Design Patterns for Mobile User Interfaces Targeted at Older Adults – Roxanne Leitão Thesis

One of the objectives of the Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) team at Fraunhofer AICOS is to investigate forms of enhancing older adults’ interaction with Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).

In this context, Roxanne Leitão – researcher at Fraunhofer AICOS and student at the Faculty of Engineering in Porto (FEUP) – recently published her master’s thesis regarding older adults and gestural interaction on smartphones.


The thesis, divided in 4 distinct phases of research, investigated:

1- Older adults and gesture discoverability on current smartphones;

2- The potential of contextual help mechanisms for enhancing gesture performance;

3- Adequate soft-button sizes and spacing sizes between soft-buttons for older adults;

and finally

 4- Assessed smartphone activity-zones, for older adult users.


The first two phases of research were conducted with the participation of 20 older adults each, and phases three and four were carried-out with a total of 40 older adults each.


Main Findings

Phase 1 revealed that current smartphone gestures are not easily discoverable by older adults.

Phase 2 evaluated the potential of contextual help mechanisms on smartphones, and found that older adults’ gesture performance may indeed be enhanced with the introduction of such mechanisms.

Once it had been found that older adults were indeed capable of learning and effectively making use of certain existing gestures, phase four evaluated adequate soft-button sizes, and spacing sizes between soft-buttons, and found that older adults are most accurate with tap targets larger than 14mm square, and with swipe targets larger than 17.5 mm square. Lastly, phase 4 assessed activity-zones on smartphones for older adults and found that they are more accurate in acquiring targets toward the center, right and bottom edges of the screen, which coincides with what is generally accepted for younger adults.


In order to share this project with the community, Roxanne Leitão is willing to share its main interaction design patterns at It is accompanied by a detailed description of its origin, method of usage, and rational supporting the effectiveness of using design patterns when developing interfaces for older adults.