User First Design: It Means Different Things to Different Generations
Unless you’ve been living under that proverbial rock, you’ve heard the advice that you need to target different segments of your audience in specific ways. You need to develop personas that represent different portions of your audience. You need to segment your email marketing efforts. However, what many companies fail to realise is that the differences in their audience often run deeper than education level or amount of income. Often, one company will have an audience composed of individuals from different generations, and that can have a significant impact on user-first web design.
What Do Generational Differences Have to Do with It?
Before we dive into best practices for user-first design when it comes to different generations, we need to touch on what generational differences have to do with things in the first place. Why do they actually matter? Really, there are plenty of different reasons, and they all hinge on making the UI user-friendly and accessible for everyone.
For instance, a user interface designed for young children will have very different elements than one designed for seniors, or one designed for middle aged adults. It’s about designing to ensure inclusivity while also fostering excellent usability and delivering a positive experience each and every time.
The Core Elements for User-First Design
According to the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, the most important considerations when it comes to user-first design for inclusivity and accessibility include the following:
- Flashing/Animated Graphics – Limit or eliminate the use of these.
- Contrast Ratios and Colours – Use these appropriately to convey meaning
- Font Size – Larger fonts are easier to see and read
- Line Spacing – Do not pack text too tightly together
- Audio and Video – Provide obvious controls for any audio or video, particularly “auto play” elements
- Keyboard Navigation – Give users the ability to navigate the website via keyboard rather than mouse only
Designing for Seniors
We’ll begin with the oldest users first – senior citizens. In most cases, these will be so-called Baby Boomers, and they may be anywhere from their mid-50s into their 80s or even older. Most seniors are not all that comfortable with digital technology despite having had access to it for several decades at this point. They are often slow to adopt technology, and less confident in its use. Seniors also have specific needs when it comes to user-first design. A senior-friendly interface design would have the following:
- Large font sizes
- Visual aids
- Audible aids
- Adjustable text size
- Bold, dark text colours
- Captions for important audio and video content
The next audience segment we want to discuss is that of older or mature adults. These individuals are usually between the ages of 35 and 55. They are more comfortable with digital technology than seniors but are not digital natives. Generation X falls into this category, and they can be more demanding than other generations in terms of things like engagement and brand experience. When designing for mature adults, watch for the following:
- Highly memorable sites
- Easy to read font size (not necessarily overly large, though)
- Straightforward design that is simple and intuitive to use
- Use long-form content to add value and engagement
- Use an easy to understand linking structure within text content
- Focus on building trust
The needs of older adults and younger adults are startlingly different, and what works for the mature adults we just discussed will not work as well for those between the ages of 20 and 35. Many of these are digital natives – Millennials for the most part. They grew up with personal computers and gaming consoles, and most of them do not remember a time when the Internet did not exist. They are far more comfortable using websites and are more trusting of brands in the digital environment. In order to design for younger adults, you should consider the following:
- A search feature is critical
- Delight users with clever design elements
- Make sure the UI map is accessible and straightforward
- Make it simple for users to find the information they want quickly
- Ensure your design is functional on all device types, from PCs to smartphones
- Limit the number of tasks per page and ensure your calls to action stand out
- Focus on organic SEO through elements like meta descriptions and answers to common questions
- Focus on transparency when it comes to page purposes
- Build long-form content written for your audience, but ensure it can be scanned and is succinct
Teens and Older Children
Designing for teens and older children is very different from designing for even younger adults. These are the true digital natives in our midst, Generation Z and younger. Many of them have had a smartphone in their hands since they were infants, and they are completely comfortable in the digital environment. Design tips for this group include:
- Use bright, bold colours and designs
- Avoid clutter and focus on creating clear content
- Content should be interesting and relevant
- Use easy to read fonts
Designing for younger children is much like designing for older ones, but there are some key differences:
- Use bright colours and simple shapes
- Content should be aimed specifically to your target age group
- Use obvious navigation
If you follow these tips, you will find that user-first design is simpler and easier to achieve while ensuring that your audience is engaged and enjoying a positive experience on your website.