Any suggestions for design patterns/best practices regarding less pages/higher info density vs. more pages/less info density when your audience has low-level computer literacy?

The particulars: I'm working on a web-based medical assessment survey that's used by in clinics that treat older, poor people who are dealing with cancer. It's a survey with 20-30 questions and, based on their answers, they get "teaching tips" about their cancer, suggested treatment, what to talk with their doctor about, etc. They will sit at a computer in clinic (and the computer might be touchscreen).

On the "teaching tips" portion the previous interface has lots of short pages that said things like "Next you'll see stats about recovery...". You'd click next and go to another screen with that section of stats. In other words, there was a lot of clicking through pages with very little content.

I'm thinking of combining these so that same message appears at the top of the page with the stats. The researchers I'm working with are very concerned about not making the experience too complicated for this type of user.

This is an interface is related to an academic project, so references to specific research studies are especially helpful.

1 Answer 1


Excessive navigation is annoying enough for computer literate users; little info blurbs like that are more like tool tips, not tons of separate pages and back-and-forth clicking. That said, don't use tool tips.

For older and less computer literate users I would remember that they tend to read web pages and interfaces like they are a page of a book. Rather than scanning for headings/ect they often start at the top and read down like a novel. I would lay out the informational pages as if they were printed paper (your users might even ask for a printed copy, I would make sure you can provide that as well): Simple with a logical flow, with all related information such as "teaching tips" immediately in the context of it's first mention.

I would nix all "Next you'll see..." statements and instead use descriptive headings all on one page, and in a logical order of course; if something needs to be defined, define it immediately following the use of the term, don't make them look around the page. However with clear headers all on one page it can be easier to go back and find a section before.

Avoid asking them to click this, scroll to that, ect; they may be unfamiliar with the terminology or how to perform a task. If the interaction is just like reading a (long) piece of paper it's much less confusing. Ideally you should be able to print the report and have it read as a cohesive piece. This also allows them to take the information home for reference, and reading printed paper is much more comfortable, especially if this is a long or dense set of information.

There's also a great in depth chapter on this very topic in this book. I'm afraid I can't recall any specific research papers to point you to on the reading patterns of older users though.

  • Thanks - good point about interface as book pages. +1 for the link to the chapter on the subject.
    – Voodoo
    Commented Sep 1, 2011 at 19:22

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