The Eyes Have It

According to AIGA, the professional association for design, considerably  younger people prepare much of the information intended for older eyes.  Typically, younger people base their creative decisions upon how the world looks  to them through their younger eyes. The following summary outlines some basic  suggestions to improve online communications readability for older populations.

  • Visual elements of readability that can either  facilitate or adversely affect attentionality, comprehension and recall include  typeface, font size, white space, color, paragraphing and margins.
  • In comparison to younger people, the difference for  light entering an older person’s optical system is as though he or she were  wearing medium-density sunglasses in bright light to extremely dark glasses in  dim light.
  • With advanced age, the lens loses water and becomes stiffer, less flexible, slightly cloudy and yellowed. Reduced elasticity in the  lens and a tendency for the cornea to scatter light makes it more difficult for  older people to focus their eyes, making reading without eyewear problematic,  and for many, even with eyewear.
  • As the yellowing increases, the filtering function of  the lens absorbs some of the blue and yellow wavelengths, resulting in changes  in a person’s perceptions of colors. White objects take on a yellowish cast,  blue is harder to detect and may appear to have a greenish tint, blue and green become more difficult to distinguish and dark blues often appear black. In  addition, readability scores can either maximize or limit comprehension and  recall by older readers.
  • A wide consensus holds that a minimum of 16- to  18-point text should be the norm in communications intended for older  visitors.
  • You should avoid the use of all upper-case text  because it affects negatively on readability.
  • Information is generally best limited to a few  important points communicated simply and explicitly and surrounded by a lot of  white space.
  • Concrete terms are easier to cognitively process than  abstract terms.
  • You can generally enhance readability by the use of  short lines and indenting paragraphs.
  • Using metaphorical images to reinforce the message in  the text can be effective, although the pictures should also be concrete rather  than abstract.
  • Color discrimination declines with aging. Colors  appear to be less bright, and contrasts between colors are less noticeable to  the elderly person than to a younger person.
  • Also, as the aging lens becomes more yellow,  transparency of short wavelengths decreases. This results in a reduction in  discrimination of blue objects, which often appear gray; blue print and blue  background typically appear washed out.
  • You should give attention to manipulating color to  maximize contrasts to facilitate text discernment. Black on white provides a  high level of contrast, while shades of the same color (for example, dark brown  on light brown) provide much lower levels of contrast. A virtual universal  consensus holds that you should avoid reverse type (e.g., white type over a dark  background).
  • The use of bright colors such as red, orange, and  yellow are recommended over colors from the short wave length color vocabulary.
  • Mixing font types and styles on a single page can be  problematic. To increase the attention given to the meaning of the content, give  less effort into that which goes into word and graphics processing.
  • Italic type is 18% more difficult to read than Roman  (upright) letters.
  • When distractions (e.g., a phrase in a different font  than the target text) are randomly placed within the text, a marked disruptive  effect on reading occurs. This effect is particularly severe in older  adults.

Following the suggestions above will help to increase the visitor’s pleasure  quotient and reduce the frustration quotient of your site.


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