Young adults aged 18-25 don’t react the same as teenagers or adults over 35 to website design. That might pose some difficulties for colleges and universities that are trying to use their sites for a mix of purposes aimed at a wide range of ages: recruitment, enrollment management, online courses, advancement, alumni relations, and communications.
A new usability study by Nielsen Norman Group (NNG), a web design consulting practice, confirmed the results of an earlier study with young-adult millennials. When this age group goes online, they generally have a purpose in mind. While teens enjoy finding games and other interactive elements on sites, those features are annoying to young adults unless they have a clear function—a quiz to help the taker determine the best course of action, for instance.
“Young adults are sensitive to tone,” according to NNG’s executive summary of the study report. “They will feel insulted if they suspect the site is talking down to them, and will notice if the site is trying too hard to appear cool.”
Unlike older adults, the younger cohort will open multiple tabs online at the same time in pursuit of the information they seek, a behavior NNG dubbed “page parking.” They also tend to work on more than one task online simultaneously (called “parallel browsing”).
Because they’ve grown up with the Internet, those 18-25 “tend to be extremely confident in their own ability to navigate digital interfaces, even when encountering radically new design patterns,” NNG noted. Whereas older adults will take their time in exploring a new interface and exercise caution before clicking, young adults will plunge right in and click away.
However, if they run into problems as a result, they’re apt to blame the site’s owner and view the online difficulties as representative of that organization.