Digital non-natives: how to build websites with over 50s in mind

The average age of a website developer in the US is 29.  Across the world, the average age is 37 years old. When you Google, “How old is the average web designer?” you get People Also Ask questions such as “Is 30 too old to become a web designer?” 

Why is this data on the demographics of website creators so important? Well, it proves that many will not have the experience or mindset to cater to those digital non-natives over 50-years-old. The internet became mainstream in the 1990s. Therefore, people aged 30 have never known a world without it. The consequence? They don’t realise that there is a group of people for whom the online world is a mystery and one that largely excludes them in subtle yet significant ways. 

It is for this reason that this article is here. It is a guide for those people who have always had the internet, helping them design sites for those who have known a world where digital meant the watch on your wrist. Your reward for doing this is creating a more inclusive space you and your customers can be proud of, and a share of the £14.45 billion that the over 50s spend on the internet.

Vision

Human eyesight peaks at 30-years-old. After the age of 40, people notice a rapid decline in sight as the mechanisms in the eye become more rigid. Presbyopia, or age-related long-sightedness, is one consequence of this ageing. However, as we get older, we also experience a reduction in colour perception and sensitivity.

As a web designer, you need to consider these factors by ensuring the font on your site is at least size 12. You also need to be sure you offer a clear contrast between the background colour and the text. 

You may also want to consider writing alt text for your images, ensuring that screen readers can narrate what is on your site to those whose eyesight has failed.

Hearing

After the age of 50, our hearing also declines sharply. By the time we are 60, 55% of us will report deafness or difficulty in hearing. 

If your website relies on video content, you will want to invest in close caption software. Better still, if understanding the content of the video is vital to the experience of the rest of your offer, you might want to offer a transcript. Watching a video and following subtitles can leave some flustered. The offer of a transcript will allow the user to browse the details of the video after they have watched it.

Fine motor control

Many over-50s will be accessing your site on a smart device. It means that they will be looking to click links on a mobile phone or tablet screen. As we age, our fine motor control and our hand-eye coordination decline. Equally, the impact of conditions such as arthritis makes accurate hitting on links on the screen challenging – and often restrictive.

As a web designer, you need to consider the amount of space each link has on the screen. The first choice could be to use a lot more white space between links and icons. The second could be to use clickable buttons rather than hyperlinks. 

Other adaptations are less obvious. You may have a hover option for help on the desktop or laptop. However, keeping the mouse steady over this part of the screen becomes more challenging when your motor control declines. Therefore, choose a different function for offering help.

Cognitive ability and mindset

The difference between a native and a non-native of the digital world is mostly mindset. The digital native has known no different and lived in a world where web design evolves rapidly. Change and innovation for the digital native is an accepted and expected feature of the internet.

For those not born into a digital world, the mindset tends to be more fixed. There will be a natural conservativism, better known as reluctance to try new things. Consequently, if designing for the over 50s, simple and intuitive navigation that mirrors a standard experience will be better received. Funky navigation tools, like automated carousels, will leave your digiboomer cold, and they will more than likely abandon. 

You should also consider speaking plainly and not trying to appear too tech orientated. The digital world is one shaped by acronyms and jargon; it has its own language. However, it is a language that excludes those over 50s. So, if accessibility to all is your ambition, keep the way you write straightforward.

Generalisations but…

You likely know many a digiboomer who thrive in the online space. You can probably name a dozen people or more who would be offended by suggesting that the online space is some foreign country. However, accessibility accepts everybody and not just those that have kept up with the pace of change. Using these tips for everyone won’t exclude anyone – and that’s the trick to web design for the over 50s.