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Chapter 5. The Web User, Part 2: Older A... > Usability Testing with Older Adults

Usability Testing with Older Adults

In the Human Computer Interaction literature, there is a name for the tendency of designers to believe that they are representative of the user population and will be able to rectify any design problems themselves: the “Egocentric Intuition Fallacy” (Landauer, 1997). Research shows that it is actually very difficult to foresee the usability problems that individuals will have when attempting to interact with a system. The idea that user input is not needed until after the initial design phase is incorrect (and inefficient) for users of all ages, but perhaps it is even more critical when the designers are aged 20 to 40 and the users are aged 60 to 80. These designers cannot intuitively imagine the goals of these users, their motivations for accessing a site, their previous Web experience (or lack thereof), or the age-related physical and cognitive changes that may affect their performance.

Interviewing users to gauge their preferences is a good starting point in Web site design, but designers should keep in mind that what users say they want is not necessarily what will enable them to best use the system. Reported user preferences should always be empirically tested by observing the performance of users. To illustrate, Ellis and Kurniawan (2000) found that older adults expressed a preference for Web sites with fewer but longer pages. Such a design would require them to scroll down Web pages to obtain the information they were seeking. Although the older adults claimed that they preferred this feature, they found it difficult to scroll down a Web page, and they did not realize that there was more information off-screen (see also Mead, et al., 1997). Testing found that it was easier for them to click a link than to scroll down a page in terms of the motor skill required. Thus, although older adults verbally expressed the notion that longer pages would suit them better, their performance was enhanced by shorter pages that would decrease scrolling. It is imperative that designers recognize that, when considering design issues for any user population, performance may carry more weight than preference.


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