Designing for someone who’s never been online

Designing for someone who’s never been online

Written by Bea Karol Burks on Fri 07 Oct 2016

From CDO at Citizens Advice, to Digital Delivery at Tinder Foundation, #twbconf 2016 speaker, Bea Karol Burks talks through her experience designing for people who have never been online. 

Think back to the first time you went online. How did you know to scroll down a page, to click a link or that certain objects could be typed into?

Those of us who grew up with computers have a sophisticated mental catalogue of design patterns that we’ve built up over years. For digital natives it’s even more ingrained. Just watch how this toddler reacts to a magazine.

Unlike this toddler, six million people in the UK have never been online before. Twelve million have low basic digital skills. They won’t immediately recognise the kinds of intuitive design most of us take for granted and they definitely won’t assume that the presence of an image implies interaction. Visual clues to scroll, swipe and press certain features aren’t obvious unless you’ve come across them before, which means 12m people struggle with email, searching, using public services and doing simple online shopping. For these people, what most of us — especially those of us in the digital community — think of as great, intuitive design can actually be quite the opposite.

Here’s a bit about why.

Our minds are lazy. They are constantly logging information picked up through our senses and referencing new information against existing information, asking is this different? Why is it different?

It’s how I know that something with four legs and at sitting height is probably a chair — I’ve seen lots of them before. Unless it’s moving around in which case it’s likely to be a baby, except for when it’s covered in fur which makes it a dog, unless it’s got pointy ears and whiskers, in which case I’ll recognise it as a cat. I know which design clues to look for because I have seen similar things before and I can recognise difference.

Recognising the difference between babies and chairs

It works just the same online. And if you recognise something as button, you know it can pressed. If you recognise something as a search bar, you know it can be typed in. If you don’t recognise those things and you’re sitting there with a tablet, you’re going to struggle a bit.

This is the challenge Tinder Foundation addresses in supporting people to get online and gain those basic digital skills most of us take for granted. Every day the digital team asks the question:

‘How do you design for someone who has never been online before?’

It’s not as easy as it sounds. People are digitally excluded for different reasons and inclusive design needs to be aware of those differences. It’s not something you can find out simply through talking to someone. A lot of people will talk confidently about websites they’ve heard of, but not actually be able to recognise if and when they’re on them. Take a look at this example with Harry, who I met at a Device Doctors session run by Berneslai Homes and Barnsley Council in Yorkshire.

Notice how overwhelming Amazon’s design is for Harry. The design and usability features regular internet users know to look for don’t register with Harry. Instead, he ends up in the text at the bottom of the page — a dark, dark place that few of us would normally venture and is often the most neglected part of a website.

A lot of new internet users will default to text — it’s familiar, like a book or an instruction manual. This is also where the least relevant and most complicated aspects of an app or site live. Great if you want to know about Amazon’s supply chain standards, not so great if you want to know how to buy a pair of shoes.

This isn’t the only challenge. As well as not recognising common design patterns, people who are new to the digital world won’t have as sophisticated mental filters as habitual web users, so it’s harder for them to block out superfluous information like adverts.

Just look at this example of how the text under the search bar “Explore the history of 10 Downing Street” distracts Cynthia from carrying out a search.

Tinder Foundation uses lessons like this to question assumptions about what intuitive digital design is and understand how it can work better for all users. This informs our digital learning platform Learn My Way, which has so far been over 900,000 people’s very first introduction to the internet.

Designing for people who have never been online before gets harder as the digital population’s relationship with interfaces matures. The language of design builds upon itself and references the designs that came before it. At Tinder Foundation we’re constantly trying to rewind that, never assuming anything and reminding ourselves that what seems obvious isn’t obvious … until it is.

“Roll the mouse up the screen” Daniel Blake 2016:

Want more?

Bea's slides from #twbconf 2016 

This article originally appeared on Medium - Bea Karol Burks