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How Bad User Interfaces Can Ruin Lives

Lauren Weinstein writes: A couple of months ago, in “Seeking Anecdotes Regarding ‘Older’ Persons’ Use of Web Services,” I asked for stories and comments regarding experiences that older users have had with modern Web systems, with an emphasis on possible problems and frustrations. I purposely did not define “older” — with the result that responses arrived from users (or regarding users) self-identifying as ages ranging from their 30s to well into their 90s (suggesting that “older” is largely a point of view rather than an absolute). Before I began the survey I had some preconceived notions of how the results would appear. Some of these were proven correct, but overall the responses also contained many surprises, often both depressing and tragic in scope. The frustration of caregivers in these contexts was palpable. They’d teach an older user how to use a key service like Web-based mail to communicate with their loved ones, only to discover that a sudden UI change caused them to give up in frustration and not want to try again. When the caregiver isn’t local the situation is even worse. While remote access software has proven a great boon in such situations, they’re often too complex for the user to set up or fix by themselves when something goes wrong, remaining cut off until the caregiver is back in their physical presence.


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