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How to design digital interfaces for teens

How to design digital interfaces for teens
20 March 2019

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.

And if you have questions or comments, you can easily send them to me with the Quick Reply form, below, or send me an e-mail.

David Boggs MS    - David
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