Hi. I am working on a redesign of Google apps for seniors.... feedback appreciated


I often work with seniors, many of whom use Google apps. Their experience with these apps is often very frustrating.

Here are their major stumbling blocks:

  1. There are too many visual distractions on the screen (e.g. cryptic icons, such as ellipses, which aren’t labeled).

  2. Switching between apps is confusing for some seniors. They often end up with too many open browser tabs and don’t know how to return to their last open session.

  3. Seniors computing needs are often quite basic, so a limited feature set might be better for them.

  4. Many seniors have poor eyesight and like to print things — but Google’s print buttons are sometimes hard to find (and, in some cases, the print button is buried in a menu).

  5. Google places some of its action buttons below the visible screen fold, which makes them frustratingly hard to find (a poor design decision by Google).

  6. Even more frustrating for seniors is Google’s lack of consistency across its own apps. Sometimes the New button is in the top left corner of the screen and other times it’s in the bottom right-hand corner. Why not put the New button is the same place across all of its apps? This would improve the user experience for everyone, not just seniors.

To address many of these issues, I’ve started working on series of design makeovers for Google apps, especially for seniors. If possible, I’d like to code these designs (with the help of volunteer programmers) so seniors can benefit from them.

This is a side project that I will work on as time permits. The designs are bound to change as I test them out.

For my first working draft of a Gmail re-design, I have implemented these changes:

  1. Rather than showing the typical folder-centric view, I’ve focussed on people instead. Users can easily see incoming emails from their favorite contacts (mostly family). Emails from everyone else are placed on a separate button.
  2. Fewer features and icons. And all icons are labelled and the Print button is visible at all times.
  3. No page scrolling — so all buttons stay clearly in view.
  4. Consistent button placement across all Google apps. The New button always appears in the lower right-hand hand corner of the screen (inside a fixed footer).
  5. The fixed footer is also used as a Google app switcher (so only one tab session stays open).

Here is a screen shot of my makeover screen from my personal website (www.spark-ux.com).

Makeover Design

This design iteration is for desktop web browsers, but I will design them for mobile screens as well.

Your feedback on this project is much appreciated.

Interesting! Did you do any research with appropriate users before you started designing?

Thanks Doug.

No. This isn’t a formally “researched” project (so I guess I am breaking a few UX rules).

As I said in my original text, I work closely with seniors every day and I see firsthand what they are struggling with. That’s basically the extent of my research. They tell me what they would like to do…and I help them do it with the software that’s available to them (mostly Facebook and Google apps).

My parents, who are both in their mid 70’s, are also good sounding boards for my designs.

I am also nearing the senior demographic myself. I am 61, with failing eyesight and I am color blind. So, if the designs work for me, they might work for others.

I’m also working against time (my age) so I cut corners as much as possible. I’m not much of a theorist… I’m more of a builder.

I see this as more of a grassroot, hands-on design cycle. If some of my screens spark others to innovate for seniors, that’s great. If not, that’s ok too. This is a side gig, not my main show (but I hope it may still be valuable to someone else out there).

As an interesting side note, moving away from folder-centric design is the way things are going anyways. A while ago Google dropped folders in favour of “tags”. So moving to a people-centric design isn’t that radical a change (I haven’t come across any other email apps that take that approach yet. But there may be some out there).

You’re redesigning for a purpose, which is amazing and a breath of fresh air compared to the millions of uneccesary redesigns I see on portfolios these days. I’t great that you understand the user because you pretty much are one.
Your major stumbling blocks based on talking to the senior users so I’d love to see you possibly paraphrase them or put down quotations on a board, maybe collect them as you keep talking. this would be great to read! Also, something a user needs assessment or report would be great to back up the stumbling blocks you wrote about at the top or some kind of other UX artifacts before getting into any building or design… I know time is of the essence but you’d end up saving more time down the line by not designign something that didnt meed the needs, right?
I’d then just stick to wireframes for testing new designs out rather than implementing any UI or visual language. You’re improving the senior’s experiences after all so you want to know if you’re on the right track especially with your Gmail redesign assumptions - you’d want to validate them as you go because my first question would be: How do you know they need any of those?
All of these things would need to happen before any code is even typed, unless the code is to prototype the wireframes or lofi design. The that would make a great case study and side project that would make Google pay attention.
Best of luck with it though. Designing for seniors is important. Keep going

Thanks Ari. I appreciate your feedback and the time it took to draft up a response.

My project has taken a different direction… but largely due to my thinking about seniors.

Unfortunately, except for yourself and one or two others, there seems to no interest from the UX community (or people in general). Once again seniors are mostly forgotten.

So I thought why not broaden the appeal of the project to include potentially everyone, not just seniors.
(That way if I make something seniors could still benefit from it).

I agree with your comment about wireframes… I do most of my work with them. I only post higher res screens for websites and forums such as this.

I also agree with your comment about “how to you know what they will need to use?” The design I posted here has too many elements which I don’t think seniors would ever need — so I have scrapped most of them.

From a broader context this project got me to thinking about the way we currently communicate with people. Our interfaces are all structured around a “tool-first” principal. For instance, if I want to contact you, I have to choose which tool I will use — email, text, Skype…etc.

I understand the logic behind “tool-first” processes, but they lead to fragmented (disconnected) streams — one for email, one for text, and another for Skype.

So I thought – why not switch to a “people-first” structure? In this scenario, I would pick YOU as main contact, then my toolsets would be connected around you as the Hub. That is the UI I am working on now. It requires a whole new way of looking at how we use our digital devices (people-first instead of tool-first)… And this change in perspective came about from my work on the seniors project.

Thanks again Ari.

[PS. I have also dropped the Google app focus — it’s too narrow. I’m now designing more generically so that users can pick their preferred tools. This makes the project more adaptable to either Google or Apple ecosystems.]