College Students (Ages 18-24) on the Web

2nd Edition

Report PDF cover image

College-age students are comfortable with technology; it doesn‘t intimidate them the way it does some older adults. But, it‘s dangerous to assume that all students are technology experts. Young adults have specific needs, interests, and online behavior that differ from other age groups.

This 233-page report offers 86 design guidelines based on our usability research. Discussions and 228 screenshot illustrations supplement our findings.


  • Myths about young adults on the web
  • College students like technology, but are not technical
  • Students move fast and miss information
  • What motivates college students use the internet
  • College student and teenagers are different. Design accordingly
  • Multitasking behavior
  • Honest advice from college students
  • Websites students consider "the best"
  • Differences among users: international, gender
  • Visual design that appeals to a picky audience
  • Images that speak powerfully to college students
  • Writing for the web, writing for impatient readers
  • Tone, writing to be heard
  • Navigation and interaction design: predictability prevails
  • Category names and labels
  • Making buttons, links, and ads attractive and feel clickable
  • Browser windows and tabbing behaviors
  • Multimedia and videos to capture attention and communicate brand
  • Search and filters to find items quickly
  • Credibility factors that overcome objections
  • Advertisement and promotional content
  • Social media: encouraging brand awareness and communication
  • E-commerce strategies and best practices
  • Forms, registration, and sign-up
  • Icons and representations of information
  • Careers sections of corporate websites
  • Learn how to conduct your own usability studies with college students

What’s new in the second edition?

The second edition contains new and updated screenshot examples.

Research Method

This report is based on user research with university-level students (both undergraduates and graduate students) 18–24 years old. We used two different research methods:

  • One-on-one usability testing
  • Diary-based longitudinal study, for which participants video recorded all their online activities for two days

College students tested the usability of 217 websites (mainstream websites and sites designed specifically for students). The studies took place in 4 countries: Australia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Study participants originated from many additional countries.


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