Grandma Still Thinks She's Grandmaster Flash: Designing For Seniors

Awhile back there was a wave of adorable grandmas tagging themselves as rapper Grandmaster Flash — albeit inadvertently. While simply a humorous footnote to those less adept at using technology, it brings up the important point that when designing for seniors we need to make recognize the difficulties they may face.

 And why do grandma and grandpa matter to the tech industry? They’re the fastest-growing demographic on the internet. Over 60% of American seniors are online and, says Pew Research, growing. Given this generation of seniors is expected to be the wealthiest ever, it would be imprudent not to cater to this demographic.

When designing for seniors it is important to recognize that they can face physical challenges and may have difficulties learning new technologies. Key areas for design considerations are vision and hearing, motor control, cognitive processing, and a lack of experience with technology. 



This may sound like extra work, but it isn’t: websites that are better designed for seniors are generally better for everyone. Let’s take a look at a few sites that get it right.


With nearly 38 million members, the AARP’s mission is to enhance the quality of life for all as they age, and they have made key design decisions to accommodate seniors on their website. The site uses large text throughout, a san serif font for easy reading and uses warm colors. As vision declines, so does one’s ability to discriminate certain hues. Seniors are more apt to confuse colors in the blue-green region of the spectrum. Red, yellow and orange, as well as high contrast throughout the site, makes it much easier to navigate.
Information overload is a common problem identified by older users. Too much information on the page makes it hard to focus on what’s relevant. AARP recognizes this and its clean site uses large headlines and concise descriptions to separate and differentiate information.

Social Security Administration

The Social Security Administration website has been quietly rolling out new features and updates, and citizens are starting to notice. In 2014, the SSA achieved an excellent rating in the ForeSee 2014 E-Government Satisfaction Index, even out-performing several top private-sector brands, including Amazon and Apple. In 2016, the SSA had the highest score of all public-sector sites.
This is because the Social Security Administration’s website has great accessibility. In addition to supporting multiple languages and sign language, seniors who find it difficult to read online can use the BrowseAloud function to have text spoken. The site also offers web accessibility help with information on increasing text size, magnifying the screen and changing background and text colors.

Road Scholar

Formerly Elderhostel, Road Scholar is the nation’s first and world’s largest educational and travel organization for adults 55+. Road Scholar incorporates generous text size in their website design and a simplified menu. Also, the replacement of fly-out menus with menu that open with a single click is a key design choice to help seniors who struggle with precise motor movements. For this reason, larger button sizes have been incorporated throughout.
The site has two other great features for all audiences: The contact number appears prominently on all pages and the site is responsive, allowing for optimal viewing on any device.

As the senior demographic grows and becomes increasingly tech savvy, we need to be cognizant of constraints many seniors face and make greater efforts to build inclusive websites. Key considerations designers need to be aware of are vision and hearing, motor control, and cognitive processing. If you’re just getting started in designing senior-friendly websites, here are a few useful references:

The National Institute on Aging has outlined a broad set of research-based guidelines that are an excellent resource and starting point. You can download their tip sheet

The Web Accessibility Initiative has a set of accessibility guidelines on developing websites for the elderly.

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