Bigger, Brighter, Simpler: A Tablet for the Mature User

Social media is designed by the young, for the young. Snapchat’s swipe-every-which-way interface? Baffling to anyone who didn’t grow up with a smartphone. As sight and motor skills weaken, all that pinching and tapping gets harder, cutting people off from social media at a time when they can be more vulnerable to loneliness. But researchers have ideas for how to fix this, and they helped us build a tablet that’s optimized for, well, all of us as we age.

Giacomo Bagnara

Physical Contacts
The average 80-year-old corresponds with about seven people a month—so why not make those contacts superaccessible? That’s the idea behind a prototype from Georgia Tech, which has physical, removable tabs for friends and family members [1]. Just pull the flap to call, video chat, or send messages.

Clear Notifications
A bright light [2] illuminates the tab of the person just contacted, so users can keep track of in-progress conversations.

Real Buttons
Touchscreens don’t always work for older people: Drier skin can fail to register, fingerprints fade, and arthritis makes certain gestures more difficult. Senior-specific tablets should feature both physical buttons and the option to use a stylus [3] and/or attachable keyboard.

Super Size
Bigger is better. “It’s more forgiving of random gestures,” says Chris Langston, an accessibility researcher at Facebook. This tablet has a roomy 13-inch screen, preset to large text (experts suggest a 14-point font) with a bold, even typeface (like Arial, Futura, or Helvetica).

Bold Color
Pastel blues and yellows trip up older eyes; a more age-proof color palette consists of bright, bold reds and greens. And the contrast adjustment bar shouldn’t be buried in Settings—make it a physical button on the tablet [4].

Clear Iconography
“Icons should have analogs in the real world,” says Elizabeth Mynatt, director of Georgia Tech’s Institute for People and Technology. A “wall” on Facebook serves a different function than it does in real life, and that’s confusing. Here, sending a direct message to a friend is as simple as clicking the letter icon [5] in the bottom row.

Easy Charging
A simple drop-in cradle doubles as a wireless charging station, with an indicator that clearly shows when a charge is in progress.

Minimal Screens
Having to tap through multiple screens gets harder as memory declines. That’s why researchers at USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology recommend simplifying navigation. Creating a new social media account, for instance, should only require filling out information on a single page.

Onscreen Help
Tech companies are notorious for their hard-to-find help lines, and it’s almost never a real person on the other end. Here, a large button [6], permanently displayed, provides a phone number and email address for a representative, along with an option to exchange real-time messages.

Text-to-Speech, Speech-to-Text
All text can be read aloud [7], and every video features captions. Actually, this should be available on all devices, always. “If you design for older adults,” Georgia Tech’s Mynatt says, “you have something that works across the board.”

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