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Older adults and the Internet

Reflecting this season of traditions, HFI's December newsletter recaps the key findings outlined in 2005's Putting Research into Practice seminar.

To develop this course, the HFI R&D team surveys and reviews peer-reviewed papers and conference presentations from the range of disciplines that may inform the work of human factors and usability specialists. Over the course of roughly four months, we review papers from:

  • Human Computer Interaction
  • Ergonomics
  • Cognitive Science
  • Social Psychology
  • Computer Science
  • Marketing
  • Economics
  • And others...

From those papers we select the key findings to present in our annual update seminar. The seminar papers are chosen because they offer:

  • Provocative new findings (e.g., In some cases, users read the blurbs!)
  • New data to answer perennial questions (e.g., Consumers' eyes are drawn to an animated ad, but they don't necessarily remember it.)
  • Forward-looking findings (e.g. Grown-ups are tipping to adopt SMS as a messaging channel)
  • Papers intended to move the field of usability forward

As in the past, our recap presents research findings, not guidelines. This approach, shaped by user feedback, allows practitioners to access the right research reference at the right time. Together, the Research Update Review newsletters (03 | 04 | 05) begin an index of important papers and a repository of just-in-time references.

By the way, if you only read one paper about usability this year, read this one:

Molich, R., Ede, M. R., Kaasgaard, K., and Karyukin, B. (2004). "Comparative usability evaluation." Behavior and Information Technology, 23(1).

And do keep an eye out for the findings from CUE4 (in preparation) and the upcoming CUE5 – which extend the CUE series to compare the effectiveness / rigor of remote usability testing.


Elderly adults enjoy significant improvements in their interaction accuracy with a touch screen relative to a mouse. Younger adults don't do any better with a touch screen. (Iwase and Murata, 2002)


People who are taught about breadcrumbs tend to use them more often. However, users still do not use them spontaneously. (Hull, 2004)

Browse or Search

On sites with clear labels and prominent navigation options, users tend to browse rather than search. Searching is no faster than browsing in this context. (Katz and Byrne 2003)

Color and Graphics

Users pay attention to what they are paying attention to. Sometimes things that are quite obvious to the designer are invisible to the viewer/users. (Simons and Chabris, 1999)

Color, shared background and co-location are stronger grouping cues than outlines. (Beck and Palmer, 2002)

Layout on a Web page (white space and advanced layout of headers, indentation, and figures) may not measurably influence performance, but it does influence satisfaction. (Chaperro, Shaikh, and Baker, 2005)

Credibility and Trust

Design is a key determinant to building on-line trust with consumers. For motivated users of an information site, bad design (busy layout, small print, too much text) hurts more than good design helps. (Sillence, Briggs, Fishwick, and Harris, 2004)

Experts and novices evaluate the trustworthiness of sites differently. Experts tend to rely more on reputation of the authors, and the business goal of the organization presenting the site. Novices evaluate based on look and feel. (Stanford, Tauber, Fogg, and Marable, 2002)

Designing Effective Web Content

Well written copy has significant implications for user satisfaction and effective message distribution. (Morkes and Nielsen, 1998)

Users tend not to recall more than one or two highlighted items. White space around the highlighted items tends to increase their prominence (Olsen, 2002)

Use of whitespace between paragraphs and in the left and right margins increased comprehension by almost 20%. (Lin, 2004)

Basic readability formulas (e.g., Fogg and Fry) are a good first start to understanding reading difficulties of text. However, they ignore many language and discourse components that likely influence comprehension difficulty. More sophisticated measures that take into account the cohesiveness of text need to be developed and used. (Graesser, McNamara, Louwerse, and Cai, 2004)

Error Messages

Sympathetic error messages and emoticons (like those in IM programs) can influence users' perceptions of the application. (Tzeng, 2004)


Though animated banners draw users' eyes, users do not remember the content of the animated elements better than static ones. (Bayles, 2002)

It's important to consider the users when you have a choice of icons, links or both. Initial performance is best with the link alone. Frequent users can use either equally effectively. Icons are not faster, relative to text links alone. (Wiedenbeck, 1999)


Challenges to institutionalizing usability across an organization include:

  • Different departments service different customer groups
  • Failure to establish organization-wide vocabulary: Departments using different terms for the same meaning or the same terms for different meanings.
  • Failure (by management) to prioritize user groups across the organization to guide site-wide design goals
  • Failure to access or inconsistent access to consumers to inform design
    (Eschenfelder, 2004)


Older adults commit more errors than younger adults, but the types of errors are similar across the two groups. IVRs should limit the number of choices in any "select from" presentation to three or four. (Dulude, 2002)

Methods & Practitioners

What users think/ say they will do in focus groups and what they actually do in usability tests often differs. (Eysenbach and Kohler, 2002)

Collecting card-sorting data remotely using asynchronous methods (email and Powerpoint data collection tools) help to avoid technical and Internet constraints as well as costs associated with travel to collect data. (Whalen, Arora, and Bowman, 2005)

Card-sorting study results can be stable with 20 or even fewer participants. (Tullis and Wood, 2004)

More experienced usability practitioners tend to discover more problems in an expert review than less experienced practitioners. (Huart, Kolski, and Sagar, 2004)

Expert reviews highlight issues around general mental constraints and tendencies to interpret or behave in particular ways. Usability tests provide clearer insights about specific knowledge / assumptions / challenges the key users bring to the design, typically in terms of domain knowledge. (Fu, Salvendy, and Turley, 2002)

Usability practitioners are actually not very consistent in applying their craft – even for very basic tasks. There is wide variation in the both rigor of the process and the focus and quality of the deliverable across groups. (Molich, Ede, Kaasgaard, and Karyukin, 2004)

Navigation Design

For left-to-right languages, users tend to look left for the navigation plane. (Oulasvirta, Karrkainen, and Laarni, 2004)


Users perceive the following personalization features to be valuable:

  1. the ability to log in
  2. the ability to receive personalized support for the products they own, and
  3. the ability to list user's previous purchases and recommendations for accessories.
    (Karat, Brodie, Karat, Vergo, and Alpert, 2003)

Presenting Consumers Options

Designers can help users make better (more rational) decisions by presenting comparison tools. When the presentation/layout of a site offers too many choices, not the right information and no comparison mechanism, consumer decisions are not as good. (Browne and Pitts, 2004; Jedetski, Adelman, and Yeo, 2002)

Users prefer and recall products better when there is a picture of the product paired with text. Presenting products in a list with pictures in one column, text description in a second column was preferred. (Hong, Thong, and Tam, 2004)

Task Flow Redesign

When you significantly change a commonly used task flow to improve efficiency, it is critical to provide clear feedback to minimize the chance that users will automatically do it the old way. (Besnard and Cacitti, 2005)

Users' Pain Points

Users spend almost 40% of their computer facing trying to get things to work or work better. They are challenged by difficult installations, viruses, connectivity troubleshooting). The systems that slow them down the most are operating systems, email, and Web browsing problems. (Ceaparu, Lazar, Bessiere, and Shneiderman, 2004)

Visual Behavior

On newspaper sites, pictures attract attention first, but users look most at the headline news, particularly if it has a blurb describing it. Users know where advertisements are and have learned to avoid them. (EyeTrackIII, September, 2004)

Wait Tolerance

Tolerable wait time is about 2 seconds. Users will wait somewhat longer if there is feedback that something is happening. (Nah, 2004)


Bayles, M. E. (2002). "Designing Online Banner Advertisements: Should We Animate?" Usability News, 4(1).

Beck, D. M., and Palmer, S. E. (2002). "Top-Down Influences on Perceptual Grouping." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance.

Bernard, M. (2001). "Developing Schemas for the Location of Common Web Objects." Usability News, 4(1).

Bernard, M. (2002). "Examining User Expectations for the Location of Common E-Commerce Web Object." Usability News, 4(1).

Bernard, M. L., Chaparro, B. S., Mills, M. M., and Halcomb, C. G. (2003). "Comparing the effects of text size and format on the readability of computer displayed Times New Roman and Arial text." International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 59.

Besnard, D., and Cacitti, L. (2005). "Interface changes causing accidents. An empirical study of negative transfer." International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 62.

Browne, G. J., and Pitts, M. G. (2004). "Stopping rule use during information search in design problems." Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 95.

Ceaparu, I., Lazar, J., Bessiere, K., and Shneiderman, B. (2004). "Determining Causes and Severity of
End-User Frustration." International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 17(3).

Chalmers, P. A. (2003). "The role of cognitive theory in human-computer interface." Computers in Human Behavior.

Chaparro, B. S., Shaikh, A. D., and Baker, J. R. (2005). "Reading Online Text with a Poor Layout: Is Performance Worse?" Usability News, 7(1).

Cockburn, A., McKenzie, B., and Smith, M. J. (2002). "Pushing Back: Evaluating a New Behavior for the Back and Forward Buttons in Web Browsers." International Journal of Human Computer Studies.

Colonia-Willner, R. (2004). "Self-service systems: new methodology reveals customer real-time actions during merger." Computers in Human Behavior.

Dulude, L. (2002). "Automated telephone answering systems and aging." Proceedings of ACM CHI, 21(3).

Duggan, E. W. (2003). "Generating Systems Requirements With Facilitated Group Techniques."
Human-Computer Interaction, 18(4).

Eschenfelder, K. (2004). "The customer is always right, but whose customer is more important? Conflict and Web site classification schemes." Information Technology and People, 16(4).

Everett, S. P., and Byrne, M. D. (2004). "Unintended Effects: Varying Icon Spacing Changes User's Visual Search Strategy." Proceedings of ACM CHI.

Eysenbach, G., and Kohler, C. (2002). "How do consumers search for and appraise health information on the World Wide Web? Qualitative study using focus groups, usability tests, and in-depth interviews." British Medical Journal.

Faulkner, L. (2003). "Beyond the five-user assumption: Benefits of increased sample sizes in usability testing." Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 35(3).

Feng, J., Lazar, J., and Preece, J. (2004). "Empathy and online interpersonal trust: A fragile relationship." Behavior and Information Technology, 23(2).

Fu, L., Salvendy, G., and Turley, L. (2002). "Effectiveness of user testing and heuristic evaluation as a function of performance classification." Behavior and Information Technology.

Graesser, A. C., McNamara, D. S., Louwerse, M. M., and Cai, Z. (2004). "Coh-Metrix: Analysis of text on cohesion and language." Behavior Research Methods, Instruments and Computers, 36(2).

Hassenzahl, M. (2004). "The interplay of Beauty, Goodness and Usability in Interactive Products." Human-Computer Interaction.

Hong, W., Thong, J. Y. L., and Tam, K. Y. (2004). "Designing product listing pages on e-commerce Web sites: and examination of presentation mode and information format." International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

Huart, J., Kolski, C., and Sagar, M. (2004). "Evaluation of multimedia applications using inspection methods: the Cognitive Walkthrough case." Interacting with Computers, 16.

Hull, S. S. (2004). "Influence of Training and Exposure on the Usage of Breadcrumb Navigation." Usability News, 6(1).

Iwase, H., and Murata, A. (2002). "Empirical Study on Improvement of Usability for Touch-Panel for Elderly." IEEE Journal on Systems, Man and Cybernetics.

Jedetski, J., Adelman, L., and Yeo, C. (2002). "How Web Site Decision Technology Affects Consumers." IEEE Internet Computing.

Karat, C. M., Brodie, C., Karat, J., Vergo, J., and Alpert, S. R. (2003). "Personalizing the user experience on" IBM Systems Journal, 42(4).

Katz, M. A., and Byrne, M. D. (2003). "Effects of Scent and Breadth on Use of Site Specific Search on
E-commerce Websites." ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction. 10(3).

Laarni, J., Simola, J., Kojo, I., and Risto, N. (2004). "Reading vertical text from a computer screen." Behavior and Information Technology, 23(2).

Lin, D. Y. M. (2004). "Evaluating older adults' retention in hypertext perusal: impacts of presentation media as a function of text topology." Computers in Human Behavior, 20.

Luczak, H., Roetting, M., and Schmidt, L. (2003). "Let's talk: anthropomorphization as means to cope with stress of interacting with technical devices." Ergonomics, 15(46).

Molich, R., Ede, M. R., Kaasgaard, K., and Karyukin, B. (2004). "Comparative usability evaluation." Behavior and Information Technology, 23(1).

Monk, A., Carroll, J., Parker, S., and Blythe, M. (2004). "Why are mobile phones annoying?" Behavior and Information Technology , 23(1).

Morkes, J., and Nielsen, J. (1998). "Applying Writing Guidelines to Web Pages." White Paper.
Nah, F. F. H. (2004). "A study on tolerable waiting time: how long are Web users willing to wait?" Behavior and Information Technology, 23(3).

Olsen, G., D. (2002). "Salient Stimuli in Advertising: The Effect of Contrast Interval Length and Type on Recall" Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 8(3).

Oulasvirta, A., Karrkainen, L., and Laarni, J. (2004). "Expectations and memory in link search." Computers in Human Behavior.

Parush, A., and Nirit, Y.G. (2004). "Web navigation structures in cellular phones: the depth/breadth trade-off issue." International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 60(5).

Poon, P. S., Hui, M. K., and Au, K. (2003). "Attributions on dissatisfying service encounters. A cross-cultural comparison between Canadian and PRC consumers." European Journal of Marketing, 38(11).

Rangecroft, M. (2003). "As easy as pie." Behavior and Information Technology, 22(6).

Renshaw, J. A., Finlay, J. E., Tyfa, D., and Ward, R. D. (2004). "Understanding visual influence in graph design through temporal and spatial eye movement characteristics." Interacting with Computers.

Russell, M. (2005). "Using Eye-Tracking Data to Understand First Impressions of a Web site." Usability News, 7(1).

Shaikh, A. D. (2004). "Paper or Pixels: What are People Reading Online?" Usability News, 6(2).

Sillence, E., Briggs,P., Fishwick,L. and Harris,P. (2004). "Trust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites." ACM Proceedings of CHI, 6(1).

Simons, D. J., and Chabris, C. F. (1999). "Gorilla in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events." Perception, 28.

Tlauka, M. (2004). "Display-control compatibility: the relationship between performance and judgments of performance." Ergonomics, 47(3).

Tullis, T., and Wood, L. (2004). "How Many Users Are Enough for a Card-Sorting Study?" Proceedings of UPA.

Van Schaik, P., and Ling, J. (2003). "The effect of link color on information retrieval in educational intranet use." Computers in Human Behavior.

Vredenburg, K., Mao, J. Y., Smith, P. W., and Carey, T. (2002). "A Survey of User-Centered Design Practice". CHI.

Weenig, M. W. H., and Maarleveld, M. (2002). "The impact of time constraint on information search strategies in complex choice tasks." Journal of Economic Psychology.

Weller, D. (2004). "The Effects of Contrast and Density on Visual Web Search." Usability News, 6(2).

Wiedenbeck, S. (1999). "The use of icons and labels in an end-user application program: an empirical study of learning and retention." Behavior and Information Technology, 18(2).

Zaphiris, P., Shneiderman, B., and Norman, K. L. (2002). "Expandable Indexes Versus Sequential Menus or Searching Hierarchies on the World Wide Web." International Journal of Human Computer Studies, 21(3).

Message from the CEO, Dr. Eric Schaffer — The Pragmatic Ergonomist

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Reviewed: 18 Mar 2014

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