How might we design an accessible and inclusive experience that focuses on the needs of middle-aged smartphone users?

Middle-aged and senior smartphone users are increasingly connected to their devices, but existing smartphone interfaces ignore the specific needs of these users. With this project, we have focused on the needs of middle-aged and senior users. Using the Design Thinking method, we aimed to design an accessible and inclusive experience for this age range.


Project Team
Ayşesu Çelik, Dara Kılıçoğlu, Gizem Candemir Kılıçoğlu, Kerem Alper

Project Lead
Kerem Alper

In order to understand the interface needs and challenges faced by middle-aged and senior smartphone users we conducted fieldwork with people between the ages of 50 to 70, with different levels of experience while using smartphones. Employing field research methods, such as “card sorting” and “walkthrough” conducted with 16 people, we have discovered different user types based on smartphone usage habits, needs, expectations, and challenges in current smartphone usage experiences. We examined various examples of interfaces that are aimed at users aged 50 and above. The design process was shaped by the results of the fieldwork and research.

We developed ideas and concepts to address the challenges and needs previously identified in the field work. We have created different user streams and interaction options to test with the users. With design sprints, we quickly prototyped ideas that will be introduced to the users.

Through “moderated” user tests, “card sorting” and surveys, we tried to answer the questions that emerged from our concept designs regarding  user streams and interactions. At the end of these design sprints, we finalized the interface designs that was then tested with 40 users.

During the user testing we have discovered that users engage with smartphones to communicate with their relatives through various channels, and to actively spend time in various social media platforms. They often use search engines to retrieve information; make use of widgets such as weather, calculator, calendar, alarm, navigation, notes, etc. to make their everyday lives easier. On a daily basis, they use 6 to 7 applications however they have many more downloaded on their smartphones which makes their user experience more difficult. Due to all these findings, the ‘Easy UI’  was designed to them customize the home screen with 6 most-used applications, and includes a speed dial feature for up to 10 people, for users to access the features they frequently use more easily and quickly.

The cognitive functions of the middle-aged and seniors users change as individuals get older. They may have a hard time remembering prospective tasks. Although with time the skills to multi function decreases, the attention span increases. For this reason, too many icons and action items in various places on one page can lead to confusion. Step-by-step user streams provide ease of use.

Users are worried that they will “mix things up” and hesitate to ask for help. They don’t want to meddle with their smartphone to solve their problems. They avoid discovering non-intuitive interactions and hidden features. In the Easy UI, users can easily access the action they want with the options’ icon, which consistently appears on various screens and includes actions that can be taken.

The users can hold on the icons to access the help option to see what kind of actions they can take.

Many users use their smartphones default calendar and alarm features to  receive reminders of birthdays, anniversaries, tasks and medication hours. Based on this need, we have developed a feature through which users can easily manage and organize their reminders. 

We have mapped all the steps of the user experience, which was finalized through the feedback from the user tests. We designed a modular interface to simplify the software development process of the interface. We made sure that the contrast ratio is less than 1: 4 and the size of the font is not smaller than 16 px. The icons used for the interface was intentionally chosen based on their familiarity with the users that were discovered during the fieldwork.

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