Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Myths about students -- and implications for Web design

Interesting post by Jakob Nielsen which claims that usability research undermines some prevailing myths about students.

Myth 1: Students Are Technology Wizards
Students are indeed comfortable with technology: it doesn't intimidate them the way it does some older users. But, except for computer science and other engineering students, it's dangerous to assume that students are technology experts.

College students avoid Web elements that they perceive as "unknown" for fear of wasting time. Students are busy and grant themselves little time on individual websites. They pass over areas that appear too difficult or cumbersome to use. If they don't perceive an immediate payoff for their efforts, they won't click on a link, fix an error, or read detailed instructions.

In particular, students don't like to learn new user interface styles. They prefer websites that employ well-known interaction patterns. If a site doesn't work in the expected manner, most students lose patience and leave rather than try to decode a difficult design.

Myth 2: Students Crave Multimedia and Fancy Design
Students often appreciate multimedia, and certainly visit sites like YouTube. But they don't want to be blasted with motion and audio at all times.

One website started to play music automatically, but our student user immediately turned it off. She said, "The website is very bad. It skips. It plays over itself. I don't want to hear that anymore."

Students often judge sites on how they look. But they usually prefer sites that look clean and simple rather than flashy and busy. One user said that websites should "stick to simplicity in design, but not be old-fashioned. Clear menus, not too many flashy or moving things because it can be quite confusing."

Students don't go for fancy visuals and they definitely gravitate toward one very plain user interface: the search engine. Students are strongly search dominant and turn to search at the smallest provocation in terms of difficult navigation.

Myth 3: Students Are Enraptured by Social Networking
Yes, virtually all students keep one or more tabs permanently opened to social networking services like Facebook.

But that doesn't mean they want everything to be social. Students associate Facebook and similar sites with private discussions, not with corporate marketing. When students want to learn about a company, university, government agency, or non-profit organization they turn to search engines to find that organization's official website. They don't look for the organization's Facebook page.

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