A Plea To UX Designers: Make My Old Age Easy

This is what it’s like when I Skype my grandma:

I see she’s online. I dial. It rings. She hangs up on me.

I dial again. She picks up. She says, “Hello?” She hangs up on me.

I dial again. She picks up. She says, “Hello?” Her video is not on. I ask, “Can you turn your video on so I can see your pretty face?” She hangs up on me.

I dial again. She picks up. “Hello?” I see the spinning icon; video is on its way. Her face appears. “Don’t click anything!” I yell. She hangs up on me.

It’s not her fault. Skype is not particularly user-friendly, and video Skype even less so. It’s impossible to know if something should be a click or a double click, it’s hard to find your way back if you click off a conversation, and the icons are not readily obvious. They should have an “elderly Skyper” mode with bigger, clearer, friendlier buttons. Actually, that should be regular Skyper mode.



I was discussing this with a friend the other day, who said, “Imagine when we get old, how different all the technology is going to be. We’re going to find it a lot harder than your grandma does.”

This may be true. Even the highly tech-savvy among us have difficulty keeping up these days, and the exponential explosion of choice isn’t helping. Should I even be using Skype to communicate? Or would I be better off with Google Chat, Facebook Messenger, Viber, or WhatsApp? I’m not unwilling to learn new things -- it's one of my favorite things to do -- but there comes a point where learning each of these communications channels begins to feel fruitless, and I want to either stick with what I’ve got or give up altogether.

But I have hope. I have hope because I look at two-year-olds on iPads, and I see how obvious the technology is to them. I have hope because the drive is toward ever-more-intuitive interfaces. Our continually diminishing attention spans give us less and less patience with non-obvious commands, so tech providers compete to make the experience more and more user-friendly. The less friction in the system, the greater the conversions -- a virtuous cycle for consumers who just want our lives to be made easier.

Thank goodness. I pride myself on being as close to a Digital Native as possible for someone my age. And yet I can see how easy it would be for my own niece and nephew to look at me the way I look at my grandma, to have a secret giggle about how their favorite auntie is adorably clueless when it comes to answering a Skype call.

So that’s my plea to all you UX designers out there: Don’t let me look clueless. Make my old age easy, and make your interfaces as intuitive for 80-year-olds as they are for 2-year-olds. We’ll all be grateful for it.

3 comments about "A Plea To UX Designers: Make My Old Age Easy".
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  1. Pete Austin from Fresh Relevance, November 18, 2013 at 5:20 a.m.

    The clueless one in this story is the person who presumably can't work out how to install a better video chat system and so forces grandma to use Skype.

  2. Jonathan Hassell from Hassell Inclusion, November 19, 2013 at 4:21 p.m.

    Thanks for a great blog, Kaila.

    As someone who works in the field of Inclusive Design, I find myself thinking about how older people use digital products daily.

    And your idea of an "elderly Skyper" mode is very like my ideas of "Design for Me" that I've blogged about ( and presented on to the User-Centred Design 13 conference in London this last week (

    I'd be interested in what you think of my ideas.

    Thanks for bringing this issue to a wider audience in such an accessible way.

    Jonathan Hassell

  3. Kaila Colbin from Boma Global, November 19, 2013 at 7:11 p.m.

    Wow, Jonathan! What a fantastic blog, and what amazing work you're doing! Thanks so much for sharing it. It reminded me of my friend Paul, who told me that when I'm writing an email for mass distribution, never say things like, "You all know…" Even if it's being sent to 100,000 people, each person receives it and reads it as an individual, and the way to make emails friendlier to read is to write them as if you were writing them to ONE friend. Thanks again!

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