The Aging Population: Impacts on Signs and Visual Graphics

by Drue Townsend

The face of the American population is changing rapidly. With improved healthcare and new technologies, people are living longer than ever before. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, by 2030, one in five Americans will be age 65 or older. Marketers should be aware of these trends and tailor printed and digital signage to reflect the needs of an aging population. By enhancing visual communications you can ensure that important content is being communicated carefully and effectively.

By the time people reach the age of 60 their pupils tend to shrink, reducing the ability for light to reach the eye by as much as three-fourths. This causes colors to appear dimmer and less distinct. Advertisements aimed specifically at the elderly should consider this and other health factors for more strategic signage. Changes like larger fonts for signs, color combinations for easier reading, typefaces for poor eyesight, less visual clutter and high-contrast, low-glare designs can make all the difference when advertising to seniors. Below, we explore some ways marketers can modify their signage to best serve an aging population.

Typeface

When choosing font for signage consider sans-serif typefaces. Sans-serif fonts have larger heights and consistent stroke widths, making them the most readable for people with poor eyesight. Sign fonts should be bold and contrast clearly against the background. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) sets guidelines for both height and width ratios for typefaces in signage systems, but some fonts still do not hold up for people with vision issues. The AIGA design organization conducted a study showing which typefaces would be considered beneficial for older viewers. The organization compiled a list of text properties to consider when selecting a font for aging eyes. These include:

  • Consistent stroke widths
  • Open counterforms
  • Wider horizontal proportions
  • More distinct forms for each character (“tails” on letters like t and j)
  • Extended horizontal strokes for certain letterforms (like the crossbar on the letter t).

AIGA suggests testing out fonts in Photoshop or another editing program to simulate the effects of deteriorating vision using blurring and darkening aspects.

Colors

When creating signage for an aging population, designers should consider the effects of colors on both vision and mood. As people age, the lens of the eye hardens and becomes more yellow, making colors appear more gray. This can prevent them from distinguishing blue from purple and yellow from green. The contrast between colors becomes less perceptible, so try using complementary shades on the color wheel which have higher contrast. Or when using different cool shades to create a sense of calm or tranquility, increase the contrast. Dark backgrounds with light text or light backgrounds with dark text are most effective. Try to use three colors or less, as too many colors can make ads confusing to someone with poor vision.

Simplicity

Advertisements with lots of words will be harder for people over the age of 65 to see and comprehend. The more simple your sign, the more effective it will be at communicating to an older person. Use plain backgrounds for text. And consider using graphics in the place of words, as pictures are viewed more quickly and easily than copy. Adding white space between letters, words and graphics has also been shown to improve readability. Streamline your design with extra white space and fewer words to help aging demographics absorb the information.

Storytelling

Other than font, colors and simplicity, your choice of words is extremely important when designing signs for the aging population. If the sign is medically-specific, avoid using overly technical terms but also don’t dumb down speech so much that it seems patronizing to an older person. Use direct, concrete language and maintain a positive tone. Your word choice should reflect a certain sense of comfort, especially when communicating anything health-related. Successful signage for communicating to senior citizens should encompass storytelling. The aging population will usually be more likely to listen and retain information through effective storytelling. This is especially helpful for hospital personnel and caregivers, who are providing a level of comfort as well as vital information. 

Digital Signage

Both digital and print signage can enhance wayfinding and provide important emergency notifications, particularly for patients in hospitals and senior care facilities. In many of these cases, elderly people and their caregivers may benefit from real-time digital signage to provide the immediate messaging they need. Designers should take into account brightness of these screens as well as the content on them. As eyes age, they dull the brightness of colors and light, so it’s important to make your digital signage bright enough for all to see with as few words as possible.

By taking these modifications into account when designing print or digital signage to serve the aging population, you can ensure that your messaging is just as valuable to older generations as it is to tech-friendly millennials. Aging populations are growing every year and advertising to seniors should reflect the needs of this important demographic.