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Kids Crave Easy Surfing

  |  April 15, 2002   |  Comments

Children don't exhibit any more patience than adults do when it comes to Web site usability, citing quick engagement, interactivity, and consistent navigation among their needs. Despite some frustration, kids still chose the Internet as their number one medium.

Despite their expertise at video games, a Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) study found that kids are just as likely as adults to get frustrated and give up their efforts when using poorly-designed Web sites. The study, conducted by usability expert Jakob Nielsen and user experience specialist Shuli Gilutz of NNG, is based on testing with 55 children in the United States and Israel who were in the first through fifth grades. The children were observed interacting with 24 Web sites designed for children and three mainstream Web sites designed for adult users.

"Our study convinced us that most Web sites for children are built upon pure folklore about how kids supposedly behave," said Nielsen, principal of NNG. "For example, while it's true – as one would assume – that kids love whiz-bang animation and sound effects, even these things won't hold their attention if they come upon something too difficult to figure out, or they get lost on a Web site. Children are quick to close the window and find something else to do."

The research revealed significant information that could help improve sites that are geared toward children:

  • If an activity is not almost immediately apparent and satisfying, children quickly look for something else.

  • Children love interactivity, but if the interface is complex, they leave in frustration after failing to complete the activity. However, children will spend time indulging in mine-sweeping behavior – rolling the mouse over a page to find places of interactivity, animation and sound effects.

  • Fancy wording instead of straightforward language in interfaces confuses children and prevents them from understanding the choices available to them.

  • Children are easily frustrated by inconsistent navigation options where the same destination is referred to in different ways.

Usability studies with children revealed dramatically different results than studies with adults, NNG found. Children will generally click on advertising since they don't necessarily distinguish ads from content, and children rarely scroll pages, mainly interacting with information visible above the fold.

Kids are willing to read instructions, but boys are more annoyed by verbose pages while girls like instructions, and in another gender differentiation, boys spend more time alone on the computer and girls spend more time with a parent.

The NNG report concludes that children want content that is entertaining, funny, and colorful with a lot of multimedia effects, and content should be quickly and easily accessible.

Even though some of their specific Web site usability needs remain unfulfilled, children say that if they could only have one medium or media technology, they would choose the Internet, with television placing second and telephone third, according to a study from Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research (KN/SRI).

The study was part of a year-round service that tracked the most popular consumer media technologies – from mobile Internet access to DVD players – and how they interact with those devices and services in their everyday lives. KN/SRI evaluated which media technologies kids have in their bedrooms; the activities kids are most likely to combine with media use; the roles of adults, siblings, and friends in guiding kids' media choices; and the connections between kids' Internet site visits and TV viewing, and vice versa.

What Medium Would Kids Choose if They Could Only Have One?
Children 8-17 Boys 8-17 Girls 8-17
Internet 33% 38% 28%
Television 26% 34% 17%
Telephone 21% 12% 31%
Radio 15% 12% 17%
Magazine 4% 2% 2%
Newspaper 1% 1% 1%
Source: Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research, How Children UseTM Media Technology

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