Over two decades, we’ve studied the usability of hundreds of websites and apps and we’ve seen some similarities and differences between all these different age groups. I recently studied how teenagers use technology and compared those behaviors against those of children and adults.
Let’s start off with trust and determining credibility of information for children. This isn’t really much of an issue since they mainly use the web for entertainment purposes. And when they’re searching for information for schoolwork, teachers usually provide links. Teenagers who receive more assignments requiring research have difficulty judging credibility of websites. They mainly look to the websites esthetic and how easy it is to skim and find the content they need. Adults are quick to judge websites, though they tend to be less critical of websites than young adults. And in terms of search and information, finding teenagers relied heavily on search engines and site searches.
But they often experience some trouble when it came to formulating a search query. This behavior aligns closely with adult users, though. In contrast, children have a bigger reliance on bookmarks than search engines. Though you do see some older children around ages nine to 12 years of age using search. When children and teens are asked to disclose personal information like their full name or a phone number, they’re pretty hesitant because that’s what their teachers have taught them. In contrast, young adults tend to be more willing to provide a personal email or a phone number for, say, a rewards program, whereas adults are often very willing to create accounts on sites they trust. In my research with teenagers, the most usable websites and apps or those designs that were targeted specifically for teens needs and behaviors.
Even if teens aren’t the largest age group in your target audience, it’s important to acknowledge some of these differences and determine how your design can support those behaviors.