Dementia Digital Design Guidelines

dementia digital design guidelines framework

A dementia-friendly guidelines/heuristics framework for use evaluating digital systems like websites, apps, web content and user interfaces.

Now also available as How to design a website for someone affected by dementia — a blog post for Alzheimer’s Society.

Dementia, digital and design – things to consider

There are nearly 1 million people living with dementia in the UK and this will grow to over 2 million by 2050. Dementia is non-discriminatory; it affects people from all backgrounds and across generations.

This means that people affected by dementia are very diverse. They’ll have very different levels of digital literacy, in addition to symptoms of dementia. These issues can include:

  • confusion,
  • perception and vision,
  • problem-solving and thinking speed,
  • judgment,
  • processing and sequencing information,
  • language and words,
  • and other physical health conditions too.

Dementia digital design guidelines

Include people affected by dementia

People affected by a diagnosis should be included in all stages of design. Not only will this help you understand, validate and meet real needs, but it’ll also help improve your empathy for those for whom you are designing.

However, it can be hard to find and to recruit people affected by dementia. Reccomendations:

  • visiting people affected by dementia, rather than bringing them to you. You will learn more about their context of use, and reduce the burden on them,
  • using dementia forums, like Talking Point and Reddit to reach representative people,
  • approaching local services in your area, like Dementia Cafe’s,
  • using social media, like twitter and Facebook,
  • consider using specialist research participant recruiters.

Writing, words and terms

People with dementia may struggle with language, like remembering a word or terminology. Therefore use very clear, specific and explicit language. This means:

  • using simple, clear, direct and precise prose, headings and labels,
  • using explicit and arresting content,
  • using dementia positive language, like ‘living with’, rather than ‘suffering from’, dementia,
  • avoiding generic calls to action, complex wordplay, jargon,
  • avoiding using abbreviations and acronyms.

Layout, navigation and interface design

People with dementia can struggle to remember things and become disorientated. Try to make navigation explicit and signpost a route back to the homepage, or the start. This can be achieved by:

  • providing a clear link to ‘Home’, or the start,
  • using clear section breaks to make splits and stages obvious,
  • making hyperlink styles, and states, like ‘visited link’, clear,
  • avoiding splitting tasks across multiple screens,
  • avoiding hiding navigation off-screen.

Colours and contrast

Each type of dementia can damage the visual system in a number of different ways. Dementia also tends to affect older people, although it can affect people from their 30s. This can mean that age-related visual decline may affect the person living with a diagnosis, or their carers, too.

When designing digital user interfaces consider:

  • using high contrast colour schemes to improve readability,
  • using plain backgrounds, rather than patterns or images, for textual content,
  • avoiding the use of blue, especially for important interface components.

Text and fonts

Making letter shapes and words simple and easy to perceive improves readability and comprehension for all people on all devices.

Tips to make words more readable include:

  • using sans-serif fonts because the letter shapes are generally more readable on digital screens,
  • using larger text sizes (and higher contrasts) to provide more information to the eye. This is especially important for older people whose visual system declines with age,
  • avoid using multiple fonts, unnecessarily. This may make the interface and content confusing.


Most of these guidelines are inclusive in nature. This means that they can improve the ease of use of a service for many people, even if they don’t live with dementia.

This is an important part of accessible and inclusive design practice to consider. Accessibility is not just the law; it’s a fantastic idea! That said, these guidelines are particularly important for people affected by a diagnosis.[/ffb_param][/ffb_paragraph_0]

Tribalism vs. Collaboration and Change

The customer is a stranger and humans are not used to paying so much attention to the needs of strangers. The organisation is a tribe, and each department or division is its own sub-tribe. It’s so much easier and more comfortable to be organization-centric. — Gerry McGovern

This reminds me of Dave Gray’s excellent Culture and Change talk at DareConf 2013. Dolphin Department vs. Shark Corp; understanding the organisation’s culture and its potential for resisting change…

Shark Corp; Dolphin Department

Enterprise IT: the complexity-simplicity tradeoff

Making life easier for employees requires much more ongoing hard work from management and IT. It takes management time to save employees time and managers are simply not prepared to make that sacrifice. Gerry McGovern …painfully true and why the User Experience function needs to be included in Enterprise IT software selection, intranet information architecture … Read more

Traffic as metaphor for UX design

Five of my favourite traffic based metaphors for certain aspects of experience design:

  1. User Empathy: Motorways and Web Analytics
  2. User Efficiency: Motorways and Front-end loading
  3. Simplicity: Designing a Stop Sign
  4. User Journeys: Red Routes and Pain Points
  5. User Personas: Aeroplanes and Archetype Relevance

User Empathy: Motorways and Web Analytics

It’s super-easy to get drown-in rich quantitative data from services like Crazy Egg click-tracking and Google Analytics. It’s quite another to find the time to understand that data and, most importantly, factor for what it cannot tell you about your users and their experience.

In a 2010 article for Johnny Holland Claire O’Brien devised the analogy of standing by a motorway recording the visible attributes of the vehicles to explain the limitations of web analytics to stakeholders:

Traffic numbers are just that. Summaries of individual measures. Anyone can sit alongside a motorway and count cars, know if they’re travelling North or South, what models they are, how fast they’re going… Finding out why they’re on the road, what their journey’s for, and whether the route works? Well, that’s a bit harder, and such is the problem with online metrics and analytics. The appetite to invest in getting to know audiences / users – actually asking people what they want and then verifying their answers—is still pretty small.

User Efficiency: Motorways and Front-end loading

David Hammill, an independent UX Consultant, recalls the failure of a banner advert at the side of a motorway to complete its message because of…

  • misunderstanding about its context of use
  • the cognitive load and focus on tasks of people driving at speed
  • failure to front-end load the important information

There’s an advertising sign I often see when driving down the M74 in Scotland. I’ve noticed it dozens of times but I can’t tell you what company it’s promoting because I didn’t notice the company name. The copy on the advert starts something like this: Which company was awarded the best blah blah blah…

Simplicity: Designing a Stop Sign

This classic from 2009 aggregates tonnes of project process #fails into an easily digested #win:

The best is (almost) always simple? Group think? Design by Committee? Abuse of data? User requirements definition? Accurate audience segmentation? User-Testing prior to production? Stakeholder management?

User Journeys: Red Routes and Pain Points

My favourite traffic metaphor is definitely Red Route Usability from Dr. David Travis of User Focus, a badass UX consultancy and training company in London.

David identifies a practical kinship between the traffic planners who created London’s red routes and user experience architects insofar as both strive to create frictionless user journeys, especially for mission critical tasks and objectives.

User Personas: Aeroplanes and Archetype Relevance

Kim Goodwin on thinking laterally about user requirements, skills and mental models. Affects personae creation, and with whom to conduct usability testing:

A business traveler would actually make a poor design target, though, because she would be too familiar with flying and with using computers and other gadgets. If you design for the business traveler, the retired bricklayer going to see his grandchildren won’t be able to use the system. If you design for the bricklayer, you may need to add a little something extra to satisfy the business traveler, but the bulk of the interaction will satisfy them both.