April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

Designing a Web Site for Young People: The Challenges of Appealing to a Diverse and Fickle Audience

Rose Cardiff, Tate, UK


Designing Web sites for young people (age 13-25) can be particularly challenging. The target age range is large and represents diverse tastes and opinions. Young people can be a fickle audience, and designs that are deemed ‘cool’ one minute can rapidly grow out of fashion. Finding ways to keep up with changing tastes and fashions without having to pour in large amounts of resources can prove difficult for museums and galleries. This paper examines how to involve young people in the Web design process to ensure that the resulting Web site represents their tastes and ideas. Taking the new Young Tate Web site as a case study, this paper outlines a process for working with young people in order to develop a site that meets their requirements. This includes looking at how to set young people’s expectations, resolve conflicting opinions, commission content from young people, and incorporate user-generated content into the Web site. The paper will also examine the role of Web 2.0 technologies in relation to their appeal to younger audiences. In particular, the paper will use the Raw Canvas Artlookers Podcast as an example of how young people can create and broadcast their own audio specifically designed to appeal to their peers.

Keywords: Young people, podcast, user-centred design, Web 2.0, user-generated content, contributed content

Background to the Project

The Tate Web site, Tate Online, receives around one million unique visits a month, but comparatively few of these visitors are in the 13-25 age range. Hitwise, the competitive on-line marketing service shows that Tate Online is over-attracting an older audience, often retired, even though overall Tate as an organisation attracts a younger audience than average. Tate is keen to increase its offering to young people via its Web site and reflect the exciting work carried out in the galleries by the Tate youth programmes.

Tate has run an in-gallery programme for young people outside the formal education sector since 1988. The key features of this programme are consultation with young people and peer leadership. Tate has pioneered an approach in which young people are provided with the tools to shape their own learning experience. This enables young people to create new learning communities, opportunities for input and activity based on personal choice, and innovative forms of interaction with art and artists.

Up until recently, the Tate youth programmes at each of the four Tate galleries in London, Liverpool and St. Ives ran separately with a youth curator in charge of the programme at each site. In 2005, Tate decided to implement the Young Tate initiative to bring together the Tate youth programmes in order to create a cross-site programme involving young people at all four galleries. Young Tate involved all the Tate curators who work with young people; rolling out the best from each site, collaborating on programmes and sharing practice. The aim of the Young Tate initiative was to increase the reach and impact of Tate’s work to benefit young people on a national level. As well as the in-gallery programme, a new microsite for young people was created within Tate Online to reflect the cross-site programme and highlight work carried out across Tate.

Before the Young Tate Web site was launched in August, 2006, the central area of Tate Online for young people was within Tate Learning, and the only in-gallery youth programme that had an on-line presence was the Raw Canvas programme at Tate Modern. The Raw Canvas Web site ( was created specifically to promote the events for young people at Tate Modern and to provide contact details and a forum for the Raw Canvas group to contribute to. The other youth programmes at Tate Britain, Liverpool and St. Ives did not have any Web presence, and their events information only appeared in the general listings information on Tate Online. The term ‘learning’ does not necessarily appeal to young people, and they may be unlikely to look for content within this area of the site, so the new Young Tate site has been taken out of Tate Learning and is featured on the Tate Online home page.

Tate wanted to design a Web site that would reflect the ethos of the in-gallery programme. It was essential that the Web site be driven ‘by young people and for young people.’ The Web site would show work that young people had created, highlight events they had led, and provide ways for young people to interact with artists on-line. The new Young Tate Web site also needed to fit with the current UK government strategy towards personalised learning and tailoring learning to the needs, interests and aspirations of young people. With this in mind, Tate set about working with the groups of young people in Tate’s youth programmes to involve them in every stage of the Web site design and production. The resulting Young Tate Web site ( launched in August 2006. The site features different ways of learning and becoming involved with art and artists, careers in art, and the activities and events developed by the Young Tate curators at the four Tate galleries.

Young People and the Internet

The way young people use and interact with the Internet is constantly evolving. Over recent years, the use of the Internet has moved from ‘passive usage’ where people read and absorb information from content providers such as Tate, to ‘active usage’ where people create their own content and actively contribute to Web sites. Increasingly, young people are using the Internet to socialise. A recent Pew Internet Report showed that 55% of American youths aged 12-17 had accounts at social networking sites such as MySpace ( and Facebook ( (Lenhart and Madden 2006). MySpace claims it has over 94 million members and attracts approximately 500,000 new members each week. Social sites of this kind have been responsible for the huge popularity of some bands before they have even released a single due to young people sharing their music over the Internet. Web sites such as Flickr ( and YouTube ( enable young people to upload and share their own images and video on a global scale. The result is that many of the traditional barriers between user and creator are breaking down; the expert is not the exclusive knowledge holder. People are building communities of interest and, through functionality such as rating systems, valuing content created by complete strangers. This level of interaction presents both challenges and opportunities to organisations such as Tate, which have traditionally been providers of authoritative content.

The new Web 2.0 technologies provide a wonderful opportunity for Tate to interact with its audience on a global scale. This should lead to a greater understanding on Tate’s part of its on-line audience’s requirements and enable Tate to tailor its Web site to its audience’s needs and provide a more personalised experience. If Tate manages to create something that young people enjoy, there is potential to market this on a wide scale as young people communicate with each other on social networking sites. Tate has already set up a page on MySpace ( as a channel to tell young people about relevant events and new Web site content. The Raw Canvas youth programme at Tate Modern also has a MySpace page ( and uses the site to tell other young people about their events and stay in touch.

A key aim of the new Young Tate Web site is to engage with young people in a meaningful way and to inspire them to be creative. Tate is keen to encourage and present artwork created by young people. However, hosting user-generated content can have difficulties associated with it. If areas of the Web site are opened up for the general public to contribute to, someone needs to be available to moderate this content and check that it is does not contain anything offensive or inappropriate. Some Tate staff were also concerned that hosting user-generated content could lead to confusion. Visitors to the site might not be sure which content had been written by Tate and which had been created by other visitors to the site. This could erode Tate’s reputation as a trusted content provider. In addition, Tate has stringent processes in place to protect artists’ intellectual property, but with user-generated content, it may be difficult to verify the owner of images and video, and Tate may find itself in breach of copyright law.

Tate Online already hosts some user-generated content. There are two activities for children, My Imaginary City and Tate Tales, which enable children to submit images and stories to appear on the Kids microsite. Tate Online also hosts discussion forums and a ‘create your own collection’ facility to enable people to select and group images from Tate’s on-line collection. The My Imaginary City game has been hugely successful and attracts over 60,000 visits a month but is consequently time-consuming to administrate and moderate.

Tate decided on a cautious approach to hosting user-generated content on the Young Tate Web site in the first instance, with a view to reviewing its appeal and slowly increasing its scope. The first iteration of the site includes content created by the young people on the Tate youth programmes or part of Tate projects. Tate also commissioned young people to create new content for the site. However, the areas where the general public can contribute are limited. There is an artist interview section where young people are invited to submit questions to a profiled artist, and there is a podcast area where young people can submit their own podcasts. Tate is currently looking to expand on this to give more opportunities for young people to contribute via specific on-line projects.

The Web Site Design Process

The process of involving young people in every stage of the Web site’s production raised a number of challenges.

In addition to these challenges, the groups of young people involved in Tate’s youth programmes were from diverse cultural backgrounds and located in different parts of the country, with two groups in London, one in Liverpool, and one in St Ives. The groups had not met or worked on a joint project before, and they represented different age groups. The following diagram gives an overview of the process that Tate went through with young people to design and build the Young Tate Web site.

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Fig.1: Web site production process diagram

The first step was to hold focus groups with the young people at each Tate gallery. The initial discussions focused on the content of the site with young people suggesting ideas. The young people came up with the following key content areas:

Some of these ideas were over-ambitious, and this highlighted the importance of explaining the scope of the project to the young people from the outset, particularly the budget and technical restraints. For example, the young people were keen on the idea of approaching celebrities for their opinions on works in Tate’s collection. The celebrities suggested were very wide ranging and included football players, actors, models, comedians and politicians. It proved very difficult to implement this idea as it took a long time to locate the celebrities’ contact details, and many of them were unwilling to participate in the project as they were not interested in art or did not have the time. Eventually this idea had to be abandoned as it was too time-consuming to realise.

After the content ideas from the young people came in, a project plan was drawn up to implement the most straightforward of the ideas first. These were the introduction animations, artist interviews, information on the Young Tate programmes, and the careers section. The more interactive ideas were scheduled for a later date as they were dependent on receiving additional funding.

Web Site Content

One of the key aims of the Web site was to represent work created by young people, so Tate commissioned some art students to create the introductory Flash animations for the site. Tate approached students at various art schools, and two groups of students presented their ideas to the Young Tate focus groups. Although Tate offered to pay the art students and drew up contracts for them, it was difficult for the students to adhere to the schedule as it clashed with their coursework and exams. This issue came up a number of times in the development of the Young Tate site. It is worth bearing in mind when commissioning work from young people that they can have many other commitments and have not necessarily worked to a formal contract before. It was a steep learning curve for the students to work with stringent technical and accessibility requirements. Unfortunately, one of the students dropped out of the project due to other commitments, but the others produced three short animations for the home page of the Web site. These can be e-mailed to other people and act as a form of viral marketing for the site.

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Fig 2: Young Tate home page showing animation created by art students

A group of young people at Tate Modern, working with a freelance audio producer, created a podcast for the Web site. The young people selected fifteen art works on display at Tate Modern and created an audio guide for these works. They asked various people to talk about the art works, including school children, artists, and comedians. The podcast also included a recording of the Tate Modern tea trolley and music inspired by paintings by Mark Rothko. The audio was edited by a professional audio producer and added to Tate Online. Although the young people enjoyed creating the podcast, it has not been as successful as some of the other Tate podcasts in terms of subscriber numbers. This could be because the Raw Canvas podcast is not a podcast in the true sense. It is a one-off audio tour rather than an audio bulletin with new episodes being added on a regular basis. This could be dissatisfying to users who are anticipating that they will receive new content as the podcast is never updated. The Raw Canvas podcast was the first podcast to be produced by Tate and was a bit of an experiment. The original audio tour was quite costly to produce, and additional funding would be required to run it as an ongoing project. The Young Tate site also invites other young people to submit their own podcasts to be listed on the site, but very few podcasts have been submitted so far. A Pew Internet report into the demographics of podcast usage shows that young people aged 18-29 are more likely to download podcasts than those over 30 (Madden 2006). However podcasting is also relatively new to the Internet, and the same report found that only 12% of Internet users had downloaded a podcast as of November 2006. The research does not give any information on the demographics of the people who independently produce podcasts outside of any organisation so it may be that while young people listen to podcasts, they do not tend to create their own.

A key aim of the Young Tate Web site was to provide ways for young people to interact with artists on-line. Tate was keen to find a method that would appeal to the artists as well as the young people. As an initial idea, an area of the site was dedicated to artist interviews, enabling young people to submit questions to an artist: then the artist’s replies would be added to the Web site a month later. The young people came up with a list of artists they would like to interview. The first to be profiled was Tracey Emin. The interview was highlighted on the Tate Online home page, and Tracey Emin’s celebrity status helped to attract new visitors to the Young Tate site. The questions that were submitted showed that Tate was reaching the right age group and the site had a global audience. However, some young people criticised the method of interview as not being immediate enough. Young people are used to on-line chatrooms and MSN messenger, where they get instant answers to their questions, and found the e-mailing method cumbersome. Tate is currently looking at more imaginative ways to engage young people and artists to interact on the Young Tate site.

Tate commissioned an artist-educator to work with young people at each of the galleries to interview Tate staff about their jobs. These interviews were written up for the careers section of the Young Tate site. The young people chose the subjects in order to represent the variety of jobs and experiences at Tate and conducted the interviews. The majority of the remainder of the content on the Young Tate site was made up from projects the young people had carried out at the Tate galleries. These included short films, images, audio, and comics that the young people had created. The content was chosen to be entertaining and interesting to other young people rather than simply to document the events that had taken place. While it is very tempting to write about past events, it was decided that this may be of limited interest to an international audience who may never visit the galleries.

Web Site Name and Logo

Tate held further focus groups at each gallery to come up with the name and logo for the entire Young Tate programme, including the Web site. The groups of young people found it very difficult to agree on a name. This was mainly because the groups had not previously worked together, and members became very protective of their own ideas. The Tate Modern group was keen to keep the name of their existing programme, Raw Canvas, while the other groups wanted a new name to represent the new cross-site initiative. The names suggested included Salad, Potato, and Fifth Tate. Eventually the groups decided to stick with the name Young Tate until the programme was better defined and the young people had worked with each other and knew exactly what they wanted the name to encompass. The Web site is also currently called Young Tate but may change when the youth programme decides on a new name. The word ‘young’ in the title has potential to confuse visitors to the site as they may think that it is designed for younger children. The process of deciding on a name was very time consuming and in retrospect it probably would have been simpler to present the young people with a series of names that they could choose from. Tate probably expected too much of the young people to come up with names off the top of their heads when they did not know exactly what the new cross-site youth programme would involve.

Once the name Young Tate was set, a logo designer came up with a number of designs based on discussions with the young people. The groups of young people then chose their favourite logo design. Again, there was disagreement among the galleries, and some young people felt that their ideas had not been properly considered. Eventually the groups voted on a favourite logo but this left some people feeling dissatisfied. These difficulties highlighted the importance of setting the young peoples’ expectations from the start and making the decision-making process clear so that all members felt that their ideas had been considered. Ultimately a voting system may be the fairest way to settle disputes but this should be explained from the outset.

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Fig 3: Young Tate logo selected by the focus groups

Web Design

Tate approached a number of Web designers to produce a design for the new Web site but ultimately chose the design company with the most experience in working with young people. Tate gave the Web designers a strict brief including technical and accessibility requirements and details on the proposed content. The Web designers also looked at the results of the initial consultations with young people and came up with two different paper-based designs. One design was based around graffiti art and was primarily black and pink. The second design was more colourful and was inspired by ripped posters and paint splodges. The designers found the age range challenging as a thirteen year old’s view on what looks appealing is very different from a twenty-five year old’s.

The initial designs were shown to the focus groups for comment. All the young people agreed on their favourite design and this was then developed into HTML templates. The young people chose the second design as they felt that the black and pink looked ‘too young’ and might appeal to girls more than boys. Tate was also keen to choose a design that would not date too quickly. The graffiti style could start losing its appeal and grow old very rapidly. Tate accepts that the design of the Young Tate Web site will probably need updating more frequently than other areas of Tate Online in order to keep up with fast changing tastes and fashions among young people.

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

The Young Tate Web site launched in August 2006 and typically receives over 3,000 unique visits a month. The first artist profiled on the site was Tracey Emin, and young people were invited to submit their questions to her. There was very little budget available for marketing the site. Details were included in the Young Tate e-bulletin, which is sent out to young people who have attended past Tate events. The Web site was also shown at Young Tate events in the galleries.

The main lesson learned while developing the Web site was the importance of making the design process clear from the outset. Coming up with the name and design for a Web site is a very difficult process, and expecting young people to come up with ideas in an unstructured environment is unrealistic. The young people need to have realistic expectations and the design process should be properly facilitated with experienced designers. In addition, commissioning content from young people takes time, and this needs to be built into the project schedule. Young people may not be used to the requirements set by an organisation such as Tate, and it can consequently take longer for them to adapt their work.

Future Plans

Following the launch of the Young Tate Web site, Tate collected comments from young people who were looking at the site for the first time. Although the design and content was popular, there were a few criticisms. First, it seems that Tate has not yet struck the right balance between creating a Web site that reflects the youth programmes in the galleries and a site that appeals to a wider international audience of young people who may never visit the galleries. At the moment, the Young Tate site contains a lot of content created during in-gallery events. Visitors to the site enjoy looking at what other young people have created, and this content, such as the Create Your Own Comic workshop, can act as a source of inspiration, but it can also leave young people feeling that the site does not involve them, particularly if they are unlikely to take part in any of the in-gallery events.

Another criticism that young people made was that there was nothing to ‘do’ on the site. They wanted opportunities to contribute and interact on-line. Tate commissioned a consultant to investigate the feasibility of creating a social space for young people on the Young Tate Web site. This would be an area where young people could customise their own page, upload their own images, blog about their art works and communicate with each other. The resulting report highlighted key issues around:

It would be hard to predict how many users such a site would attract, and it could become a victim of its own success – making it very difficult to host and moderate. Tate looked at existing art sites for young people such as BBC Blast ( The BBC pre-moderate the Blast Web site, which means that someone looks through everything that is submitted and only puts suitable material on the site. This can be frustrating from the users’ perspective as they have to wait for their content to appear on the site, and consequently the Web site lacks the interaction that social sites provide.

Possibly the most major concern for Tate was that a social site of this kind would lose its relevance to Tate and its youth programmes. Once the site was opened up to the general public to contribute content, there would be nothing to stop people uploading content that didn’t relate to Tate or art in any way; the site could become purely a socialising space rather than an art-related space. Or else the site could be in danger of simply becoming a space for people to promote their own art work without setting up any meaningful dialogue. Tate has watched the popularity of the Saatchi Gallery Web site ( with interest. The site enables people to showcase their own art work and communicate with each other on-line. It currently receives around three million hits a day and has set up an area specifically for art students to share their work on-line.

Following the results of the report, Tate decided to take a different approach to getting more user-generated content onto the Young Tate site. The first idea was to create artist-led on-line projects. The existing groups of young people on Tate’s youth programmes could work with artists to set up on-line projects that other young people could then contribute to. This is a way for people to contribute on-line but within certain parameters, and the result is an on-line space curated by an artist or group of young people that becomes an art work in its own right. Tate is currently installing blogging software on the Young Tate site to facilitate this. Tate also hopes to provide better opportunities to interact with artists. The Young Tate groups could host discussion forums with artists or Tate curators. These could be advertised on the site as on-line events so that between particular times on a particular day a Tate curator or an artist would be available on the forum to discuss specific topics.

Tate will continue to add new content such as films and art works that young people have created at Tate events. By increasing the amount of user-generated content on the Web site, Tate will learn more about the young people’s interests and views and should be able to better understand the target audience. The process of creating the Young Tate Web site has led to a desire to be much more audience-focused throughout the rest of Tate Online. Tate is planning to redesign the kids section of the Web site to make it more child-friendly and to take it out of Tate Learning. Through making changes of this kind, Tate hopes to appeal directly to its key target audiences through the Web site and provide more personalised experiences for its on-line visitors.


Green, H. and C. Hannon (2007). Their Space: Education for a digital generation. Demos report. Consulted 25 January 2007.

Facer, K. and B. Williamson (2004). Designing Educational Technologies with Users. Futurelab handbook. Consulted 25 January 2007.

Madden, M. (2006). Podcast Downloading. Pew Internet report. Consulted 25 January 2007.

Lenhart, A and M. Madden (2006). Social Networking Websites and Teens: An Overview. PEW Internet report. Consulted 25 January 2007

Tate (2006). Feasibility and Scoping Report. Unpublished report.

Tate (2006). Young Tate: A Tate-wide Programme for Young People aged 13-25. Unpublished report.

Cite as:

Cardiff, R., Designing a Web Site for Young People: The Challenges of Appealing to a Diverse and Fickle Audience, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

Editorial Note