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As we age, we gain a type of intelligence called ‘crystallised’ intelligence

This means that people draw on what they already know

Crystallised intelligence comes from our experiences and the knowledge we have stored in long term memory. We become very good at solving problems by drawing on what we know. And the truth is – older people know a lot!

One of the frustrations frequently voiced by older people in our research is how frustrating it is when a tech tool they know well gets updated or re-designed. It’s important to remember that someone with crystallized intelligence will instinctively try to solve a problem by drawing on familiar concepts and language.

Unfortunately, the designers of some new apps and software have forgotten this lesson. They change the names for things, move things around and change where items are located.


When the new design fails the familiarity test, the user becomes stressed and picks up the phone to ask for help.

What does this mean from a tech design perspective?

Some people explain this as ‘older people don’t like change’ or ‘older people like to talk to someone’.

While there is some truth in both of those statements, they ignore the real insight. The insight is that tech for older users needs to be designed and explained using concepts and language that are familiar to them.

If you need to create a new language for something new, then signal that this is new terminology and provide resources to help explain it.

After all, that is exactly what happened when the tech pioneers created the language of ‘desktops’, ‘files’ and ‘folders’. They used familiar language to convey a new idea.

I hope you now know some of the ways to talk to older people about tech. Conducting content or message testing with older people will teach you how to talk to your older users and customers. Contact me to find out more. 

If you are unsure about how content or message testing works, check out these bog posts

We are always happy to talk through research methods and options with you, if you are not sure what you need. Why not get in touch for a free, obligation-free, and confidential conversation.

Susan Bell Founder & Lead Consultant
Sue Bell, Founder & Lead Consultant

We would love to hear from you, and are always happy to talk through research methods and options with you, if you are not sure what you need. Why not get in touch for a free, obligation-free, and confidential conversation.

Find out more about Susan Bell Research.

Keep up to date with new thinking about user testing, research with ‘older’ people, different research methods, and much more.

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