Age differences in Information Seeking Behavior – Cognitive and Affective Design
Unit 2, Section 3, Overview
Before moving on to the rest of the content head over to the Unit 2, Section 3, assessment page to answer a few quiz questions.
This module will look at both information and emotional design within the context of different information needs and preferences of different age groups.
Let’s begin. Let’s start with the fact that there are differences in information-seeking need and preferences based on age group. These differences are primarily based on youth and adult cognitive development. Bottom-line is: Know that different users will have different needs and that it’s important to realize what is usable for one group may not be for another.
These differences, therefore, must be understood, and I’ve been conducting research on these differences for many years. Let’s start with the seminal problem for most of us. It is not a safe assumption that everyone thinks or consumes information the way that you do. The same can be said about preferences and information=seeking goals. This is especially true for web developers in relationship to their website users. Same also could be said about differences in preferences towards design, color, and use of multimedia, which is especially true with youth.
Prensky coined the term. Digital natives are those who were born with technology and the Internet versus digital immigrants who were not. Couple this with very clear generational gaps in terms of preferences, and it’s safe to conclude that the way adults and youth view the world and the information we seek can be quite different.
In other words, the paradigms in which we are visiting and experiencing websites are often different. In my research with youth, my co-researchers Kathleen Smith and Catherine Sun, and I coined the term concept actualization to represent this paradigm difference. In other words, when our youth focus groups told us they wanted cool and bright colors, we found that our interpretation and implementation of what they were asking for were woefully inadequate. More on this in a second.
Let’s quickly revisit adult information-seeking tendencies. Pirolli and Card in 1999 gave us the term informavore, which establishes information seekers as goal oriented, on the hunt for information. In essence, then, adults are looking to cut out the frills so that they can quickly find what they are looking for.
Choo in 2000 combined Ellis’ six categories of information seeking with Aguilar’s four modes of scanning for information. Let’s discuss this in detail in the next slide.
As you can see from the table, Choo suggests that adults follow a linear path of information seeking to achieve their information goals characterized by four kinds of scanning. This table shows that there are four types of scanning in the first column: undirected viewing, conditioned viewing, informal search and formal search. Each type of scanning involves different kinds of information-seeking behaviors. When in the undirected viewing mode, we are just starting our information-seeking tasks, looking for websites and pages of interest. The act of selecting links that may be of interest is referred to as chaining.
Now that we’re taking a closer look at specific pages of interest, we’re now in the conditioned viewing mode. We’re more focused as our hunt for information becomes closer to finding its prey. In this mode we’re browsing and differentiating between pages that are really meeting our information needs, and monitoring and revisiting these sites for new or updated information.
The final two modes are informal and formal search. Informal involves a combination of visiting previously known sites for information plus searching using a search engine. We’re not sure if we need a new search or not. Formal search specifically deals with a new search for information. This new search involves the extracting, information-seeking behavior where we repeat the process by visiting the links and pages for our new information search.
There are some inherent challenges when designing for youth information seekers. First, in general, they can be aware of different aspects of technology that we are not sensitive to as well as different needs altogether. Second, websites are usually developed by adults who are far removed from the perspectives and paradigms used by the youth age group trying to use it. Third, digital natives can often think, act, and use technology in different ways than digital immigrants. Lastly, over 90% of virtual accounts are registered to people 25 years or younger, and over half of all users are 5 to 10, account for 22%, and from 10 to 15, which account for 46%. In other words, youth users are high-end users of the Web, especially on sites where virtual accounts and avatars are present.
Let’s go more specifically into the information needs and preferences of youth. For youth 14 to 18 years old, typical high school age, they have typically a short attention span. They’re easily bored. They prefer scanning over reading material, and they tend to gravitate to sites that are cool with lots of graphics, that have interactive features that allow them to leave their unique footprints, such as online quizzes, voting, and games.
In particular, social media that allows social expression are popular for this age group, such as online forums, message boards, wiki’s, et cetera. The high school age group also does not like distractions, such as moving images or scrolling information—too much text that they have to read. They prefer scanning and graphics, including when providing instructions or directions. When text is necessary, they prefer large fonts. They are particularly repelled by anything they perceive as kid-like or designed for kids. These include childish visual designs, color schemes, content, images, or site names.
We created a quick checklist in our research article that can be used to ensure that requirements for the 14-to-18 age group are met. This is available in the hands-on activity as a rubric, where I will be asking you to rate a few websites.
For the pre-teens—10 to 13 years of age—they tend to seek information through exploration rather than seeking specific information goals. They liked bright and engaging colors that attract and keep their interest. They like the use of animation and sound effects with bright colors in both background and foreground. They also like creative icons and site mascots along with clever site names and easy to remember URLs. While they like animation and sound effects, it will repel them, however, if there’s too much. Again we created a best practices checklist to use to ensure requirements are met for this age group, and you will have an opportunity to use this in the hands-on activity.
The research literature on youth information seeking can be broken down into three domains: cognitive, affective, and design. Cognitive addresses their ability to mentally conceptualize and search information, which includes issues of literacy and pre-literacy, especially when dealing with elementary school-age children. Affective is the emotional design, which again has important implications, both for the organization and the users of its website. Elementary and middle school- and high school-aged users have different needs and expectations here. Design is the catchall for anything else, in terms of animation, use of color, functionality, content, et cetera.
The cognitive domain can be looked at through seven primary factors:
- First, the amount of text on a page.
- Second, the overall vocabulary used on a page.
- Third, the graphics, in terms of both type and frequency.
- Fourth, cues, which serve to help users understand what to do and where to go.
- Five, pictorial searching and allowing youth-imaged equivalents, especially for pre-literate users.
- Six, icons to represent ideas which involves the use of drawings, images, et cetera, to express thoughts and ideas as opposed to too much text.
- Finally, seven, games can be used to maintain attention and motivation as well as to teach and provide instruction again without too much text.
Youth rely more on the emotional design of a site as they are more impressionable and unsure of themselves and need more assurance from a site that it is okay to be there. In particular, emotional designs that pay attention to the affective domain help minimize uncertainty of what to do and where to go while limiting options, and also understand that youth have a fear of failure and need constant feedback that they are on the right track and are making the right decisions.
There are seven primary factors that help establish a positive affective environment:
- First, images that youth can relate to or are comforted by.
- Second, sounds that provide feedback and reflect interaction between site and user.
- Third, interactive with other site users.
- Fourth, personalization of either pages on the site, games, or through virtual characters.
- Fifth, play, opportunities to explore and discover and play games.
- Six, open exploration, allowing opportunities to interact with the site and independently discover.
- Finally, seven, self-pace.
Youth are in full control to do what they want to do on your site, do not feel pressured or solicited to do anything in particular.
The design domain takes into account the first two domains and involves four factors
- First, an age appropriate child-centered or youth-centered approach to all aspects of design and content.
- Second, allowing youth many choices in terms of exploring and taking different paths that are unique and individualized.
- Third, allowing youth the ability to leave a footprint in some way.
- Finally, four, simple, clean, and uncluttered layouts that allow youth to scan and not have to read too much, as youth are particularly susceptible to a fear of failure and getting easily frustrated.
Some design and methodologies for ensuring youth perspective Some design methodologies for ensuring youth perspectives are accounted for include Druin’s Cooperative Inquiry which engages youth as design partners. Read et al’s Participatory Design; Large et al’s Bonded Design; and Chow et al’s Concept Actualization.
No matter what you call it designing appropriately for youth means getting them involved at every level of the design and development process and ensuring that site features that are intended for youth are vetted and tested to ensure actual concept actualization occurs.
Nielsen put together this table in 2005 to illustrate the differences between kids, teens, and adults. Starting from left to right – kids like animation and sound effects, while teens are indifferent, and adults do not like it.
Exploration for interesting links is desired by kids but frowned upon by teens and adults. Advertising is interesting to kids, teens are indifferent, and adults don’t like them. Kids will not scroll, again teens are indifferent, and adults will scroll for information. Finally lots of reading is a big no, no for kids and teens and adults are okay with it.
The keys to ensuring age differences in information seeking is accounted for involves:
First, engaging youth or user groups you are designing for in the process.
Second, while we know general trends and preferences, ensuring successful concept actualization means seeing through the eyes of users.
Third, in particular for youth sites, it may mean building sites we would not like ourselves or ever use.
Here are two links that we built based on our research – one for middle schoolers and one for high schoolers.
Well that’s it for this section. Thanks for joining me and remember to:
- Check out the reading an article I published a couple of years ago on this topic.
- Answer the five review questions
- Participate in the cohort discussion
- Do the hands-on activity making use of our best practices checklists.