Gerry Gaffney: Maybe it’s the fact that I’ve been around for quite a while now, but I find attitudes I encounter to older users are often incorrect and inappropriate. First of all, let me mention assumptions about technology uptake. Often in conversation with designers, I’ll hear things like older users would be disinclined to adopt some piece of technology, based purely on the designer’s prejudices about that demographic. And you know, of course there are certain applications that are age-specific, but if we’re looking at supporting a regular activity like banking or travel or shopping or communicating, there’s no reason to suppose that an older demographic won’t value and need those services. In fact, if you postulate that an older community is likely to have less mobility, the need to interact online is have even more value and importance to the people in that community.

Then there are assumptions about ability. Designers will sometimes boasted something is so simple that even your parents could use it. To me, the prejudice inherent in such statements is obvious and startling to be honest. For example, most people would consider it unacceptable to say that even a woman could use something or even a blind person could use something, but apparently it’s okay to make the same sort of remark about an older person. There’s a patronizing attitude to designing for older users. I’ve heard designers praise a mobile phone with big text and a limited number of buttons on the assumption that being easier to execute certain core functions is an adequate response to the user’s needs. It’s like praising a highly interactive website that has a flat text-only rendition for visually impaired people, instead of asking why in equivalent level of interactivity isn’t available for those people. Why should an older person to be satisfied with a substandard suite of capability and interactions just because it’s too hard to design for their different needs?

Designers often have the word empathy as a highly used and I would suggest overused part of their lexicon, but it stands for very, very little if they don’t truly try to understand their broader audience and not just the people who are like themselves. There’s no doubt that designing to meet the needs of older people that has challenges. For example, older people are generally less well able to maintain context and task focus when they’re interrupted. They may be slower to recognize one icon among many and so on, but designing to support them helps all users, in the same way that accessible design in general supports all users in general. What do you guys think?

Gerry McGovern: Totally agree.

Gerry Sculliion: I totally agree as well. It’s kind of… I’ve seen it a lot over the years and I don’t think it’s going to go away any time soon, but there’s a few things to your argument like you know, you’ve seen it in design teams making those assumptions and I think as designers we should know better at this stage and this is me speaking, it’s about inclusivity and diversity of thinking and if you’re not including that demographic, you’re almost creating another form of disability.

Gerry McGovern: Absolutely. Isn’t it key? There’s another link thing there in that the actual structure of the team, like what is a multi diverse team? Is it a whole bunch of 20-somethings you know from different backgrounds? I mean, we need older people like ourselves… You’re not going to have that perspective if you’re all a bunch of young people. It’s very difficult to think and particularly, you know, when everyone has pretty good eyesight and stuff like that, you go; “It’s easy to read.” And even in that you still get ridiculous gray text in 8 point font type of brigade because they’re not even thinking about anybody you know, it’s just how does this look. But as you get older, these issues of eyesight and reading become, become more important. And often younger designers, they just don’t think about their audience, they make the central flaw of, of designing for themselves and thinking that the world is them. So, absolutely, if it’s for a large spread audience, you’ve got to design for that audience, not just your narrow little peer group.

Gerry Scullion: Yeah. And I guess I’m being cynical here, but I would love to think that designers had the power to make the control of the scope that’s in question to include that. But too often businesses just look at the bottom line and kind of go, you know what, those guys over there, the older people aren’t, we don’t have the uptake so we’re just going to focus on the customers that are actually using it. And it’s really interesting because I’ve done quite a bit of banking work over my career and too often I see and hear internally in banks, that kind of perspective of designing a new app or any of these kind of sexy new things. Whereas when I speak to my mum, my mum still uses the text function to get her balance and stuff and like she’s very much still in that world of like… tT  hat is an early adopter for her is being able to text it and getting a response from a system, getting the bank balance and what she has.

That’s the kind of service you could see you getting sun-setted in a bank. They’re like, “Oh look, you know, hardly anyone uses it.” So it’s really important to consider how those kind of new designs can actually include those. It’s almost like it’s a huge cultural piece for an organization to get the people who control the scope to include those types of people.

Gerry Gaffney: Yeah. Look, I don’t know what the answer is, what I do know that it seems to me to be a huge gap in the understanding that a lot of people, and I include myself in this, that a lot of people have of that particular demographic and you know, maybe it’s a societal thing, in the West that we don’t interact with old people to extent that  we might’ve done another cultures or in the old days or something. I was looking at a Chinese family the other day getting on a tram in Melbourne and it was one of the older trams and not very accessible. And it was interesting to see the entire family supporting this elderly, she looked like the grandmother, this elderly grandmother in a very, very caring fashion to get onto the tram and find her seat and so on, but it seems so out of place in a Western society to have that older person included as a regular part of society.

Gerry Scullion: I wonder, is that fair to assume that if you had a kind of an inclusive team and that includes not just gender, race, diversity and age, would that type of thinking increase? Like in terms of reducing that…

Gerry McGovern: You know, the, the thing about these demographics… older is the new young. I mean that’s where the world is going. The world is ageing, the populations are ageing and the quantity and percentages of people in the older age brackets is only going to grow, over the next 20, 30, 50 years. So more and more we will be designing for older people whether we want to or not because they will be representing very significant percentages of the population. And often they have income to spend. It’s often a, a good demographic. It’s not something that you’re doing it to do people a favour, they’re often your best customers.

Gerry Scullion: Yeah. The most loyal customers as well

Gerry Gaffney: I think the bottom line for me is that we should, uh, in general, have a quick double check of our assumptions when we’re designing, particularly in regard to that older demographic and make sure that we’re being truly inclusive in our design.