User Interface Design for Different Age Groups

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Users of the internet are incredibly diverse.

On one end, you have software development martyrs, like Ara Karim, certified by Microsoft who aren’t even old enough to attend high school. On the other end, you have senior citizens like my grandpa who don’t quite understand the difference between a touch screen and a touch pad.

Part of user experience research is narrowing down your target market to a specific age group. For the purpose of this article, the market is split into four age groups: children, teenagers, adults, and senior citizens.

Of course, the standardization versus localization debate comes into play. You may decide that rather than catering to one specific age group, you would rather design your website in a way that can appeal to each of the different age groups.

Children

There was once a time when giving a child unsupervised access to the internet was considered insane. Parents would have much rather trusted young Johnny with the keys to the family car than the password to their primitive personal computers.

Young kids are renowned for having short attention spans, and don’t expect any improvements. According to Science Daily, the number of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) prior to entering high school has increased 43% in the last eight years.

Perhaps this explains why heatmaps depict young children randomly clicking different links until they find something that interests them.

For this reason, it is important to use recognizable images, lots of animations, and link activated sound. Vibrant colors are also a must.

Let’s analyze the screenshot below of a website that pertains to a Fruit Ninja like game.

Notice that text is kept to a minimum, and recognizable imagery is used. In the example below, the designers use imagery of fruit. Not only are fruit universally recognized, but they also appear frequently within the game.

One of the best marketing ploys when you’re targeting young children is to make a game that pulls the kids back to your site.

“ChildrensExample”

You don’t necessarily have to have any experience in game design. The website Kongregate offers free flash based games that you can add to your site simply by copying the source code into an embed window.

There’s another way to gamify your site without literally adding a stand alone game. If a user visits your site 3 days in a row (for example), you can reward them. Depending on your generosity, the reward could be anywhere from a promotional discount code to a simple dialogue window with a congratulatory message.

Teenagers

Young adults and millennials born in the 90s are generally very comfortable navigating the internet. Computer programming is taught at many high schools, and even some middle schools.

In 2015, a grant passed that mandated every incoming freshman in the Washington public school system would be given a Chromebook in order to increase student productivity (I recall many of them were sold almost instantly).

Just because teenagers understand how to navigate the internet doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re any more willing to read your content than their younger siblings.

It is important to keep the user interface clean. A clean interface serves a double purpose: not only is it a strong aesthetic choice, but it may also help your site run better on computers that are low on RAM.

If your site is designed with teenagers in mind, be sure to have some kind of social media integration. Research site PewInternet claims that 92% of teenagers in the United States check some sort of social media daily, and 24% check social media “constantly”.

By offering the incentive for teens to share that they are using your site, you open a lane for free marketing. A share from a visitor to your site will give you exposure to individuals with similar interests as the visitor who shared.

Here’s an example from the Jordan website. Chicago residents know that Michael Jordan did two things very well: win championships and sell basketball shoes.

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The iPhone pictured here is an example of recognizable imagery for most teenagers.

Similar to the example above, there isn’t much text that the user is expected to read. The sidebar to the left holds all the links, but they don’t detract from the picture of the iPhone. The design and content is simple, but not simple enough to where it looks child-like.

As the kids who were once entertained with colorful pictures of food grow older, their short attention span is redefined as impatience. If they don’t immediately see something that interests them, they are likely to move on

Teenagers have grown up in an era where technology is everywhere. What does this mean for UX designers?

It means that they expect to get information as fast as possible. If a user cannot find something quickly, than they will leave and look for it an another website, where the information is easily accessible.

Young Adults

Young adults are a subcategory of the Adult group, and typically fall between the ages of 18 and 30. Like the teenage group, young adults are “digital native”. This means that they grew up during the age of digital communication (Meyer).

Unlike the teenagers, young adults don’t appreciate interactivity unless it serves a purpose towards their task. Young adults are also more skeptical of what they read online, writes Kate Meyer of the NN Group.

In this group, more so than in any other, it important to be search engine optimized. Part of being “digitally native” means that they probably use Google as their compass.

Rather than pressing “alt + ←” to return to the previous page, they might just go straight to the search bar. If you have a collection of landing pages with strong search engine optimization, you might be able to bring the user right back to your site.

Adults

This is where UX design changes a little. Many adults have some sort of computer experience, but according to a recent Google survey, 90% of adults did not know what a browser was.

Despite this, young adults are generally very confident in their ability to maneuver in the web environment. This confidence often results in a “click first, ask questions later mindset”.

Are you noticing a trend here? According to the NN Group, children, adults, and teenagers all tend to be prone to clicking links but not likely to read text.

Flash animations and click activated sounds might be intriguing to children and some (easily-entertained) teens, but they typically aren’t appreciated by adults. This is where web design starts to become very detail oriented.

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Adults generally expect to get answers as quickly as possible. Don’t hide vital information behind a series of links. Try to phrase your writing with concision and cut straight to the point. Infographics with links are a great tool to use.

Senior Citizens

Senior citizens are often the forgotten demographic of the internet. Although the elderly didn’t grow up around technology, some of the more brave old-folks are willing to put time into learning how to navigate the internet.

After all, many seniors find themselves with more free time than any prior stage of their life. Visual Hierarchy writes that compared to their younger counterparts, elderly are often the most willing to engage themselves in reading a block of text that they find online.

If you’re hoping to appeal to seniors, the interface should be clean and the navigation self-explanatory.

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(New York Times Print Form)

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(New York Times Website)

Compare the screenshot of the New York Times website to the New York Times in print form.
If you’ve been a loyal New York Times reader, you would feel right at home with the online counterpart to the famous newspaper.

The decision of the New York Times web design team to recreate the layout of the newspaper on the website is sure to bring nostalgia to the elderly readers.

Conclusion: Don’t Alienate Any Age Group

It’s not easy to design a website that can simultaneously appeal to all four age groups. In order to understand which age group you really should target, you might need to do some ux research on the the demographics that your content appeals to.

At the same time, it’s never a good idea to deliberately alienate or confuse any of the four age groups in your user interface design. Many young designers accidently estrange seniors in their web design because older viewers can’t figure out how to navigate the site.

When you design your site, be aware of the four different age categorical ages of viewers that may stumble upon your site.