When improving the user experience of your site or just fine tuning elements to improve conversion, it’s important to understand your user types first before you make any rash decisions. When we work with clients on designing a site, one of the first questions to ask is who will be using the site? Specifically a user’s age plays a huge role in what people like and how people think. In this post I’ll generally talk about how users cognitively look at interactive mediums (not just the web).

There are many different types of users out there, especially when you think of how they learn and digest information.  So to quickly categorize them, they are: kids, teens, and adults. Many of these people use technology every day and are accustomed to make certain decisions based on their device of choice, their way of looking at the world, and most importantly what matters to them.

Kids are click o’ holics. They’re very visual and will click on virtually anything regardless of whether or not it’s a button (their favorite color, character, etc). This is why the majority of kid’s interfaces are created in Adobe Flash. It’s the visual/interaction engagement factor (animation, games, etc) that gets kids attention. Kids are sponges and generally absorb everything and learn through visuals, audio, and interaction (kinesthetic learning). Kids will spend 2 seconds on a screen with just text, but will spend a great deal of time on a page with visuals and interaction.

Without experience with different types of interfaces, kids don’t know any better. Kids are more likely to click on elements that have nothing to do with the content or that lead them to a dead end. They except what they see and generally don’t make a lot of criticisms (like we do) on how an interface could be better.

Teenagers spend a great amount of time online through a home computer, but more than likely a wireless device (cell/smart phone, iTouch, etc). Their fixated on what and how other people see them, so their online presence with friends is important, especially social networks. They’re not adults yet, but would like to be considered one.

Like I said before kids are sponges, but as kids get older the ways they learn and take in information change or tend to favor one vs. the other (visually, auditory, or kinesthetically). A teen is more likely to read more about what a peer thought of something than an adult and more so what their friends thought of it.

As we get older, we get stingier about our interface decisions. We know what we want and we want it now. At this point we know what feels wrong in an interface but maybe not able to express why or how it could be better. More than likely if an interface is hard to use, the business wasn’t thinking about their users and those users have long since went somewhere else, or struggled through the process of using that interface if they couldn’t go anywhere else.

Generally adults with interfaces or on the web are looking for information or services, selling/buying items, businesses, people (friends), basically anything you can think of. So based on the user’s needs, interfaces work out best when choices are user centric, unlike kids or teens who don’t mind being told what to do or having things already done/filled out for them. Left brain, right brain, the learning aspect continues and tends to stick. If a person learns a certain way (say, visually), it’s more than likely that the person will always learn things that way.

So what kind of learner are you? When I say “fire truck”, what comes to mind?

If you’re a visual learner like me, you would say red. If you’re an auditory learner, you might be thinking about the siren that it makes or that you actually saw one or heard one this morning.

Here’s another example, for the next time you get gas for your vehicle. At the gas pump you swipe your debit card and type in your pin, if that numeric pad didn’t beep while you were pressing the buttons then I bet you’ll look at the screen to see how many asterisks are shown. Plus if the numeric pad didn’t ‘feel’ like it was being pressed, it would have the same effect, you looking at the screen to verify.

Regardless, it’s important to understand how users think vs. what actions you’re asking them to do. That way you can apply various techniques to your interactive mediums and create a holistic experience that’s intuitive. Your users will thank you for it.