By Alex Salkever
Alex Salkever is a technology executive, journalist and consultant based in San Francisco. Alex is co-authoring a book with Vivek Wadhwa on the key traits businesses require to evolve and thrive in an era of disruptive change.
The Wall Street Journal reported recently on how sales of quirky, hip cars targeted at young buyers are making surprising inroads among the seniors. Turns out that the grey-haired set is snapping up Toyota Scions and Nissan Cubes even if the marketing is pure "Get Lucky" Dance Party. There is a broader message from this than old people like cool cars.
The current generation of seniors is unlike the previous ones. They lived through the Summer of Love. They pride themselves on not being bland or boring. Some have tattoos, after all. More importantly, they enjoy cool design and aspire to be the hip grandmas and grandpas that the kids love to hang with.
Not coincidentally, one of the most loyal and highest spending customer bases for Apple is seniors and near-seniors. They like Apple's beautiful design but more importantly they love its comparative ease of use. The fastest growing group of customers on social network site Facebook is older people.
My own personal experience matches up with this observation. My octogenarian mother-in-law loves her iPad partly because, as a former artist, she appreciates the design aesthetic. But she also loves that Apple's User Experience is accessible to someone her age who, by the way, suffers from vision loss and can no longer read books easily (She has defaulted to her iPad for this). The iPad, really, has changed her life. What's more she has strong opinions on what is good and what is bad about the applications running on her iPad.
And here's another newsflash. Baby Boomers have money and lots of it. They fit the "old guys" demographic by now, with many well into their 60s. The reason Mick Jagger can still sell out shows even in his 70s is because Babyboomers have cash and still want to be cool. Another reason to pay attention to Boomers and older folks is because there are lots of them. This was, after all, one of the biggest generational bulges in the history of the country. This has led marketers to conclude that the Baby Boomers are the "most valuable generation".
So why has Silicon Valley had so much trouble grasping these dynamics? Probably because the Valley is far too focused inwardly on its own peers and not enough on the real customer base - the hundreds of millions of people who live outside of the Bay Area (and New York City). Quick, tell me 10 startups that have sought out senior citizens as a key product market area and part of their core user groups. There are very, very few and rarely do they get covered in media, perpetuating the cycle of ignorance (both meanings intended).
Oddly, the current mantra in the startup world is not that far off from building products for older people. Clean design. Simplicity. Minimizing the number of clicks. Making buttons and objects larger. All of this is designed to make applications easier to use for anyone. Startups such as Path, Kicksend and Uber have attributed their success, in part, to radically simplified User Experiences.
However, the problems of the older generations are not always the problems of the younger generations and even the most simplified UX designs can have fatal failure points. Font sizes that don't adjust up or a design that does not magnify well, color schemes that are hard to read, or a lack of audio queues can all harm usability for older folks. Many of these problems can be alleviated quickly and easily if companies identify the problem. What the cool cars for grey hairs story tells us is that taking products the last mile to make sure seniors like them and can use them should be a core market strategy for many startups. In the process, startups may inadvertently solve societal problems. One of my friends at Uber told me that the company regularly gets UI critiques from a blind user who lets the company know, quickly and loudly via Twitter, whatever problems a new version may cause for the visually impaired. As a result, my friend says, Uber has improved its app design. In exchange, the blind user gets a cutting edge personalized vehicle dispatch tool - a win-win for both sides.
So all you YC founders out there seeking to crack markets for consumers, do yourselves a favor. Install your app on a senior's smart phone or tablet. See how they like it. You never know - they might save your company.
[Image credit: Shutterstock]
This material published courtesy of Singularity University.