Email for Seniors

The most unglamorous project ever. Exactly what these users need.

In the U.S. alone, there's a huge number of seniors who don't use email because it's too complicated. I saw this as an opportunity to help a lot of people and build a business at the same time.

So, how do you design a popular email system for seniors who don't know how to use email?

1. What motivates them?

First, I needed to find out what motivated these seniors emotionally. To do that, I needed to learn from current email users who had similar psychographic and demograpic characteristics.

I've lived in Florida for over 12 years. I've studied how and why seniors do things, and I've learned an enormous amount about what they need emotionally and what motivates them. I built on that knowledge by using emotional modeling—a technique I developed while I was studying for my master's degree.

Using this technique, I identified three core emotional purposes seniors feel email serves for them: relevance, security, and the reliving of happy memories by sharing stories with family and friends. Next, I identified the emotional aspects of each purpose, such as 'being seen' and 'having the power to change things in their lives.' Finally, I determined the technological functions of each of the aspects.

2. How well do they understand technology?

To find out why current email systems are too complicated for them, I studied how well they understood technology, in general.

My research revealed that many users initially do not know how to use computers at all.  They learn about computers and other things by visiting the source of knowledge they know—the library.

Mousercise is one tool they use to learn the basics of computers and the Internet. It dramatically illustrates the challenges they face when dealing with technology.

I realized right away that these users weren't ready for something as complicated as Gmail:


3. Turning it all into wireframes

I used story structure and process flows to turn the functions into hierarchies and then wireframes.

I started with the users' emotions and kept them paramount throughout the process. Because of this, the designs have exactly what the users need emotionally and don't have extraneous features or elements. 

4.1 Reading email

Using story structure, I identified the users' key question when reading email: Did somebody speak with me? I used process flows to help them answer that question.

4.2 Writing email

Story structure was very important in helping users write email. The key question was: Will they hear me? I chose a contact-based communication method to reassure them that they would be heard.

The Result

By researching  users' emotional needs and designing based on what I learned, I created something that will resonate with them. It has the features they need, presented in a way that's reassuring to them. With some basic startup help (from the library or family and friends) users will be able to send email. More importantly, they'll feel more relevant, more secure and connected, and they'll be able to share happy memories with a wider circle of family and friends.