I just came back from a webcast held by Human Factors International titled "Who Are We Designing For? The Generation Dilemma". It reminded me that even though most designers - me included - belong to the Generation X (or maybe especially because of that) we need to understand and recognize behavioral differences between generations when designing web sites.
Sidenote: This generalization must not prevent us from continuing to identify and define our target audience through personas or applying all the other UCD principles based on representative users. It is solely meant to raise awareness that we as designers need to be aware of these differences.
So, what are these generations?
- 78 Mio (US) / 1.11 Billion (worldwide)
- born between 1943-1960 (age 65-48)
- think of technology as a tool
- computer at work or at home (often not the latest model)
- use computer mainly for email or work-related activities
- use sites that help save time or serve relevant information
- 55 Mio (US) / 1 Billion (worldwide)
- born between 1961-1981 (age 47-27)
- are technology savvy and career-focused
- keep their computer (desktop) in a separate room or office
- start their day with practical activities like reading news or checking stocks
- utilize computer for work but still keep balance of life and work
- use sites for practical tasks like online banking, news, travel preparation
- 80 Mio (US) / 2 Billion (worldwide)
- born between 1982-2000 (age 26-8)
- technology is inherent and part of life
- have their computer (laptop) by the bed
- start their day checking social activity online
- look for and do things that make them laugh, might be silly
- attention span is short, impatient
- use social networking sites like Facebook
How does the knowledge about these generational differences affect our designs?
The same guidelines for accessibility and usability like consistency or efficiency hold true but it is to be emphasized that certain guidelines must be enforced stronger for some generations while others can be loosened up. Here is a rough overview:
- Simple look and feel
- Safe to use, more error-prone than usual
- Navigation in predictable places
- Hierarchies of information
- Step by step instructions
- Provide options to enlarge font sizes
- Things that don't move, flicker, or play automatically
- Focus on quality content
- Provide 'do-it-yourself' tasks
- Give control and allow customization
- Content has to be attractive, innovative, can be quirky
- Design can be highly interactive
- Audio and video is not only accepted, it's expected
- Entertainment is important
- Avoid pictures of elderly people (yes!)
How can a design satisfy all generations?
The answer is (as always): it cannot. Designs have to be focused on and implemented towards your key audience. A university web site needs to satisfy its customers, the students. The press, teachers and parents are without doubt important as well, but without satisfied students the university doesn't even have to think about getting the press to visit the site.
There are ways to generalize your site's content though:
- Identify the user (login) and present a customized UI
- Identify the content (landing page) and predict its likely customer
- Identify user preferences by explicitely asking