Open Thread

Open Thread Update: Open Letter to Tech Product Designers

Dear Tech Product Designers,

Virge asked readers if “new and improved” tech product updates are actually considered an improvement by older users. The conversation brings up a larger question of older adults being considered in product design – and why it matters who is at the table when decisions are made.

Virge kicked off the Open Thread with feedback on too-small screen and font sizes, the need for improved volume control options, why non-intuitive procedures take up space and time, and dissatisfaction with hard-to-hold devices. Readers commented in droves that they couldn’t agree more – and shared both frustrations and suggestions for improvements.

It’s worth highlighting some of the frustrations caused by tech and tech updates:

“Restaurant menus on QR codes just make me cranky! Please, just give me a paper menu.” – Susan W.


“Please remember that not everyone has the money or mental ability to adapt to a completely new technology, let alone some of the abbreviations used in the instructions.” – Carolyn B.

Many of the commented frustrations are rooted in the understandable desire to have technology ready at the fingertips (without a pending update) – when needed:

“I want to use and enjoy what I have, not run out to buy more stuff I don’t need or want.” – Dr. Jacqueline F.

Readers posed simple solutions that could be invaluable to product designers:

“Although designers may think that grey text is more sophisticated than black, it is much less “accessible” for us older folks!” – M.R.

“I’ve often thought a tech company should make a computer and iPhone with basic capabilities that would last. Or perhaps like cars – have a basic model with optional upgrades one could purchase I’d you need/want them.” – Lois L.

In conclusion, developers, hear our cry! And from previous tech insider Jo C.:

“I sincerely hope developers read and understand our concerns. After spending 25+ years in the tech industry, I know they can do better.” – Jo Crull

Have more to say about this topic? We’ll keep this posted for a while so you can add your ideas, second thoughts, or even third thoughts. Keep sending your thoughts in the comments and we’ll revisit this topic again!

Until next time,

Suzanne Myklebust is Senior Planet’s Director of Communications – stepping in to post this Open Thread Update for Senior Planet’s Managing Editor Virge Randall while she is out of town. Send your suggestions for future Open Threads to Virge at


38 responses to “Open Thread Update: Open Letter to Tech Product Designers

  1. Technology is moving at a phenomenal speed and one cannot help but think of being left alone in this new dawn. What bothers me the most is we as human beings. We’ve developed a mentality of either you are one of us or we can’t help you. I don’t have the stomach for QR’s or anything that counts me a series of digit numbers. Unfortunately, if one wishes to survive in this “man-made IT modernized world”, one will need to learn to adapt.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with all of the above! Lately I am getting emails from utility companies urging me to switch to on-line billing – “because it will make life so much easier for ME.” This is nonsense; it will only make life easier for THEM. Easier for me is to keep on sending bills monthly so I can more easily keep track of what I am spending. And we wonder why our Post Office is losing money – fewer users are using it to send out bills, for example.

    1. I’m with you, Stephanie!
      I have an accordion file and I keep all my bills in there for tax and tracking purposes. With E-billing I have to download their invoice and print it out.
      Why don’t we get a discount for saving them dough o mailing?
      thanks for the comment!

  3. This year, I am taking technology to a creative “old school” in order to address my technology frustrations. I am writing stuff down on a legal pad first. I am creating an assignment ,expressing myself with an opening statement, then 3 or 4 points I have questions about. Then each paragraph covering points chronologically, and each paragraph exploring answers I have, and others have, to the opening statement.
    Whew! I just got worn out writing. Did this help?

  4. Linda: lots “Life Hacks” online or printed: Me: I purchased old plastic grip at dollar store, open bottles, has 3 sizes, use your leverage not strength. Also, P.B., jam bottles, salad dressing tops under water, tap the rim. Old school. Candy, small packages: finger nail clippers, not your teeth. Package deliveries. Use garden clippers with small grippy garden gloves. Tiny writing: Wear small magnifying glass around neck. Or take a phone pic. Enlarge it. Grocery meet icebreaker (: HA!!

  5. I need help with my iPhone. It’s an expensive one my son bought for me and I am struggling every time I use it. There my be very simple problems but the frustration is huge. I’ve been waiting and asking for a long time that Senior Planet have a session to help and guide on using iPhones. I am sure I am not alone with this matter. Any help/advise would be extremely appreciated. Thank you.

  6. I have a perfectly good iPad that can’t download the latest upgrade because it doesn’t have enough data space available, it think that’s the reason. I don’t need all the extra bells and whistles that come with updates. Just want the security part. Can they offer just security updates. I now have to go buy a new iPad.

  7. Me, too, for everything. If I have to touch a new product, I know immediately something will go wrong that will take days to understand. I hate that every time I get used to a program/app, it will immediately be changed. And don’t try to disguise the problems by claiming it’s “new and improved.” That’s the mantra slapped on every new product, approach, use. What a joke! Why don’t designers actually TEST these things with computer novices, they’d get a much better evaluation of the product.

  8. I consider myself computer literate since I’ve been working with PCs since the 1990s. That being said, I get extremely frustrated with the constant upgrades that are not needed for everyone. We’re forced to upgrade or be left without product support.
    My usual comment to Big Tech companies is an acronym I think they have never heard: KISS-Keep It Simple Stupid! As someone previously wrote, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.
    Yes, create new stuff but let us keep what works for us w/support.

  9. Worst of all are the “upgrades” where you’re not even told what’s been changed or how to use it (I’m looking at YOU, Amazon Fire Tablet and all the others). I get flustered and frustrated trying to figure it out (no, it’s NOT “intuitive”) and waste my precious time.

    I have to pay Geek Squad annually for access to someone who knows about these things, and, often, that’s hit and miss (some of their techs are morons) with some techs ruining my device so much that a house call has to be made.

  10. I agree 100% with everything in this article and all the comments. All this tech stuff just makes me want to cry every time I have to do anything new. Makes me want to live in a cave. (Yes, I know technology is wonderful, but sometimes it’s just too much!) Please, make instructions clear and simple! Don’t assume we all have IT degrees or grandchildren who can help us. We don’t!

  11. You have hit it on the nail. For years, I taught myself to use the computer at work. Lot of mistakes and finding my way. Now that I am retired and had to buy a laptop on my own. It is difficult to know what to upgrade, or how to install the programs. It is hard to type on a laptop. I had to get a teenager to install my program and websites. The keys are hard to punch and it goes on another page.

    1. Thanks to Verizon’s “High Speed Internet” I have an exraordinarily slow connection. Every time Microsoft updates its software, my system gets even slower due to its inability to handle the graphics. Also, Microsoft refuses to assist users without charging them money for tech support. My ISP (also Verizon) tech staff refuses to assist users, telling them it is a Microsoft-created problem.

  12. I sincerely hope developers read and understand our concerns. After spending 25+ years in the tech industry, I know they can do better. An example of this problem is the latest update to the Vanguard web site. Options that I have used for years are no longer available, not to mention it is full of bugs! An alternative is Fidelity, when they have a new update they allow you to comment and use the previous software. My favorite mantra is ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’.

  13. I spent the last 20 years of my project management career in the “tech” world and totally understand everyone’s concerns with constant product updates. My current concern relates to websites where designers are using light greys for their text. These greys keep on getting lighter or perhaps my eyes are getting worse! Although designers may think that grey text is more sophisticated than black, it is much less “accessible” for us older folks!

  14. Thank you so much for writing this. I couldn’t agree more. I dread upgrades and the time and frustration it will take me to understand them if I ever do. I’ve often thought a tech company should make a computer and iPhone with basic capabilities that would last. Or perhaps like cars – have a basic model with optional upgrades one could purchase I’d you need/want them. I’d much rather spend my time using the computer rather than trying to figure it out.

  15. The tech person who figures out there is money to be made catering to the older generation by starting a cellphone, media or computer/tablet/whatever company that helps seniors keep their devices longer while being mindful of our limitations will become rich indeed. The generations behind us should realize they will be us in the blink of an eye. I wonder how they will feel about all their so called ‘improvements’ then.

  16. Restaurant menus on QR codes just make me cranky! Please, just give me a paper menu. Fortunately, some restaurants are able to dig out a regular menu so I don’t have to try and read the tiny font on my phone.

    Rather than download and print instrutions, etc., I’ve found that YouTube is great for learning the new features of phones and other technology. I am able to pause the video and replay, if necessary. I just wish that those who produce these very useful videos wouldn’t talk so fast!

  17. I am finding that the latest upgrades for software are requiring in some cases yet another purchase in an expensive new computer and devices, ie. ipads & smartphones, because the old ones dont hv the new operating systems that the upgrades require. There is too much money-grubbing in this society. Do you notice how prices never go down?
    Seniors shld get decent discounts.

  18. I agree 100%. Having to constantly figure out how to use the frequent seemingly unnecessary changes in software or trying to deal with computers that cannot accept the changes is very time consuming. Wouldn’t all ages be better off spending time interacting with people instead of trying to figure out why the computer is not working.

  19. Couldn’t have said it better myself! I am retired & a homebody so I do not need 24/7 access to all the gizmos working folks need.? I’m already home so why would I want to watch (is that the same as streaming?) on a TINY smart phone screen when I have a beautiful Smart 55″TV? I’m already at home so why do I need instant access to e-mails, news & Amazon when I have a nice 32″ wide computer monitor that I can read without reading glasses? I’m already home so why would I – get the picture?

    1. So true but we are fighting against the rising tide! Another complaint not IT but still agist. Has anyone else noticed the increase in packaging security that goes over the top in security with difficult to open packages, jars, screw tops, extra sealing? A subject I would love to see addressed!

      1. Linda, my good friend, THANK YOU A LOT for bringing up the terrible exploitation of the public by the companies that pack all items like a war tank!!! Believe it or not, once some medicine I just could open though I used EVERYTHING in my power…I had to use the hammer and even so, it took me half hour to break open. THEY’RE TRULY DEMENTED AND EXPLOITATIVE!!! Even with as imple a thing as a computer cord, it comes like an impossible thing to open! God help us from these exploiters!!!

  20. Ms. Virge, you are SO completely right! I thought of this each time I’m annoyed and furious when they change software into more intricate procedures, and even hardware like: making laptops with flat keyboards above all that empty space and hidden “mouse” (most of which, in my case, interferes with smooth and fast computer handling. So… THANK YOU so much for bringing this in the open. I hope some tech designers who already became old will understand and help us? :o)

  21. OMG! I am as excited as a teenager. I feel like I wrote that piece.
    I am frustrated and annoyed at the constant need for upgrading and buying new electronics when what we have works just fine thank you very much. Greedy tech companies! Twenty year olds design stuff with no concept about our needs and desires. Try the “Grandma test” please before you send it out. I want to use and enjoy what I have, not run out to buy more stuff I don’t need or wan
    More on this relevant topic please.

    1. Dr. Fobes, you hit the nail RIGHT ON ITS HEAD!!! Yes, besides giving the young exciting new toys (and nightmare to us old), it’s the greedy profits – Microsoft one of the greediest using subterfuges to get you to upgrade as if dealing with children by waving a candy to them! I really miss my old computer keyboard among other things too. :)

  22. Many upgrades are trivial and unnecessary. Who cares about the color of the screen?
    I think it is busy work for employees, keeps them employed. But it ends up as busy work for users. We don’t need busy work!
    I have an older iMac that works fine, but Apple won’t allow upgrades and some things don’t work. So I have to spend big bucks to get a new machine.
    I resent it. If you want a fancy new machine, go for it. But don’t force everyone to do the same.

    1. “We don’t need busy work!”
      EXACTLY! Another point against computer tech! They’re delegating more and more work to us rather than using their own automation!
      Wouldn’t it be great if a new company emerged dedicated to mature people??? :)

    1. HOW do we get the “refillable Reduced-Fare OMNY cards? Hopefully, it can be sent to us – as our new Reduced-Fare MetroCards are, so we 84-yr olds – who can only ride buses – don’t have to venture Down stairs into the Subways, or Upstairs to the Els, as I had to do when my regular price MetroCards that I keep for visitors expired!
      Thank you for any info you can provide … Laura Lutterbie

  23. Not all humans are able to use IT easily, like w/ math skills, some are good at math, some better at language, some better at art and having great difficulty reading. Expecting everyone to find the computer & frequent upgrades something to look forward to is not realistic. And then there are aging issues, vision, ability to read microscopic print, etc. The younger generation is unaware that a past happened, that we are still alive and have had our own meaningful experiences.

  24. Hey Virge. Great comments, though the photo attached to this post is curious. Anyone who can use their phone and their laptop at the same time is not a “digital immigrant”. Seriously, icons need to be intuitive, more emoji like, and that might help. Try thinking like a 70 year old, IT designers. You require them to participate, so why not empower them too?

  25. I second everything in this article except for Metrocards, and that is because I never heard of the concept . . . I would probably agree with you there, too. The entire tech industry from hardware to software is a calculated expensive and time-absorbing trial that, ironically, often keeps elderly users from enjoying the benefits that increased online knowledge provides. — EK

    1. Everything said was right on target! My iPhone battery is on its last leg and I am dreading buying a new phone. Every IOS update messes up many things and I often have to rely on my young, lovely doorman to help me out. It’s a real challenge and I frequently use very bad language when that phone is misbehaving.

      1. Toby, you can just get your iphone battery replaced and don’t have to buy a whole new phone. If you are near an Apple store, you can take the phone to the “genius bar.” Just make an appointment ahead of time. You can schedule it online, or call Apple customer support and they will schedule the appointment for you.

        If you’re not near an Apple store you can have the battery replaced at an authorized repair shop.

        In either case be sure to back up your phone before taking it in,

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