Sunday, April 13, 2008

Designing for Teens: MW2008 Day 3

Went to this really fascinating session this afternoon (after shopping!!). The points that were raised were how important it is to work closely with teens when designing websites for them. Also teens really wanted to use a range of media (although not podcasts of artists' talking!) and have two-way conversation, with the instituting and each other.

The first paper about a project called ArtPad at the Glenbow consulted teens by showing them works of contemporary art and finding out what questions they had. They found that the front-end evaluation really challenged their assumptions and informed the process.

Anne Neilson from the Statens Museum for Kunst worked with 90 teens over 400 days! They now have 500 profiles on-line and they also use these as a laboratory – a way to see what their audience

Advantages of their site:

  • It's not commercial
  • It's in Danish – important for them to express themselves in Danish
  • It's democratic
  • It's a small and safe community – and exists on-site too
  • It's not just flashy show off – it's serious, you can really discuss and engage with each other
  • There's room for different kinds of users and user behaviour
  • The context of the Museum – gives some authority and identity


  • Education – teachers aren't that keen to use it
  • Continuum from museum to community
  • Community member grow "too old"
  • Resources –time and funding
  • The internet ecosystem – at moment doesn't link well into other sites and how should this be done? The audience wants to keep it for themselves – it's a safe place for their inner art nerd

Walker Art Centre project have a WalkerArtCentreTeenArtsCouncil (WACTAC). They started with using this group as way to talk to teens about what they're doing online:

  • Messaging each other privately and publicly
  • Links to other cool thing they've seen
  • Shows/events
  • Videos, YouTube
  • Showing their work (art, videos, etc) and posting to their pages
  • Customising their profiles to show their identity and be different from others

What is the Walker doing that works?

  • Have a good set of blogs that people are actively using – institutional acceptance of blogs and how to use and maintain them

What else do they need?

  • Institutional program info
  • Maybe enticing teens into doing reviews and criticism?
  • Public face of WACTAC?
  • Should be an open-vessel – ready for expansion
  • Teens want to be more playful and fun, fresh set of views

The new site for teens is divided into business side and teens side of things – looked a bit too busy for me but I'm definitely not the audience and they obviously like it! The backgrounds can be customised by the user and they demonstrated a slideshow of designs – this enables people to design their own look and take ownership of it. It's also clever how they have used outside services like delicious and upcoming (an events calendar feed).

What did they learn:

  • Make teens part of the process, not just part of the product
  • With great power comes great responsibility! But by giving them ownership they take responsibility
  • Thinks about the site as an educational program – don't focus on marketing

Overall I think the session should have been called designing with teens, not for teens as that's what really came out. Here's a link to the educational websites study we did some time ago that found pretty much the same thing.


Anonymous said...

Hi Lynda,

I'm interested to know who built the website for

The concept are great in giving 2 options to the visitor to choose but it does not look presentable in regards to visitor-centered museums approach. Sorry to say that, to my eyes the sapperator does makes the site looks unprofessionally done.

Anonymous said...

You should have caught the earlier Children and Youth session, too! It included two projects that were (actually) really about teens.

LyndaK said...

I don't know who built the site - I haven't read their paper in detail so they may have mentioned it thee, but my feeling was that the Walker Arts Folk did it.

I thought the design was not appealing but they explained that the teens wanted it that way. There is also the option for each user to design their own home pages. They showed us a variety of them which demonstrated that all the users tended to have busy-looking pages with lots of graphics, images, bling and so on. Taught me how out of touch I was with how teens like to present themselves.

I think this aspect is interesting as the teens I've talked to tended to want clean websites, yet the Walker Art project showed that when teens (or probably anyone for that matter) want to project their own identity through designing their home or profile pages, then those kinds of wansst seem to go out the window.

I did catch the earlier Children and Youth session which I agree ws really good too. All the papers are on the M&W website Sessions page- scroll down to Saturday.

Lily Hashim said...

Dear Lynda,

I've been following this thread.I have also visited the website and I think that the WalkerArt website is good however, the teen website needs to have a clean interface.The website seems to have lack of usability and the it makes it look not professionally done. Although the website was targeted for the teen however, website usability and design has gone a lot better than in 90's. It does look a little bit of 90's with the wallpaper look inappropriate. The information on the website are everywhere.

Talking about the usability of the website, an idea has come to my head. In getting more audience to museum, I think a summative evaluation kiosk that have been designed as a website is possible to connect on-site visitor and online visitor.

How? A scenario example:
Imagine there's a digital exhibition something like the VROOM, in Melbourne museum.
And there's a kiosk outside the room, where visitor can put up their comments and feedback for what they have seen on that exhibition. Before the visitor begin to type down their comments, they have to make a short registration such as their name,password and address. This registration allows the visitor to have access more features offered by that on-site website.

After he/she has done with the simple registration, she can now start to type her comments or feedback of the exhibition. Note that as this on-site summative evaluation is designed as a website,she can actually do more than writing a comment. This tool allow her to upload photos to express her concern about some issue that she finds important to inform museum - for example, safety issue of VROOM. She can snap a picture and upload into the website and put some comments underneath the picture. Something like Flickr has.

If she wants, she can also continues to upload some other pictures at home (at he own time). This feature not only allows her picture and comments to be published online but also, virtual visitor can participate to add-ons their comments too. This feature is not new for social-networking website, but I think it's good to have this kind of tool coupled with any on-site exhibition. It also enable the virtual visitor to come and visit the actual exhibition closely if they are interested to investigate the exhibition them self.

It's not only giving the visitor an opportunity to express their visiting experience and comments, it should informs museums about their visitors need.

As a designer, I am able to put on lots of idea but I'm interested to know on behalf of museum professional thoughts. I'm feeling a bit positive about this and would try to discuss with my supervisor though ;)


Justin Heideman said...


I am the designer of the Teens site at the Walker. We had to distinct audiences in mind: museum professionals and Teens, especially teens who are part of WACTAC. The site grew out of discussions with the teens about what they wanted on a site, how they wanted to be able to put their voice forward, both through content and through the visual presentation.

WACTAC is by it's very nature a very experimental group, engaging in a wide breadth of activities. We did not want a boring and clean website to be their face (that was one of the things we hated about the old site).

Part of the Walker's tradition is a strong history of innovative design. We have a variety of sites for the different departments, programs and audiences for our institution. This site attempts to fit within that continuum.

Courtney Johnston said...

I was at MW2008 and this was one of my MVP sessions- I got heaps out of Anne and Justin's presentations.

I have to say that I love the Walker's solution. I admire the way that two destinations (the WACTAC homepage and the Walker's institutional info about teen programmes) are combined into one landing page, and the sliding yellow band is genius - the hint of subversion contained in the action of sliding the band all the way to the left and wiping out the "official/institutional" presence is kinda delicious.

Giles Brown, a NZ information designer, wrote an interesting post recently about how Jakob Nielsen plain-Jane style usability isn't everything, especially when you're working with a really committed audience. It's an apt bit of reading in the context of this discussion (plus, he manages to use Vanilla Ice as an exemplar. What's not to love?)

LyndaK said...

Thanks for your comment and link Courtney. I stalked my 12 year old son's Bebo page (while he was there I should add!) and I found it fascinating how he projected himself and the stuff, design, bling etc attached to his page (usually he is incredibly neat in his written work for example so this was a surprise to me). As I said earlier shows how out of touch I am!

I too love the experimental nature of the Walker Art and keep going back to their site as an exemplar of web programming.

I especially liked Justin's comment about audience - we really must continue to keep them in the top of our minds at all times as well as segementing them, realising that what works on one website for one audience will not work for another.

One other point though - the teens we spoke to about website design were talking about other informational sites they use, not their own web presences. Maybe there is a difference? I'm thinking more now that the sites users create for themselves are all about identity - how we all (not just teens) choose to project ourselves to our various worlds. Seb, Shelley and I had a bit of a discussion about this over on fresh+new(er).

LyndaK said...

Also just came across this wonderful video about teenagers and the web - Danah Boyd discussing her research in this area.

As well as offering interesting insights she gives a good outline of what these spaces actualy are and where they came from.

Courtney Johnston said...

The projecting identity idea is interesting. I think it's also mixed in with brand alignment - Mac or PC? IE or Firefox? Myspace or Facebook or LinkedIn? And then there's alter-egos, anonymity and avatars ... I do work-related-ish stuff under my full name and link back to the Library, but I also blog personally and anonymously.

In this context I found the discussion/linking/differentiation of social marketing and social media on fresh+newer really interesting - thanks for the reminder, I always read the posts in my feedreader but forget to go back for the juicy commentary ...