Categories: Developers / Mobile Apps

When we talk mobile apps, the terms “millennials” and “digital natives” are often thrown around. But that leaves out a whole swathe of users: including 55+ crowd that Walgreens is currently courting.

Unusually, more than 20% of the pharmacy’s user-base is over 55, and a whopping 37% of those using features like its Pill Reminder tools are 55+. Those figures are far above the rates seen for general apps – the 55+ crew numbers at about 9%. As a result, Walgreens is tweaking its app to ensure a frictionless experience for these often-forgotten users.

Adapting mobile apps for older users

Seniors are increasingly using mobile apps.

Seniors are increasingly using mobile apps.

Some of Walgreen’s tweaks include using larger text and wider button sensitivity, TouchID and auto-login, and simplified menus. Why is this? Adaptive, legible text makes for easier reading, while the increased button sensitivity area makes tapping a button simpler for those with vision or mobility issues. Auto logins simplify things for those who struggle to remember credentials, while streamlined menus make it easier to navigate an unfamiliar interface, especially if an app is only used infrequently.

Balancing branding and experience

However, these user-friendly changes raise their own challenges: creating a balance between functionality and brand communication. The app needs to be usable and familiar, while also ensuring that the overall brand comes through. In Walgreen’s case, the emphasis is more upon the UX side of things. Being able to actually use the app comfortably and easily, something achieved through common iOS and Android conventions and designs, is more important than the branded experience, which still comes through in the app’s colors, styles and patterns.

Takeaways for senior app development

Mobile apps for 55+ users require a different approach.

Mobile apps for 55+ users require a different approach.

The Walgreens user-base might be an anomaly for now, but by 2030 about 19% of US residents will be 65+. That means we’ll be increasingly designing mobile apps for older users. So how can we design in a way that meets older users’ needs?

Points to consider:
  • Size and contrast. Allow for increased/adjustable font size. Avoid fonts smaller than 16px, pay attention to size and color contrast ratios, and opt for legible fonts. Where audio is involved, consider subtitles.
  • Tapping and clicking. Design larger buttons and fields, and allow a larger margin of user error. Ensure sufficient spacing between buttons, and make any button or field sequences obvious to the user.
  • Only the necessary. Many older uses find small screens and touch-based input to be fiddly. They’re also not attached to their phones the way younger users are. Keep designs minimal, and use push notifications to draw users to the app—but only when actually necessary.
  • One task at a time. Older users are more methodical and less prone to multi-tasking. Keep them on task, use long-form content, and allow longer feedback cycles for things such as inactivity warnings.
  • Memory and cognition. Short-term and episodic memory declines with age. Gradually introduce features, avoid splitting up tasks if necessary, offer progress and goal feedback, and use notifications and alerts to drive action where needed.
  • Avoid age bias. Don’t design based on assumptions about technology familiarity or life experiences. Always test your apps with your intended user group to ensure that they’re bias free.

Senior users may make up a relatively small percentage of app users, but their numbers are still significant. And as today’s younger mobile users age, they’ll soon represent a core part of app users – so designing for them is a must.

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Touchtap is a mobile development agency specializing in mobile development. Learn how to get mobile applications developed.

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