Generation Gap or Digital Divide?

If I were a product interface designer, I’d start looking into creating experiences for the LOHAS crowd (Age 35 to 55). Baby Boomers are the largest growing population segment followed by the Early Gen X crowd (and I should know) yet products almost always seem to gear their marketing and their features to the young. Nothing wrong with that, we were all young once (thank god that’s over) but there comes a point where buttons need to be easier to find and use, and what’s intuitive for the "Digital Babies" may not be for those who learnt to use a PC in High School.

Taking a leaf from Chris Gielow’s book, let’s use the "mom test" as an example, and of course one of my favorite companies, Skype. Dad set it up for mom to use – no more telephone bills to her daughtrs in India and the US – and I called mom. She finally answered after a few rings and said "I didn’t know what to do, I heard it ring, so I clicked on the button which showed an upright telephone" Obviously, the right thing to do, since we were talking. Plus the button is green, while the other icon is a phone in horizontal position and coloured red. Whereas, she has yet to figure out how to use MSN messenger or Yahoo IM or chat features. The Skype dialogue box allows her to do what is natural without having to decipher language or instructions or smaller icons. I could be biased, but I’m nonetheless impressed. (And mom, if you’re reading this, of course it’s because you’re brilliant, not the software :P)

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3 Responses to Generation Gap or Digital Divide?

  1. Niti – David Cowan wrote an entry recently called Enough With The Convergence, Already! This is about hardware usability, not software, but I share his sentiment. I’ve never liked devices cluttered with tiny buttons, that do many things poorly, if only because I can’t get comfortable with the complexity of the UI.
    http://whohastimeforthis.blogspot.com/2005/08/enough-with-convergence-already.html
    If I want to take a picture, I’d like to reach for a camera. If I want to make a call, I’d like to reach for the phone. This shouldn’t mean that I can’t immediately send the picture from the phone, however.

  2. Ralf Beuker says:

    Hi Niti,
    good point you raise here! You might be interested in a conversation among entrepreneurs like Stelios Haji-Ioannou from Easy Group and Niklas Zennstrom from Skype on BBC4 Radio. You will find my posting with links here:
    http://www.design-management.de/archive/2005/06/design-driven-disruption-bbc4-broadcast/
    Take care and have a nice day, Ralf.

  3. Niti says:

    Alan, great article link, thanks. And I don’t know if it makes me a luddite, but I feel the same way about my camera and phone – I mean, do we know if they are married? 🙂
    Ralf, thanks. I’ve really begun to be very impressed with Skype of late.

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