Rob Smith

One of my favorite sayings is, “Design for older eyes shouldn’t be old design.” I find this phrase to be especially pertinent when tackling website projects. Whether it be building a new site from the ground up or refreshing an existing site, my top priority is to ensure that design complements and enhances the user experience. All too often, designers are looking to incorporate new innovations (some would say “gimmicks”) into their websites, all the while forgetting about how the end user will interact with them. While the latest plugin may allow you to add extra or flashier animation, it also runs the risk of confusing the user. Through our focus groups and user testing, we’ve seen this again and again, and it’s a problem that older users are especially prone to.

Avoiding these issues starts before the visual design process is even considered. The architecture and user flow should be the first considerations one thinks of before things like colors and themes are discussed. Understanding how potential users navigate your site will impact the rest of the design. Put yourself in the shoes of a 65-year-old that is exploring life at retirement communities — what is he or she most interested in, and how can you draw him or her into your sales funnel? Having a clearly defined “road map” that leads the user to the exact information he or she wants, along with a prompt to provide an email and phone number, is the foundation of a quality website that helps generate leads for sales staff.

Just as when you’re driving on a highway, you’re going to need some signage to help direct your website traffic along. This takes the form of the navigation on your website and how it’s displayed. The goal is to get the user to the desired information as quickly as you can, before he or she loses interest in the product that you’re offering. A good rule of thumb is that key information should be no more than two clicks away from the landing page, with only one click being optimal. If someone lands on your site looking for memory care, he or she shouldn’t have to click through information on nursing or assisted living. Creativity in menu design and user flow can make the difference between a site generating lots of leads and one that leaves potential residents lost on the internet.

Now that we’ve put all of this thought into the structure of the site, we can contemplate the look and feel. Often, this process is done in conjunction with a refresh in brand and market positioning, giving us a great opportunity to create a website that feels modern and fresh while still supplying the basic information that users are looking for. At this stage, I like to concentrate on two factors — contrast and readability. Remember: Older eyes can still appreciate modern design, but they have to be able to see it. Using high-contrast colors will make the site easier to read and navigate, producing longer visits, which in turn generates more leads. Readability goes hand in hand with this concept as I look for fonts that are easy to discern and large enough for users to read. Additionally, I may look to add a feature that lets the user make the text on the site even larger or change the contrast. By providing these features, we make our sites more user-friendly, helping to set us apart from the competition.

After all of this has been thought out, the real fun begins, as I can turn my creative mind loose and look for new and inventive ways to convey the community and brand visually. Working with our writers, art directors and account management teams, I look at the entire website holistically, bringing together a website that represents the vision of the client and the needs of the user in one experience. Whether a brand is trying to convey an active lifestyle, security and compassion or a unique living situation, it’s my goal to tie all of the creative assets together so that vision is carried through the photos, text, videos and interactive experience.

Just because the users of the websites I design tend to be older doesn’t mean that I get a pass and can use dated design. Quite the opposite, actually! Every day I’m challenged to create designs that incorporate the latest in digital innovation while ensuring that the user experience remains as seamless as possible. Agencies can easily become blinded by the desire to innovate something totally revolutionary. In my eyes, the most revolutionary designs are those that users may not even recognize, as they are too busy imagining themselves already making a life for themselves at the community the website represents.