster for me to write something down, and I remember the details better through the act of writing them down. My 2-Page-Per-Day DayTimer is my best scheduling friend. I do my short-term and micro planning on the day pages and my mid-term planning in the Months and Notes sections.

Moving my mid-term goals from one month’s calendar to the next month’s is a wonderful opportunity to assess my plan and my progress toward reaching my project goals. I print my long-term plan and tape it to the wall near my desk to help me remember the overall goals of a project. For the parts of a schedule that I must share with others, I use Google Calendar and a Google Sites wiki.

For my short-term planning, I use small sticky notes and, if necessary, I can revise my goals each day. Another simple trick is to use a paper clip to mark the current day’s page. Even on the go, I can instantly open my book to find reminders of what I need to accomplish on a given day. I use a 4-color pen to write action items in my book, so I can use color coding to prioritize my day’s activities.

If I am out of the office, without my DayTimer, and an urgent detail comes up, I call my phone number and leave myself a voicemail message. Simple, but it works. Whatever tools you decide to use, I recommend that you avoid getting caught up in the beauty of the technology. Assess your tools and be sure they are actually helping you to accomplish your goals in the necessary time.

Maintaining Schedules

“We aren’t at the stage yet where we run into major hurdles scheduling multiple projects concurrently,” replies Steve, “but I’ve found in the past that the issue with concurrent projects is not so much the initial planning as keeping each plan—and the company-wide, aggregate plan—up to date. Those aggregate plans can be a pain to create and, as soon as you start moving things around, you feel the pressure of keeping everything neat and tidy. The thing I’ve learned is that any plan that looks neat and tidy probably doesn’t reflect reality, so changing it won’t matter too much.” 


Arch, Andrew. “Web Accessibility for Older Users.” W3C, May 14, 2008. Retrieved May 6, 2010.

Chisnell, Dana, and Ginny Redish. “AARP Audience-Centered Heuristics: Older Adults.”PDF AARP, 2004. Retrieved May 6, 2010.

Chisnell, Dana, Ginny Redish, and Amy Lee. “Designing Web Sites for Older Adults: Expert Review of Usability for Older Adults at 50 Web Sites.” AARP, February 1, 2005. Retrieved May 6, 2010.

—— “New Heuristics for Understanding Older Adults as Web Users. COMMUNICATION, February 2006. Retrieved May 6, 2010.

National Institute on Aging. “Making Your Website Senior Friendly.” National Institute on Aging, February 2001; revised March 2009. Retrieved May 6, 2010.

NewMedia TrendWatch. “Demographics.” European Travel Commission, 2009. Retrieved May 9, 2010.

Prevent Blindness America. “Glasses, Why Some People Need Them.” Prevent Blindness America, March 2008. Retrieved May 9, 2010.

Southern California College of Optometry Eye Care Center. “What Is Low Vision? Southern California College of Optometry, 2008. Retrieved May 9, 2010.

Product Manager at Tom Sawyer Software

Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, USA

Janet M. SixDr. Janet M. Six helps companies design easier-to-use products within their financial, time, and technical constraints. For her research in information visualization, Janet was awarded the University of Texas at Dallas Jonsson School of Engineering Computer Science Dissertation of the Year Award. She was also awarded the prestigious IEEE Dallas Section 2003 Outstanding Young Engineer Award. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Graph Algorithms and Applications and the Kluwer International Series in Engineering and Computer Science. The proceedings of conferences on Graph Drawing, Information Visualization, and Algorithm Engineering and Experiments have also included the results of her research.  Read More

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