A Challenging Life Transition
In a field in which, regrettably, too many businesses tend to rely on their own perceptions, we undertook voluminous research into retiree trends, personal narratives and statistics to find qualitative and quantitative data to pinpoint retiree needs and assist us in creating possible solutions.
When people think of retirement they tend to focus on the negative: the challenges commonly associated with aging, progressive disability and income shortfalls. Without doubt, retirement entails a host of overt major changes with regard to identity, social circles, daily routines and combating the social stigmas often associated with aging. But as our research revealed, this ultimately myopic view distracts businesses from the myriad of positive opportunities and privileges that come with retirement life.
In contrast to their parents’ generation, today’s retirees are highly motivated to keep busy, continue to develop new social circles, and pursue an active, engaged lifestyle. We addressed the needs of two different retirement groups, semi-retirees and retirees with a few years in, expecting to isolate and then target differing benefits from these two different stages of retirement.
Semi-Retiree Evelyn aspires to give back using her finance skill set or learning related skills, preferably in a nonprofit environment. She wants to work “a few hours a week” and find activities with like-minded people during her “me time.”
Retired hobbyist Richard wants to overcome his fear of learning new things so that he can lay the groundwork for a fulfilling life with his wife, once she joins him in retirement.
After analysis of our user research and current market offerings, we explored and eventually defined ways in which this product could address and solve retiree challenges. Retirees need a platform that enables them to build networks based on shared interests and experiences and that also enables them to conquer problems they face during successive phases of retirement.
After analysis of our user research and current market offerings, we explored and defined how the client could attempt to solve retiree challenges. Retirees need a platform based on interests and past experiences to build networks and a platform to find solutions to challenges they face during the different phases of retirement.
With retiree goals defined, we applied our findings into generating concepts to explore how our client's product could keep retirees like our personas connected, relevant and engaged. We iterated and refined ideas around the broad but important concepts of connection, resources, activity, health, life purpose, and quality of life.
Although our early sketches varied greatly, I was convinced that those encouraging connection produced the site-design features to optimally meet retiree needs.
The Forums feature would give retirees the opportunity to build networks, engage in mentorship, gain new knowledge, exchange relevant solutions and ideas, and otherwise locate and obtain necessary support throughout retirement.
The Events feature would entice retirees offline and out into the world, giving them the ability to introduce, promote and enjoy local activities. The feature would also build on Forums by taking ideas from the abstract to the hands-on, thereby encouraging face-to-face networking. This in turn would keep retirees more fully engaged and—thanks to mutual shared experiences— allow retirees to build more meaningful relationships than is typically possible online.
Question of the Day
Question of the Day would be a broad outreach to all community members to help retirees find common ground and inspire brief storytelling.
Look back would be a page motivating site users to reminisce about major life milestones and share experiences ranging from the unique to the universally relevant. Experiences in the unique category could be eye-opening and/or entertaining conversation pieces, whereas more universal stories would promote a sense of community. Look back was among the early concepts that would undergo reevaluation as the project took shape.
Engagement & Accessibility
We began by designing the homepage. As the introduction to the site, the homepage is the foundation for all site features as well as the nexus of community activity. Focusing on the homepage forced us to reach a consensus on contrasting ideas, weed out unfeasible ideas, and structure consecutive site parts.
Designing for retirees meant making an interface deliberately easy on “aging eyes.” These tailored adjustments included large typefaces for readability; whitespace to emphasize available actions and prevent cluttered pages; and conventional interface elements so that users can more readily recognize the site’s interactive parts. UI elements retirees are accustomed to would also assist in lowering the cognitive load—along with words that were fun and welcoming, yet never trendy or unfamiliar.
Transparency also played a major role in our decisions, as retirees know that they are targets of an abundance of scams both online and off. Our aim throughout was to build user engagement and trust. By so doing, we hoped to empower retirees to take ownership in their communities and reap tremendous value from interactions with others going through the same life transitions.
Vigorous discussion ensued as to prominently emphasize Events or Forums on the homepage. Ultimately, guided by our design principle of face-to-face engagement, we saw Events emerge as the centerpiece of our homepage design.
We decided to focus only on two features to simplify user choice and minimize confusion. Our main goals remained to get retirees involved out in their local communities, asking questions, solving retirement-specific problems and making meaningful connections. This would be a mostly user- generated site, and as is invariably true on such sites, transparency of posting is essential to engender trust.
The goal of optimizing user familiarity and accessibility required that each site feature have the same structure. Creation of an event or topic was located in the right-hand corner. Navigation items were stationary, enhancing learnability, reinforcing user orientation and assist in easy site navigation.
We sought to keep the profile and settings simple. Too many controls leave the user feeling lost or trapped with confusing jargon. In many articles, Boomers have been shown to be wary of sharing any personal information online. We sought to ensure that they feel secure in knowing exactly what information they are publicly sharing.
Testing and Validation
For our usability & resonance testing we recruited four Castro Valley retirees of various ages and professions and in different stages of retirement. We collected their basic demographics and computer habits in order to validate our list of expected concerns for retirees and to assure that we were headed in the right direction. Following our preliminary questions, we tested our prototype, which included the homepage and two interior pages for our two main features, Events and Forums.
It became clear that retirees want to promote activities they’re involved in almost as much as they want to discover new activities. Local events are a big deal. Retirees are concerned with privacy and security and, above all, demand transparency. Retirees will dismiss sites that cause cognitive overload or present an intimidating amount of new information.
As one interviewee mentioned,
“I like AARP, but once you click on something you are inundated with insurance ads. It doesn't feel entirely honest - there's a lot of advertising."
Interviews taught us that we needed to contemplate a number of refinements to our preliminary design in order to make the site more user-friendly. We found that the flat design tags were confusing, and some font sizes were too small.
At the same time, our retiree interviews as well as more pointed discussions with the client revealed other truths. The site conceived by the client was not ideally suited for pre-retirees, but rather would be more appropriate for people past the early, so-called “honeymoon stage” of retirement; these retirees are looking to reengage outside the home and find a sense of community. Nor, as I expected, would the site be aimed at technologically challenged or “traditional retirees,” that is, those much older than Baby Boomers.
As our assignment moved into its pivotal stage, we focused on visual design; it followed that we used the feedback from our tests to tailor our site accordingly. We approached the visual design from the two contrasting themes of elegance and fun. We cycled through many design iterations until we found a balance that was pleasing to our client and would resonate with retirees in our final resonance tests.
We added sub-groups to give forum users more freedom to explore niche topics and arrange meet-ups, making the homepage more of an overview than an emphasis on a single dominating feature.
Implementing feedback from usability testing, we also added groups to forums to encourage face-to-face events, and we expanded topics into groups to provide more specific & local conversations.
We designed in a prominent dashboard that included a starting point encompassing local and other high user-priority items. We updated previews of the three features. This gave us the ability to emphasize user connection and networking as well as increase member visibility.