How does one explain UX to boomers?

how does one explain user experience to boomers

Last week my patience was dragged to a cliff’s edge by two people in their mid-seventies. For 40 minutes, I helped them set up a Zoom call on either side of the world.

Both of them are medical professionals, specialists in their fields, and at the height of their careers. Lack of intelligence was not an excuse for any of us.

Don't take anyone for granted

Many boomers have bypassed the rapid developments in the digital world. Some, trying to connect with their grandchildren, have successfully crossed the digital divide. Others have given up fighting the constant changes in software, hardware, and network connections. With age, anxiety becomes a factor in anything and everything alien to their habits and environment.

I set up the call to hear their stories. Dr. Bala donated a quarter a million dollars. Dr. Chandra runs the non-profit, which was the beneficiary of this generous donation. I wanted to understand the stories behind their thought processes and decisions. 

Dr. Chandra lives in Canada and claims to be digitally illiterate. He was my interpreter for Dr. Bala, who lives in India. Dr. Bala has heard of the software but stayed away from Zoom throughout the pandemic. For him, the good old telephone worked just fine.

[Why do we address doctors as Dr. SoAndSo but not other professionals? A blog for another time.]

Do not make assumptions

The process that we went through was simple. Or so I assumed. We just repeated it half a dozen times and expected things to work differently.

My first step was to set up the meeting and send them both the link. I had stripped all the extra information leaving just the essentials.

To help Dr. Bala, I included two screenshots, created a PDF file, and attached it to the email. I thought of sending links to the help files on Zoom; I realized that just the overload of information will drive up anxiety levels.

At the appointed time, Dr. Chandra came online, and we chatted like old friends. 10 minutes into the call, Dr. Bala was still missing.

So Dr. Chandra made the transatlantic call.

I could hear Dr. Bala saying that he had clicked the link and downloaded the software. He just did not know where it went.

Dr. Chandra was in the process of introducing me when Dr. Bala disconnected.

I told Dr. Chandra that the Zoom account was a business one, and we can schedule the meeting for as long as it takes.

Dr. Chandra called Dr. Bala again. He had clicked the link again and managed to track the software to the downloads folder.

Multi-tasking is a myth

I reminded Dr. Chandra about the help file, which he relayed.

Dr. Bala could not open the attachment and hung up the phone.

This confirmed my suspicions that multi-tasking was a myth.

Dr. Chandra called him again. “What’s happening?”

Dr. Bala: “Now there is a screen with a button that says, ‘Launch meeting.'”

Dr. Chandra: “Click on that.”

Dr. Bala: “It is downloading now.”

Me: “If he finds it difficult installing the software, there is a link on the page which says ‘Join from Your Browser.”

Dr. Chandra: “Click on download from browser.”

Dr. Bala had hung up.

This went on five more times in slightly different variations within the space of 30 minutes. On the 31st minute, I admitted Dr. Bala into the meeting.

But we could not hear him.

Dr. Chandra called him on the phone. “We can’t hear you.”

Dr. Bala disconnected the phone and the Zoom meeting.

Me: “Let’s just wait and give him some time. He is making progress.”

After three minutes, Dr. Bala entered the meeting room.

No sound.

I gestured with my hands and mouthed, “No sound.”

He went off the air.

On the 40th minute, Dr. Chandra called him. I could hear Dr. Bala say, “Tomorrow, I will get someone from my clinic to come and help me set it up.”

It was late in India by then. We agreed to do it again another day.

Dr. Bala is a dedicated human being. He continues to tend to his patients. So does Dr. Chandra. Besides securing the donation, he is now spending his time between his medical practice and running the non-profit. 

That day I realized it’s all about the stories. I bow in reverence to them.

As designers and developers, how are we managing their user experiences? How can we help them tell their stories without driving anxiety up the digital wall?

Note: Names changed to protect the elderly.

Images: Beth Macdonald,

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