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Nielsen Norman Group Study Finds that Teenagers Are a Group Unto their Own,
Even When it Comes to Web Use
Whatever you do, don't call them kids and don't assume they can out-surf adults on the Web.
As in the real world, teenagers have a unique set of developmental and behavioral proclivities
that influence their use of the Web and should not be ignored, according to a new study
released today by Nielsen Norman Group (NNG). In the first study to observe teenagers
using a wide range of websites, usability expert Jakob Nielsen and user experience specialist
Hoa Loranger found that contrary to stereotypes, teenagers are not nearly as skilled as adults
at navigating the Web, and don't really care for glitzy graphics. NNG's report, "Teenagers on
the Web: Usability Guidelines for Creating Compelling Websites for Teens," describes how
teenagers use the Web, and what organizations that want to reach them can do to avoid boring
them right off their websites.
"Internet marketers must design for the teens we have, not the teens they wished we had," said
Jakob Nielsen, principal of NNG, "Teenagers' low reading skills and lack of critical research
abilities may be failures of the educational system, but they are realities, and you have to cater
to this audience if you want to win on the Web."
There are approximately 20 million teenagers in the United States who spend an average of
$100 per week (TRU). With an estimated 22 million American teenagers expected to be online
in 2008, up from 18 million in 2004 (Jupiter Research), the Web will continue to grow as a key
vehicle for influencing the teen market.
NNG's "Teenagers on the Web" is based on usability studies with 38 users between the ages
of 13 and 17. Researchers tested 23 websites, asking the teenagers to visit the sites, perform
specific tasks and think out loud. Among the findings:
-- Teens are not the technowizards many assume. In fact, they achieve a success rate of 55%
compared to 66% for adults; Success rate indicates the proportion of times users are capable
of completing a representative task;
-- Teens' poor performance is caused by multiple factors: insufficient reading skills, immature
research strategies and an unwillingness to tough it out when websites are difficult;
-- Use of the word "Kid" is a teen-repellant. Websites that try to serve both children and
teens in a single area titled something like "Kids" will lose the teens;
-- Being boring is the kiss of death in terms of keeping teens on websites. Teens want to
"do" things as opposed to simply sit and read;
-- Teens are drawn to sites that have social and interactive activities where they can
communicate with others, make new friends and achieve a sense of connecting and belonging;
-- Teens pay more attention than adults to the way a site looks, but they don't like the heavy,
glitzy, blinking graphics that designers think they like; they prefer clean, modest, but still
"To engage the teen audience, websites need to be visually interesting as well as easy-to-use.
And, you shouldn't assume teens are tech experts or have the most ideal computer set-up,"
cautioned Hoa Loranger, user experience specialist at NNG.
Nielsen Norman Group's 128-page report, "Teenagers on the Web: Usability Guidelines for
Creating Compelling Websites for Teens," offers 60 detailed design guidelines along with the
supporting research to explain how to design websites that appeal to teenagers. The report is
available to download for $129 from the Nielsen Norman Group website at
About Nielsen Norman Group
Nielsen Norman Group (http://www.nngroup.com) is a user-experience research firm that advises companies on how to succeed through human-centered design of products and services. Nielsen Norman Group principals Jakob Nielsen, Don Norman and Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini are each world-renowned experts in usability and human use of technology. Besides authoring books and evangelizing about user experience, they and the other user-experience specialists at Nielsen Norman Group offer high-level strategic consultation on usability of websites, consumer products, software designs and anything else that needs to be easy-to-use.
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