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Back to school: 4 ways youth experiences differ from adults'

Jennifer DeRome  |  September 07, 2018

I’m probably dating myself by admitting this, but when I was in high school the internet was just becoming a thing, and if anyone had an email address, it was likely an @aol or @hotmail. We didn’t have computers in the classroom (except the computer lab and library), and most of my fellow students only had one computer to a household, if at all. Oh, how times have changed. Today, kids as early as preschool age are using iPads in the classroom and digital devices have become a part of their daily life. Although preschoolers with iPads may be a case of the extreme, there’s no doubt that educators are incorporating digital strategies to complement traditional learning methods. According to a study by Futuresource Consulting, over 12.6 million mobile devices were delivered to primary and secondary schools in 2016 alone. Digital customers are getting younger and younger, which means that they’re developing brand preferences and loyalties well before they can even afford to purchase their own devices. As the back-to-school season kicks into full swing, we wanted to focus on an important experience that might not make it on our radar that often: the youth customer experience. Digital devices are in the hands of kids early on, both in the home and at school, so it’s important for companies to understand their experiences and adapt accordingly. Brush up your human-centered focus by learning these four ways youth experiences differ from those of adults.

1. Kids aren’t as averse to friction

Traditional design thinking asserts that in most cases, friction can cause, well, friction with users. Add too many steps to finding the balance of your bank account, for example, and you’ll likely be frustrated. Kids, however, aren’t quite so offended by friction. In fact, at some ages, children actually crave obstacles and challenges.

2. Younger users aren’t annoyed by visual and auditory feedback

If you’re anything like me, you probably try to limit your digital notifications to as few as possible. And forget about audible cues—it’s rare my phone ringer is ever on, and my computer speakers are almost always muted. Why? Because I can’t stand the notification overload. It’s distracting and annoying most of the time and rarely helpful. Spend time with younger people and their devices, and you’ll quickly realize that they don’t share many adults’ disdain for visual and audible feedback.

3. Youths tend to have very limited patience

When it comes to experiences, most adults would likely say that they don’t have much patience. If a site won’t load quickly, or it takes too long to get a response from a chat interface, chances are we’ll give up. But even in those situations, we’re still giving those experiences a chance—we have a tolerance, albeit low, to get the response we’re seeking. Children, on the other hand, don’t have nearly as much patience. If they’re not engaged immediately, chances are they’ll move on to another activity, so digital experiences for children have even less time to attract and hold their attention.

4. Children don’t think the same way as adults

Children’s cognitive abilities are constantly developing, so their thought processes are different from those of adults. Designing an experience for an adult will look completely different than designing for a child if you’re taking into account how a child would naturally navigate an experience. Standard hierarchies used for websites and apps may work well for adults because they employ industry standards that adults are used to and can provide guidance through copy. These same tactics won’t work for children that aren’t yet reading, or haven’t had enough experience with sites and apps to know where to expect certain pieces of information (e.g., the “About us” section is usually at the top or bottom nav on a page).

How to study youth experiences

One of the primary reasons many organizations hesitate to conduct research on youth experiences is that it’s a bit more complicated than traditional user research with adults. While with adults we can reasonably assume a certain level of cognitive ability, that’s not the case with children. Depending on the age you’d like to study, you may be restricted by the child’s ability to read or follow instructions. Additionally, there are understandably considerations for a child’s protection and privacy. Most social media platforms, for example, don’t allow children under the age of 13 to sign up for an account. Fortunately, these considerations can be factored into your research. Here at UserTesting, we’ve worked with parents to explore and observe their children’s interactions with different experiences, as well as recruited custom panels with children over the age of 13 (with their parent’s consent) for remote unmoderated studies and even live interviews. It's worth noting that nearly all children aged eight and under live in a household with some type of mobile device, and 42% of those children have their own devices (source: Common Sense Media), and a recent Piper Jaffray report reveals that 84% of U.S. teens expect to get an iPhone as their next phone. Brand preferences and loyalties begin forming well before adulthood. The companies that take care to study the youth customer experience will be a step ahead of their competition in earning the trust of a new generation of customers.

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About the author:

Jennifer is a Senior Content Strategist for UserTesting. When she's not dreaming up new ways to connect with audiences, you can find her traveling around the world or enjoying a glass of wine with friends.