Leading the lost


Macbook Air

I (extremely) recently took on a job teaching senior citizens how to use a MacBook, specifically in this case a MacBook Air. It's interesting looking from the perspective of one of the members of this generation, especially as someone who technically grew up on computers even though comparatively my own experience is just a drop in the ocean to many others. Despite this, I can touch-type, I know how to use a touchpad and I can work out without trouble what a menu is and how to close, minimise and maximise applications - just as a starter.

But this isn't the case for them.

Today I watched my neighbor as she tried to scroll up and down with the touchpad on her new MacBook Air, tried to understand how to select multiple items and tried to type out a short two line message to family, stopping after each letter to search for the right key. When I first arrived, she told me her MacBook was frozen - she had Safari open in Fullscreen Mode and didn't know how to exit out of it.

Using a MacBook can seem intuitive to us, but for my neighbour I have been tempted to see how many features of Mac OS X I could disable as possible, such as the swipes and gestures on the touchpad, the natural scroll, autocorrect, and probably even more besides. It's not that she's new to Mac, she had a white MacBook in the past and while I'm not sure exactly what condition it is in, this new model is clearly so different to the old, she cannot understand how to operate it. When she brushes the touchpad accidentally, she activates gestures she didn't realise were there.

Mac OS X System Preferences

While our technology advances and gets ever more complex and feature-rich, we're slowly but surely leaving behind many of these members of older generations. While I don't think these features are a bad thing, they are certainly much too complex for these senior citizens and there appears nothing minimalistic or simplistic when seeing it this way. In the end, we as designers are designing from our own experiences, what we want to see and experience, and we are biased because we have certain expectations as to how things should work that others may not necessarily have.

If someone has a very set use case, it's fine to present to them an extremely thinned down system with only the essentials that they need. However to allow these senior citizens their full independence and introduce them to the greater abilities of their expensive computing devices will require additional effort. Otherwise staff should not encourage senior citizens to purchase hardware and software they will never fully understand how to operate.

I have no illusions about my teaching ability - one has to know something well to be able to teach it! Still, I was complimented on my teaching today. Want to hire me, Apple? :'D