Design Patterns for Mobile User Interfaces Targeted at Older Adults

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… You are designing a smartphone interface targeted at older adult users. You have been SELECTING SMARTPHONE GESTURES FOR OLDER ADULTS. However, you are concerned with novice users who might not have any prior experience with touchscreen interaction, and therefore might not know how to employ gestures to operate your smartphone interface.

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In many cases, older adults might not have any prior touchscreen experience. Therefore, they might not know how to employ gestures in order to effectively manipulate a smartphone interface. In this context, the need might arise for demonstrating available gestures to your users, as well as the particular tasks which each gesture resolves.


Several authors have pointed out the lack of cues, or affordances (Norman, 1990), available on gestural interfaces (Bau & Mackay, 2008; Bragdon et al., 2010; Norman, 2010). Where in many cases, users do not know which gestures are available to interact with a given system. Accordingly, the need to provide demonstrations of available gestures has been identified in several works regarding different kinds of gestural interfaces (Bau & Mackay, 2008; Bragdon et al., 2010; Kurtenbach, Moran, & Buxton, 1994). However, most of these efforts have been conducted for younger adults users. In this context, our own work aimed to evaluate the influence of animated tutorials that demonstrate gestures applied to smartphone tasks, on older adults’ performance of gestures. Our results revealed that the animated tutorials did in fact enhance older adults’ performance of tap and swipe gestures, where correct gesture performance was higher for older adults who viewed tutorials than for those who did not. Furthermore, most participants only required viewing each tutorial once before carrying-out a correct gesture. In this way, it seems that not only are older adults capable of learning tap and swipe gestures, but that these help mechanisms may only be needed during an initial training phase, after which they will probably become unnecessary.

Therefore …


For novice older adult users, provide contextual help mechanisms that demonstrate gestures and how they should be used to manipulate your interface. These tutorials should not only tell users where on the interface certain gestures should be carried-out, but should also demonstrate the physical performance of these gestures.

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Bau, O., & Mackay, W. E. (2008). OctoPocus: a dynamic guide for learning gesture-based command sets. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the 21st annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology, Monterey, CA, USA.

Bragdon, A., Uguray, A., Wigdor, D., Anagnostopoulos, S., Zeleznik, R., & Feman, R. (2010). Gesture play: motivating online gesture learning with fun, positive reinforcement and physical metaphors. Paper presented at the ACM International Conference on Interactive Tabletops and Surfaces, Saarbrucken, Germany.

Kurtenbach, G., Moran, T. P., & Buxton, W. (1994). Contextual Animation of Gestural Commands. [10.1111/1467-8659.1350305]. Computer Graphics Forum, 13(5), 305-314.

Norman, D. (1990). The Design of Everyday Things: Doubleday Business.

Norman, D. (2010). The way I see it: Natural user interfaces are not natural. interactions, 17, 6. doi: 10.1145/1744161.1744163