Blog: The Importance of Older People in User Research

Housing Repairs

The Importance of Older People in User Research

By Fernanda Aguilera

During the last months, we have been carrying out a lot of user research in housing repairs across four authorities (Southwark, Lewisham Homes, Lincoln and Gravesham). We have done call listening, customer interviews, shadowing and observations with the aim to find out who are the users, which are their needs, if their needs are met and their overall online behaviour. In order to gather as much information as possible, we decided to do face to face and phone interviews with council tenants and leaseholders.

After listening to over 100 calls and carrying out more than 80 customer interviews in the four authorities, one thing that caught my attention was the amount of elderly people that have bought their laptops and attend computer classes because they see going online as an opportunity to be more independent and less lonely. I would like to share their stories because I think that this segment of people, that we sometimes think will not go online, is quite willing to go online, if we make things easier for them.


Ernest is a council tenant from Lewisham Homes. He called Lewisham Homes Call centre to report a problem he has in his toilet. He sounded very calm over the phone and grateful for the service that the call centre agent provided him. He told me that he was 73 years old and he bought a computer a few months ago and learnt how to use it with the help of his sons. He said he uses it for different purposes but mainly ‘Googling’ and communicating with his sons and grandkids. He said that he tried to go to the Lewisham Homes website to report a repair but he couldn’t do it because the website asked him for a password. He sounded frustrated when he said this and emphasised that he would never be able to remember a password because he continuously forgets things. He told me that he usually encounters this same problem in different websites where they asked him a password and he can’t go forward.


Rose is a council tenant from Gravesham. I attended with a repairs operative who attend her property to fix the bathroom window that could not close properly. I noticed how vivid she looked and the impeccable condition of her house. She told me that she lives alone in that house and she is 78 years old. She told me that she bought a computer and tried to use it but was very difficult. Her granddaughter tried to help her, but she was studying so she didn’t have so much time to help her. She also mentioned that she tried to search for computing classes but were too expensive or too far from her house. Finally, she stopped trying and gave the computer to her daughter. She said that sometimes she would like to try to learn again because she feels alone. There are days that she doesn’t speak to anyone, and if she would know how to use a computer, she would feel more independent and less lonely.

These two stories are some of the many I have listened in my years of working in user research; elderly people want to go online, to be more independent and internet is a way for them to achieve that. We should consider elderly people when we do user research and also when designing things online. They are new to online and struggle with things that regular users will never have problems with. We need to test our prototypes with elderly people and understand which problems they encounter. It is very important to consider them when doing user research and recruiting participants for usability test.