Teens Online: Top 5 Tips for Usability

Earlier this year Nielsen Norman Group updated their research on usability for teens. Their summary aligns with our own best practices for teens: despite teen’s confidence in their online abilities, limited patience and underdeveloped reading and research skills keep teens from preforming as well as adults in task completion.

Below are the top five tips from NNG for keeping teens on your site.

1. Avoid boredom.
If you’ve ever met a teen, this one does not come as a surprise. Strike a balance by illustrating concepts visually or by engaging teens with interactive content like quizzes, voting, forums or photo sharing.

We recently created a website as part of ‘The Fly Effect,’ a statewide public awareness campaign designed to combat a growing heroin epidemic. We balanced copy, with an interactive “chose your own adventure” style game where teens could experience the escalating effects of heroin rather than just reading about them.

2. …And entertainment overload
What might surprise you is that teens react as negatively to entertainment overload as they do to boring copy. Reign in the desire to add multimedia or interactive features simply because of a younger audience. Teens have a strong appreciation for aesthetics and a cluttered site will actually be a frustration.

3. Write (and format) well
Teens, especially younger teens, read at about a 6th-grade level. This is a lower reading level than an adult audience because teens are still developing reading and comprehension skills. Small chunks of copy with lots of white space will help with retention. And whatever you do, don’t talk down to teens. Make sure your content is not cloying or childish and uses the word ‘teen’ rather than ‘kid.’

On the FACT (Fighting Against Corporate Tobacco) website that we created for the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, we eliminated as much copy as possible and used infographics to highlight key statistics.

4. Let teens control social
Teens are surprisingly protective of their social accounts. Allow teens to share at their discretion and include email as an option. Their online presence is their personal brand and they prefer to keep their online activities invisible. Forcing a teen to log in with a social account will violate trust.

5. Design for smaller screens and older devices
Your designer has a big, glossy Mac but the average teen has a hand-me-down laptop from their folks. Or they are online from their mobile device. In either case, design for smaller resolutions and make sure that interactions can be completed on a track pad or phone.

Load time is crucial as well. Teens have zero patience for a site or feature that is clumsy or slow to load. Keeping load times down benefits all of your visitors, not just teens.