The over 50 crowd and Baby Boomer generations are embracing the digital arena. They have a much different perspective of “getting old” compared to the generations before them. I don’t know about you, but I think my Mom looks and acts differently then her parents did at the same age. We email back and forth. She has an iPod (that I, of course, set up for her but – she does listen to music). My Father-in-law and I send text messages. I’ve got parents, aunts, and older cousins who are on Facebook and connected to me. They are jumping head first into technology. We, as user experience architects, designers and developers, need to be aware of this growing online population.
Since it’s holiday time, I arrived in the Midwest to visit my in-laws and celebrate the season. Over dinner the first night, my father-in-law (FIL) told me how he wanted to buy my mother-in-law (MIL) a laptop. Of course, since I’m the tech-guru in the family, it was understood that he would bring this idea to me. So, the UX hat went on and I began my user investigation. Question after question (while my husband was getting annoyed with me), I sought to understand what they really needed and why they wanted a laptop. Based on what I now understood, a tablet device seemed to be a better choice.
I would never push an Apple product (even though it’s what I use and prefer). I am aware there are other products that have the same capabilities and have a lower price point. We discussed the various options but in the end my FIL wanted to have the same device we did and after all, my husband and I would be visiting for a few days. This would be the perfect time to take advantage of our knowledge and help them learn how to use it- very simple tasks, like sending email and surfing the web on the go.
We planned the next day around this excursion. We arrived at the Apple store just after opening with coffees in hand. There were plenty of red-shirt employees available to help us, and, three hours later, we walked away with a 32GB iPad2 and leather case.
We immediately set up my MIL’s Hotmail account through the mail application. The questions were intriguing. “There is no Hotmail branding on the application so how do I know I’m in my Hotmail?” Similar questions about the various functionality, icons and simple tasks made even a power-user like myself stop to think. I thought the iPad was easy to use…
Using the pad of one’s fingertip proved more challenging then I thought. To tap or press? How long? The target zone for icons was smaller then I thought. We would load Hotmail through Safari and the results were not any better. Coming from IE8 to Safari had its challenges. The plus icon and idea of a tabbed window was slightly confusing. Basic navigation was not immediately recognized.
We spent three days together and since they are my in-laws, I had to be the patient one. After the 2nd or 3rd time I encouraged them to use it on their own. I didn’t want to rush them – but simply observe. The experience made me realize that the iPad is not as intuitive for the average Windows user. Working on enterprise mobility applications, we are creating iPad and phone apps for the same demographic, so this was a learning lesson for me to keep in mind how to design for this type of user.
My in-laws did get the hang of the iPad and were even watching YouTube videos by the end. All the funny references to “honey badger” and “Charlie bit me” came to life and brought out belly laughs. I am still waiting to hear from them, but I have hope that the read number indicator will do its job.
After this experience, I have a different perspective of the iPad and designing user interfaces for it. Every company wants to be in the mobile space but for whom are they creating these apps or mobile websites? As designers, we need to be very conscientious that the over 50 and baby boomer generation are not left behind in our design innovation. It’s our responsibility.