Designing Effective Websites for Different Age Groups

There are so many best practices in web design that it sometimes feels like you’re a short order cook checking off requirements before sending a dish to a customer’s table. Did I remember to make my site lightning fast? Check. Is it fully responsive in design? Check. How about the interface? Did I remember to make it as clean and intuitive as possible? Hmmm… Let me double-check that one.

As new design trends emerge and our audience becomes more technologically savvy, it does sometimes feel like each new website comes with a taller order to fill. Today, I want to add yet another special request to that order…

Here’s what I’m asking you to think about:

When was the last time you stopped to think about how to design a WordPress site for your target audience based on their age? It’s not something I see a lot of in web design articles around the web, but I think it’s worth diving into, especially for designers and developers who run into age-specific website requests.

Whether or not you’ve given any thought to the age of your target persona before, this guide will provide you with a breakdown of what defines each of these distinct age groups and what sort of best practices to adhere to when building sites tailor-made for them.

Why Designing Websites for Different Age Groups Matters

You know how some people say that age is just a number? Yeah, that totally doesn’t apply to web design. Let’s think about goals, for example.

If your website’s target audience is under the age of 10, you’re probably not trying to get their email address for a newsletter mailing list or their credit card information to sell them alcohol. On the flip side, you’re also probably not trying to entertain a retiree with colorful animations or gamification.

Now, this isn’t just a difference between designing sites for “young” and “old” either. There are vast differences between different adult age groups and how they interact with websites, too.

Think of designing for age as you would any other form of persona targeting. You want to know:

  • Their goals in visiting your site.
  • Their familiarity with websites, in general.
  • Any accessibility issues that may commonly spring up with those users.
  • The average emotional response to certain triggers.

For some businesses, these persona identifiers are going to be easier to define. If you don’t have a clear idea of which age group your audience will attract, then it’s up to you to create a design that’s as universally acceptable as possible… or to give it some time so you can study your site’s analytics. (By the way, Google Analytics does offer demographic information, but you have to first unlock the module and then update your site’s privacy policy in order to start collecting that data.)

As I said earlier, I’m sorry for throwing yet another thing onto your plate. I know you’ve already got a lot to worry about when designing websites for your clients. Then again, I think it’s important that you do everything in your power to create an awesome experience for your visitors. If age is a factor that will affect their experience, then I think that learning how to design for it is something everyone should have in their toolbox.

The following guide will break down each of the five main age groups you may find yourself designing websites for.

Designing WordPress Sites for Children

Design for Age - PBS Kids
Fun colors, music, recognizable graphics – all trademarks of a great kids’ website.

When you think about it, children’s websites generally don’t serve the same purpose as other websites simply because there’s really no way to convert a child into a customer. While you do want to gain their loyalty, that’s a whole other beast altogether. Instead, your goal in designing a website for a child (basically, those younger than pre-teens) is to entertain and/or educate.

Here are some tips and best practices for catering to this specific age group:

  • Motor skills might not be quite as refined in younger children, so interactive elements should be large enough where even the sloppiest of gestures or clicks still gives kids the payoff they expect.
  • Keep the interface clean and simple enough to navigate around.
  • Look to well-known children’s TV shows (like Sesame Street or Dora the Explorer) for color palette inspiration.
  • If you have one, use a brand mascot to guide kids through the site.
  • Establish consistent relationships within the design. That way, kids can make proper associations between the design and corresponding actions that result from their engagement with it.
  • Tell your story with engaging visuals and audio. This is especially important if you’re trying to reach kids of all ages, and not just ones who can read.
  • Use gamification in order to tap into kids’ desire to play and be rewarded (even if it’s not an actual game you’re offering).
  • Rely on positive reinforcement when they interact with the site by using strong, memorable, and friendly messaging, visuals, or sounds.
  • Stay away from distractions like popups, links that take them away from the website, etc. Keep the experience right on that page.

Designing WordPress Sites for Teens

Design for Age - Meez
Gamification, social media integration, and a super simple interface works great for teens.

In this next age group—one which covers pre-teens and teens—we’re looking at a generation that most likely has their own personal devices they use to access the Internet. While that means their familiarity with the web is practically inherent, it doesn’t mean that their use of it has matured just yet. The big focus for them is on the social aspect of the web, so your best bet is to design with social, chat, and app platforms in mind.

Here are some tips and best practices for catering to this specific age group:

  • It’s safe to say that distractions can be problematic for teenagers, so it’s best to keep your site’s interface as clean and simple as possible.
  • While the use of text won’t be an issue in terms of your audience being able to read, it’s more an issue of whether they’ll want to read. It might be safer to rely on imagery and other directional cues to get them to the intended goal.
  • Use bright colors to demonstrate where the most important parts of your website are.
  • Even if your site’s purpose is not to serve as a social community, you may still want to infuse those types of elements into it in order to attract teens. For example, you could add a discussion forum, use social media logins/signups, and invite them to connect with your brand and other members on social media.
  • While gamification isn’t a bad idea, just make sure it won’t be seen as childish. Any animation, visuals, or audio should be on par with your audience’s age.
  • Use micro interactions throughout the site to keep them engaged.

Designing WordPress Sites for Millennials

Design for Age - WattPad
Vibrant colors, animations, social integration, and a no fuss login? Perfect for millennials.

There’s always a lot of talk about millennials in the news, which makes sense as this incredibly tech-savvy generation is now playing a heavy role in the consumer class and workforce. For most of the websites you build, unless you’re creating a site specifically targeted to children or the elderly, chances are good you’re going to see a sizable amount of millennial traffic on it.

Here are some tips and best practices for catering to this specific age group:

  • Get creative with layouts and testing out new design trends. They’ll appreciate your ingenuity.
  • Millennials tend to prefer non-verbal forms of communication, so your site should have more than enough contact methods for them to choose from. Especially contact forms.
  • They also prefer self-guided experiences, so FAQs, support forums, and tooltips are always a good idea.
  • Another thing that millennials are known for is their frugality. And because they’re so adept at doing research on brands online, your offering needs to draw them in from the get-go. A good way to do this is to include hello bars and popups with special deals.
  • Millennials want to feel like they’re connecting with someone and not something, so try to be as genuine in your design as you can.
  • There should be a heavy integration of social media on your site with social share icons, social-related deals and discounts, and social proof (including user-generated content).
  • Make your scannable content with headers, shorter paragraphs, and plentiful white space.
  • Don’t forget to ask for their feedback. You wouldn’t believe how much they appreciate being listened to and trust brands that are open about the feedback they receive.

Designing WordPress Sites for Generation X

Design for Age - Bobbi Brown
Cleanly laid out but not skimpy on the details, this website does a great job of catering to Gen X.

Generation X—the group of adults stuck between the much hyped-about millennials and the much talked-about Baby Boomers—doesn’t get enough attention, in my opinion. Maybe it’s because compared to the generations surrounding them, their interests seem so practical and safe? I’m not sure, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make heads or tails of how to create the best web design for them.

Here are some tips and best practices for catering to this specific age group:

  • While most Gen Xers are familiar with the web, it’s not always safe to assume they’re fluent in using it. This means that simpler is better, though you don’t need to go so far as to spell everything out. Just give them options that increase the convenience factor, like a search bar or blog filters.
  • Generation X tends to be comprised of more goal-oriented individuals who want a clear pathway to their intended goal. So, don’t bother with distractions like popups, ads, sidebars, or anything else that might impede getting to that goal.
  • They don’t mind doing research and taking their time to look through worthwhile content. Just remember that it needs to be relevant, insightful, and helpful.
  • Of all the age groups we’re looking at today, these guys are probably the most receptive to longer pages of text. A few visuals here and there won’t hurt, but they need to serve an actual purpose in the experience.
  • Social media probably won’t be as big a deal to Gen Xers, but you can still include links \ to your social media profiles just in case.

Designing WordPress Sites for Baby Boomers and Retirees

Design for Age - Changing Aging
Extra-large type, easy-to-follow directions, and a distraction-less interface. Perfect for Boomers and retirees.

For this last group, I’m not going to provide as many tips as I think that Claire Brotherton’s recent guide on accessibility highlights a lot of them. While I’m not suggesting that senior citizens are “disabled,” I do believe that the deterioration of dexterity, vision, and even their auditory senses that commonly happens as we get older does require a similar accessible approach to design.

Here are some tips and best practices for catering to this specific age group:

  • Focus on creating a very easy-to-follow interface, one in which there is no question as to where your visitors need to go next.
  • Navigation also needs to be simple and ever-present. In case anyone should get confused about where they are, keep the navigation menu at the top of the site along with a search bar. You may even want to include an actual tab for “Home” in case they don’t know that the logo takes them back there.
  • Larger fonts are probably a good idea, but you don’t want to overdo it to the point where it compromises your design. Instead, use a tool that will enable users to increase font size on their own.
  • While strong visual elements (like large call-to-action buttons) are good for directing Baby Boomers to next steps, don’t go crazy with colors. Keep fonts black against a clean white background and rely on an attractive, but muted color palette for everything else.
  • Building in extra customer support methods wouldn’t be a bad call. Live chat as well as additional options for email, phone, and a physical address would be much appreciated.
  • There’s no need to try to impress Baby Boomers with super modern design trends like parallax scrolling, popups, or animation. Keep it simple and don’t overwhelm.

There, of course, will be times when your site will target a mix of groups (like parents and their kids) or when it will simply need to be universally-friendly. In those cases, I’d suggest doing your best to merge your target audience profiles to try and strike a fair balance among each of them.

Wrapping Up

Of course, there are other factors that will contribute to your users’ comfort in navigating through your site, like your target industry, their geographic location, their education level, and more. And it’s also fair to assume that not every member of the age groups or generations mentioned above will fall in line with the data we have for them.

This is why researching and creating designs for target personas should be just the first step in your process. It’s always important to assess your analytics and test alternate versions of your design once all is said and done. You may have thought the shoes for sale on your site were going to be a big hit with millennials, but it turns out that retirement homes in southern California are your biggest fans.

Suzanne Scacca
What’s the most fun you’ve had in designing a website for a specific age group?