I started responding to Ozarque’s comment from yesterday, and ended up with way too much for a comment, so I’m posting it here instead.

I had said something about web sites for the elderly, and Ozarque said that elderly people aren’t a homogenous group. Very true.

Still, I think that people who are making web sites for groups that include a preponderance of older people should take that into account when they build the website. They should do at least these things:

  • Make sure that the navigation is really clear. That’s always a good thing, but we found that older testers often have more trouble finding and recognizing the navigation buttons, so I think that those sites should have buttons that really look like buttons.
  • Don’t rely on mouseover. Most of the older users I’ve been working with don’t use mouseover to get information.
  •  Be less concerned about scrolling. People who remember the days before CSS are often willing to scroll on a homepage, when younger users tend to scroll only after they’ve decided to read something.
  •  Don’t assume that their clients are already on Twitter. Half of all U.S. CEOs under forty are on Twitter, but the numbers get smaller as people get older.
  • Be more cautious about designing forms. I think that older people are often more likely to be nervous about using the internet in vague ways, such as being hesitant about giving their names, closing sites as soon as they get warnings of any kind, or not wanting to use OpenID. Stuff like that. So there should be very clear statements about how information will be used, limited requests for information, etc.
  • Check analytics before deciding what browsers to support. Older users may also be more likely to use older browsers and to change their screen resolutions. Designers may not be able to accommodate all of that sort of thing, but they should consider it. I’ve also helped a lot of people download new browsers lately.
  • Don’t use light type on dark backgrounds. This is a basic accessibility no-no, but I think it’s okay if you know for sure that your audience is young.

I think that web workers are so often younger people that they don’t think about these things, and they should. I think, too, that web developers who try to consider the needs of older people are likely to get it wrong. That is, they’re likely to think in terms of older people being less skilled with their computers. That’s not the difference.