Ageism and UX design:
Why it matters

Design Product

What is Ageism?

Imagine a 75-year-old using a new cellphone. You may be envisioning an older adult squinting at a screen, frantically tapping on their phone with a look of confusion.

When we think of older adults, our cultural biases may cause us to perceive them as less capable with technology. This form of ageism, particularly in the United States, can impact how UX designers design for seniors. It’s important to be conscious of that possible bias and to approach design with an open mind. Aging is a highly individual experience and not always an indicator of skills and abilities. To design a product that is effective for an older adult, we need to understand there’s a wide range of skills among the elderly.

Why should we care?

According to PRB, the number of Americans over the age of 65 is estimated to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. Additionally, individuals that are over the age of 65 are 50 times more wealthy than those under 36. Yet this demographic attracts just 10% of marketing budgets and less than 1% of global innovation. 

Through empathy, we can make technology more accessible to older adults

When older adults walk into a bank, some of us may be quick to judge rather than, for example, to offer them help with online banking. When seniors struggle with smartphones, we might inwardly smirk rather than jump in with assistance. 

With each act of indifference, we may be pushing seniors to the margins. To address this, we need to ask ourselves how we can make technology more intuitive and accessible for older adults. How can we be more inclusive rather than ignoring this significant and large demographic?

What can designer researchers do to reduce ageism?

Stereotype mapping

To recognize any age bias on your team, here’s a great activity. 

  • Write down any stereotypes you might have of older adults, either on sticky notes or on a MIRO board.
  • Note whether your team members have varying perceptions of older adults or a common view. (Culturally diverse teams will likely have more varied perceptions of older adults.)
  • Visualize any stereotypes before you begin your research process. By raising your level of awareness prior to beginning your research, you can help minimize bias creep.  
When planning interviews, avoid using stereotypes in your questions 

Prior to drafting your interview questions, review your questions against your stereotype map. Do any of your questions imply a stereotype? Are your questions leading in any way? Are your own assumptions about the topic getting in the way?

For example, consider this question, “Is your family taking care of you and your health?” In response to this question, a participant may feel too embarrassed to give an honest reply and instead respond with only positive feedback, which could skew interview results. To minimize this possibility, we suggest you write clear, neutral statements in your interview questions. For example, when planning an interview, consider using broad questions to introduce a topic. Then, you can narrow the scope with more specific questions.

Recruit a diverse pool of participants

No matter what product you are designing, we suggest you include people over 65 in your research. By assuming that only a certain type of stakeholder will be using a product, you could lose a valuable opportunity. Open your age gap when recruiting. You might be surprised how many seniors also would find value in using your product. 

Designing for older adults can lead to more innovative products

Even as the population of older Americans continues to expand, it’s likely that ageism will continue to be prevalent in the U.S. to some degree. By taking a proactive approach to recognizing our biases, we can begin implementing positive changes in our design practices to reach this often overlooked audience. By listening and trying to better understand the needs and pains of older adults, we can incorporate their ideas into our research and find ways to design and develop products that are more inclusive and innovative. 

Maria De La Vega
Maria Ines Zelaya

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