14–16 September 2016

McGrath Centre, St. Catharine's College, Cambridge

Older adults: are we really designing for our future selves?

Elizabeth Buie Sigma Consulting Solutions

Session type: Tutorial
Session duration: 60 minutes

Slides from session

The slides used for this session are available to download from here.

About this Tutorial

Advice on designing for older people often urges us to think of this audience as our future selves. In one sense this is helpful, as it fosters empathy with older users. But in another sense it's misleading - it hints that all of the challenges we face in designing for older people now are ones we will face in 20, 30, 40 years.

Some design considerations are persistent, because they relate to limitations that tend to come upon us as our bodies age. Eyesight dims, color vision changes, hearing declines, joints lose flexibility, memory isn't what it once was. We will all experience some of these changes as we ourselves grow older, although at our own pace and in our own unique ways. And for the foreseeable future, bodies will continue to develop age-related limitations. Older people will always face these challenges simply because they are older, and our designs will always need to accommodate them.

Unfortunately, much of what we read and hear about designing for older adults mixes ageing-body limitations with issues like comfort with technology, willingness to scroll or typical online activities. Perhaps people will always become more hesitant to learn new technologies as they grow older, and more frustrated when technology doesn't work as they expect. But the specific design considerations will change as technology evolves.

As designers we need to understand which challenges we will always need to accommodate and which ones will evolve. It all boils down to the difference between challenges that people have because they are older - and ones they have because they are older NOW.

This tutorial will help you understand what advice you can rely on for the long term and what issues you should keep testing for. It will illustrate with examples, including some from my own experience of being an older(ish) person who is seeing some age-related physical changes and is also very comfortable with technology. It will also include a group activity.

About the Speaker

Elizabeth Buie is in her final year of a PhD in design research, a brief excursion into academia after 3 decades in practice. She has conducted user research, information architecture and interaction design for clients in the US, the UK and Italy. Her projects have included public websites, social media web apps, touchscreen kiosks and spacecraft control centres; their user populations have ranged from the worldwide general public to air traffic controllers.

Elizabeth works to help the UX research and practice communities share knowledge and understanding. She is an older(ish) person who is very comfortable with technology.


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Case Study/Experience Report

A presentation and discussion of real-life (not theoretical) experiences of the application (or mis-application) of service design techniques. Case studies and experience reports include some discussion of lessons learned and an indication of how novel the work is.


Participants learn a new approach, tool or technology through using it to solve one or more practical exercises. Any software/hardware requirements are disclosed in the session description.


A session focused around some specific tool, technique or issue. Primarily led by the speaker, tutorials usually include some elements of interactivity or individual / group exercise.


An in-depth working session on a specific topic. May include paper presentations.