Understanding a different audience

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Did you know that you’re likely among the top 5–8% of computer users worldwide?

That probably sounds great, until you realize that you’re designing for the other 95% of computer users.

You’ve likely been taught ways to design for some users that are, on average, Early adopters. They may have some technical or educational background, are interested in your business product (which is fairly new), and represent anywhere from 13.5 to 47.5% of users.

But what about the rest of that audience? Well, for them, it’s a completely different ballgame. Late adopters of the technology have much different user needs than early adopters, and a different design approach needs to be taken as a result.

Late Adopters and the startup problem

The term “late adopter’ is something that comes from something called the Diffusion of Innovations theory. Developed by Everett Rogers in 1962, it is a model that highlights how, why, and the rate at which new technology and ideas spread.

You might have heard of this because of the front end of the scale. How there’s only a set percentage of innovators, and everyone else follows. Or else, how there’s a critical mass that needs to be reached for a product to be successfully adopted into the mainstream (i.e. mainstream use).

But how would you do an initial design for the back end of that scale (Late Majority and Laggards)? In the old system, you probably wouldn’t be: the late majority only reaches a product after several iterations, when the product has been established.

But when the next big tech battleground maybe healthcare, a traditionally late adopter of technology, there are going to be additional things to consider.

Startups and other companies are starting to target late adopter populations, such as older adults and healthcare as their user base.

Everything from wearable technology for older adults to Health Insurance and finding a medical provider are venues that new companies are beginning to pursue. But they’re running into roadblocks because they don’t understand this population.

Who exactly might this late adopter population consist of? Well, let me just list off some of the groups that may fall into this category:

  • Older adults, who may not be that tech-savvy
  • People with accessibility issues (such as blind users), who need things to not change that much between versions
  • A majority of healthcare stakeholders (Doctors, Nurses, Patients), who have a risk-averse relationship with technology
  • People in rural areas, who may not have access to the latest cutting edge technology
  • Adults who make less than 55k a year, and may not be able to afford the latest gadgets
  • People who work in domains that are risk-averse due to the consequences (Healthcare, Aviation, Mental Health, etc.)

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you are targeting a late adopter (or laggard) as one of your core groups, you first need to understand exactly who you are dealing with.

Consider their technology skills

The Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released a study of 215,942 people in 33 countries in 2016 which talked about the average computer skills of people age 16–65 around the world.

In that study, it was seen that 26% of the world doesn’t even use computers, with another 29% able to do simple tasks that required little to no navigation (such as “Finding all e-mails from John Smith”).

In a follow-up article, the Nielsen-Norman Group stated that for seniors (age 65 ), they found that while seniors are increasing their digital literacy, some of the greatest challenges came from small text and targets, interfaces that were unforgiving of errors, and websites that did not seem to be inclusive of them and their needs.

The Nielsen Norman group goes on to say that you are likely to be within the top 5–8% of computer users in the world if you are working as a designer.

Therefore, you need to remember that what you can do, 92–95% of the world can’t.

Consider how much they trust technology

So imagine that your audience isn’t going to be those that are computer-illiterate. Imagine that they’re highly-educated professionals, such as doctors.

Then, you need to consider how much they trust technology.

Imagine that you are building an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) interface that has very small issues with responsive web design. When you view it on a phone, some of the text at the very bottom may get slightly cut off. In most cases, you can see it, but you might need to scroll down slightly.

Now imagine that a doctor is reading it on his phone (because he’s doing a consult for another patient), and he fails to see the last line on the record which outlines an allergic reaction to a medication. As a result, he mistakenly prescribes that medication.

Do you think, even if the patient survives, that the doctor will trust that technology after that? Is it any wonder that Doctors hate their computers?

Did you know that there’s a stigma against wearable technology for adults in nursing homes because it signals that something’s wrong or they’re losing their independence?

To get late adopters on board, you have to build up trust with users with them. And to do that, you need to be able to reach them.

Consider how you plan to reach them

How do you normally plan to reach your users?

That’s usually a question that designers might not have to consider. Someone on the business side, such as marketing, sales, or CEOs, usually have to think about it.

Web-based marketing may simply not work, simply because many late adopters are simply not on the internet. Mobile marketing? Well, small text and interfaces are particularly challenging to the point where some late adopters may not own a smartphone (although most do own a cellphone of some kind).

So what do you do if late adopters are a core audience?

Possible design strategies

There exists this chart that talks about the way that traditional businesses cater to different audiences in a traditional model. However, these strategies are dependent on the traditional model of adoption, which posits that several revisions and iterations typically take place to refine a specific product.

So what should you do if you don’t have that luxury? Well, here are a few simple design tips you can implement.

Emphasis on simple and easy to use: We all want simple and easy to use interfaces, but it is super important to take care of this with actual metrics. Certain things to consider might be:

Value-based propositioning: It’s easy for a business person to define the value of your product: you are required to through executive summaries or use cases. However, when you are doing user research with mockups, don’t assume they see the same value: they may find that the product has no value to them.

  • Don’t explain products to them without first asking how they understand the product and if it has value. If they don’t understand the product (or how it’s supposed to work), you may have to re-design your product.
  • Try to understand their mental models of underlying technology first. If you’re designing a mobile app, you need to understand that the way older adults use smartphones is fundamentally different than the 18–35 crowd.

Leveraging networks of care: Late adopters do not exist in a vacuum. This is especially true of elders: caretakers, family members, and medical professionals all may interact with the elder regularly. Therefore, including early adopters in your testing may be useful to assess very general attitudes towards late adopters.

  • Examine brand or product perception in the eyes of users. Attitudinal research may be extremely helpful in determining if this product is something trusted enough for late adopters to be interested in.
  • Ask early adopters who else they think this product could be valuable or useful for. Do not lead them, but see if answers involve late adopters.

Understand the normal technology adoption model: Within the traditional technology acceptance model, late adopters arrive at technology as a tried and tested product that exists within a niche. There also tends to be several options to choose from with trusted brands (such as Apple, Microsoft, etc.).

  • Understand the user’s workflow as it relates to the current experience. If they are used to doing tasks in a certain way, see if your product mirrors that experience. (As a side note, EMR’s failed to do this, often making fields doctors would skim over required or disorganized. There’s a reason doctors hate technology).
  • Practice reading between the lines. Some users (such as older adults) may blame their inadequacies in using technology rather than providing deserved criticism.