Everyone wants to create the best user experience possible, to bring in more customers and keep them. The problem is that different customers have different needs that can vary depending on all sorts of factors, including the age of the user. When catering to different age groups there are many things that you need to consider, including accessibility, user interface, and aesthetics. Quite simply, what one group finds fun and inventive, another group might consider chaotic and difficult to navigate. So how do you decide what type of website to build?
Understand Your Target Audience
Before you even think about a layout, theme, colors, or sounds, you need to determine the specific needs of your audience. This can include, but is not limited to: level of computer literacy, motor skills development, comprehension, attention span, and potential difficulties each group may have. Determine the needs of your audience, then build based on those individual requirements. Many websites have different sections or even separate sites for children. At the same time, many seniors are trying to find their way around the web, and have other struggles to contend with, such as hearing and vision decline, or motor skills issue due to arthritis or other medical conditions. Paying attention to the specific needs of the community you’re serving is essential to designing a successful website.
Toddlers and Preschoolers
Today’s littlest members of society are growing up in a world where the internet just is. It’s not a fancy thing that they have to learn how to use. It’s an integrated part of the background of their lives. Parents turn on Netflix or YouTube with just a few clicks to silence a screaming toddler, and many children learn to control a mouse before they master using a spoon. While they are developing basic motor skills and processing lots of input about the environment around them, very small children will need websites that are simple, with pictures and icons instead of text-based directions. Buttons and links should be large and easy to identify, and the structure of the website needs to be simple enough that it’s nearly impossible for them to get stuck somewhere that they don’t want to be. They don’t have needs they are trying to meet, and generally just explore the site. NickJr and PBSKids are fun and educational sites with easy to use links and recognized character graphics in place of text.
As children develop better thinking and motor skills, their needs will shift. These children still want to be entertained, but you can now begin to add text, or more interactive activities. Puzzles, games, videos and other similar content will keep these kids engaged. By the time most children reach school, they have a basic understanding of how to navigate a computer, and to find their way to favorite sites on the internet. When they reach school, often the entertainment that they are viewing online overlaps with homework and their experience becomes more practical and goal oriented. Websites for older children like Nick and Cartoon Network are a bit more complex, and have appropriate text descriptions next to icons, like “GAMES” next to an image of a game controller.
As attention spans and technology skills increase, so does the amount of time that teens spend on the internet. At this point in their lives, the internet becomes a place where they can express themselves, explore their attitudes about the world around them, and seek knowledge. It is an extension of their social lives, and nearly everything they do needs to be interfaced seamlessly with social media. They generally don’t use computers, unless it’s for gaming or homework. Instead, engaging internet content for kids need to be designed for mobile devices. They like to share with their friends, and they like to see what their friends are interested in. They know what they are looking for and are quick to dismiss websites that don’t fit their expectations in search of the next best thing, sometimes without even scrolling down the page. They are more interested in graphics and videos than they are in reading text, as is evidenced by popular apps such as Snapchat and Instagram.
Most adults have a more functional view of the internet, using it for work, shopping, and researching. They tend to be comfortable with basic computer functions, and while they aren’t as quick to adapt to new programs and apps as children and teens, they have the patience to figure it out. They are less influenced by flashy videos and advertisements, and are quickly able to identify and ignore these in favor of the content they are seeking. They’re also very quick to get frustrated with pop-up ads and click-bait. They are less interested in the social media functions of the internet, though they will use more professionally oriented sites like LinkedIn regularly. These users also tend to be more cautious of their privacy, and what they are willing to share. With this utilitarian approach to the internet, they’re the hardest to engage with, and the least likely to stray from their tried and true favorites.
Today’s seniors are eager to begin using the internet, but are often overwhelmed by it. As families move farther apart in today’s global society, many older individuals want to use the internet to engage with grandchildren. At the same time, advancing age can lend to problems with motor skills, and visual and hearing impairments. Sites designed for older adults need to take into consideration that computer skills are not second-nature to these people – they may need simplified user-interface and even instructions for use. Retired people may have more time and patience for trying to learn these new tasks than many people give them credit for, and let’s face it – pictures and videos of distant grandbabies are pretty good motivation to learn. Seniors don’t do well with excessive clutter on screens, and websites need to be streamlined and easy to use. While others might consider sites like Buzz50 to be boring and even dated, the easily identifiable buttons, large font, and clear descriptions make it easy for less tech-savvy seniors to navigate.
Susanne Loxton is a modern technology enthusiast who combines her interest in all things new with a passion for writing. On a daily basis, Susanne works for Aubiz, a compendium of knowledge about companies in her native Australia.