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How to design digital interfaces for teens
20 March 2019
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The Nielsen Norman Group has published the results of new research into how teens interact with digital devices, and how to design interfaces that work better for teens.

Using a combination of usability testing, field testing, interviews and focus groups, researchers studied a group of 100 teens - aged 13-17; in US, UK and Australia; affluent and disadvantaged; girls and boys - on 210 websites and apps, some specifically targeting teens, others not.

Key findings:

Reasons teens visit websites:

  • To achieve some sort of goal related to school, hobbies, friends, news, shopping
  • To research products and build wish lists of stuff for adults to buy them

Differences between teens and adults:

  • Teens give up more quickly.
  • Teens are less cautious, make snap judgments.
  • Teens complete fewer tasks successfully.

Why teens perform worse than adults:

  • Poorer reading skills
  • Less sophisticated research strategies
  • "Dramatically" lower levels of patience

Websites on which teens perform best: Sites requiring little reading

Content and layout guidelines:

  • Write for impatient users.
  • Don't make them read
  • Display content in small chunks with lots of white space.
  • Use words teens understand.
  • Use short sentences and paragraphs.
  • Put key points or steps in bulleted lists.
  • Write for 6th-grade level or below.
  • Teens will skip over any content in tiny text.
  • Teens won't tolerate dull content.
  • Use visual elements (think pictures).
  • Don't overdo interactive elements.
  • Fast-loading pages are essential.
  • Avoid sounding condescending - teens relate to content created by peers.
  • Don't use the word "kid" in reference to teens.
  • Provide links that facilitate sharing of content by direct message.
  • Design for small, mobile screens.
    • Avoid small or closely-spaced elements - make it easy to click on things in touch-enabled devices.
    • Frustrated teens will blame your design and not their own undeveloped cognitive abilities.

Teen attitudes:

  • Search: Rely on heavily but have trouble formulating queries; click top results in SERP.
  • Patience: Hate waiting, easily distracted.
  • Trust: Have difficulty assessing credibility.
  • Privacy; Hesitant to enter personal information.
  • Advertising: Hate popups.



This disciplined, structured research study largely confirms what we already thought we knew from anecdotal evidence. But there are some gems in there:

  • As with every generation, content for teens needs to help them attain some goal of importance to them. They're not just randomly web-surfing.
  • Make max use of pictures (vs. words) to get points across.
  • Grade 6 reading level is where copy should be written for most adults. Any group with poorer reading skills - which research shows includes teens - needs yet simpler vocabulary and structure.
  • Talk to teens as peer-to-peer, not adult-to-child.
  • Don't use the word "kids" in any content for teens, and don't create compromise content intended to target both teens and younger children.
  • Facilitate link sharing - otherwise teens may take and share screencaps of your ads with no link to your website.
  • Resist any temptation to take advantage of teens' difficulty in assessing credibility.
  • To be found by teens more easily in search, invest time in finding out the language teens use to search for stuff like yours, and incorporate it into your ads and content.
  • Make all your online content load fast. Use Google's free Mobile-Friendly test to assess your design and content, and follow Google's recommendations to decrease loading time.
  • Register your website with Google Search Console, to get warnings about too-small text, clickable elements too close together, etc.
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