which prompted questions about how appropriate it was to target digital products and services to older people. I then contributed my (non-scientific) observationOld people get short shrift in the marketplace. STUPID. Old people have the money—effectively ALL the money. AND, these days, years and years left to spend it. Virtually none of marketing budgets are aimed at the oldies. REALLY REALLY STUPID. #ExcellenceDividend— Tom Peters (@tom_peters) June 12, 2018
Well, just 1 data point but my grandad was in first wave of computer usage in UK accountancy and my grandmother LOVES Skype for talking to her grandchildren, has a better tablet than mine, and is always on the lookout it upgraded her phone, plus I have loads of 70+ FB friends— Neil Chalk (@_neilch) June 12, 2018
The response to that was about how they are a digitally excluded demographic and therefor too small a market to target. So I thought I'd dig into that and look at what might be possible if we did do more to make things if not "elderly first" at least "elderly friendly" .. could this lead to more usable and humane service delivery for everyone?
According to Newsworks research 55+ age group is a larger part of both print and overall multi-platform readership.The average time spent watching broadcast television is also greater in this age range. So you'd think with such a large portion of the audience in an older age bracket they'd be a target right? Well, not that much. The technical adverts I see tend to be aimed at creative, edgy, urban, and an overwhelmingly young aspirational audience. If not young adults then people with young families. I would argue that brands could do more here to educate on benefits of products over the current brand differentiation, with inherent assumption about knowledge of products, that appears to be the focus.
But "aren't older users more likely to be disabled and need extra work to engage?" you could ask. Maybe, or maybe not. Even it they are and to quote "The Path Forward" blog on accessibility and startups "Disability can be split into four main areas: visual, auditory, cognitive and motor." and we can be more impaired in each of those areas to different degrees. But as they then go on to illustrate, these areas are also temporary disabilities that we can all suffer. I have been nearly deaf three times so far in my life before the age of 40, and had visual issues more frequently for much shorter periods. So if we extend how we allow users to interact with our products with good service design, taking into account disabilities, it not only opens up a disabled audience but maybe an older one as well as those that are temporarily disabled. Side note: both my parents love "Phablets" as they can read them much better than standard smartphones and I love them for watching TV on the go.
So for example, when screens aren't great for me, then I might use Alexa to control Spotify. Another great example of using relatively lo-fi tech to help an older audience is this calendar reader via SMS interface over on the Twilio blog. A son uses the technology he is happy with in his life, but then provides a interface using less advanced technology that his mother uses on a regular basis. That's a really important lesson - You can have the most advanced engine powering your product, but that doesn't mean that you can't use common and effective technology to interface with it. That's the beauty of the ease of modern API ecosystems. It allows much more creative service delivery to be designed.
There are other great projects and movements that aim to make technology improve quality of life and not just convenience for those that have the widest range of choices. For example Wayfindr is audio direction guidance that allows blind people to do things like use the London Underground. Or the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) where there are various initiatives to join up transport. Uber is great for a convenient impromptu trip back on a night out, but a more reliable and joined up approach could allow many more to take complex journeys they might not currently take alone, providing them with independence.
So in answer to "Should we design better products for older people?" ... YES WE SHOULD. "Should we market to them better?" ... ABSOLUTELY! It not only opens up a new demographic market, but will make services more useful for existing users. We need to think more about customers and users as PEOPLE. Not demographics, or segments, or personas, or use cases. But real people living real lives.
I will leave you with this final thought. As today's digital natives get to retirement age how will this affect them in the future? With everything from payment to bus tickets now on smartphones are the rich now the only people who can do without one? will we retire from technology when we get older? Or will it become more invisible and fade into the fabric of life?