Multi-layered interfaces to improve older adults’ initial learnability of mobile applications

Leung, R., Findlater, L., McGrenere, J., Graf, P., and Yang, J. (2010). Multi-layered interfaces to improve older adults’ initial learnability of mobile applications. ACM Transactions on Accessible Computing (TACCESS), 3(1), Article 1, 30 pages. 


Motivation: Mobile computing devices can offer older adults (ages 65+) support in their daily lives, but older adults often find such devices difficult to learn and use. One potential design approach to improve the learnability of mobile devices is a Multi-Layered (ML) interface, where novice users start with a reduced-functionality interface layer that only allows them to perform basic tasks, before progressing to a more complex interface layer when they are comfortable.

Research goal: We studied the effects of a ML interface on older adults’ performance in learning tasks on a mobile device.

Method: We conducted a controlled experiment with 16 older (ages 65–81) and 16 younger participants (age 21–36), who performed tasks on either a 2-layer or a nonlayered (control) address book application, implemented on a commercial smart phone.

Results: We found that the ML interface’s Reduced-Functionality layer, compared to the control’s Full-Functionality layer, better helped users to master a set of basic tasks and to retain that ability 30 minutes later. When users transitioned from the Reduced-Functionality to the Full-Functionality interface layer, their performance on the previously learned tasks was negatively affected, but no negative impact was found on learning new, advanced tasks. Overall, the ML interface provided greater benefit for older participants than for younger participants in terms of task completion time during initial learning, perceived complexity, and preference. We discuss how the ML interface approach is suitable for improving the learnability of mobile applications, particularly for older adults.

[journal article]