UX for Kids: Designing User Experiences for Children

We’ve all seen it. At the table next to you, at the doctor’s office, and even within your own house – kids glued to their tablets, deftly tapping and swiping away like no tomorrow. Apps in mobile devices and tablets have become ubiquitous toys for most children today.

These young users create a different challenge to UX designers. It’s not just a matter of taking current content and apps and dumbing it down, putting in brighter colors and bigger text. Just as with all UX design, the designer needs to put himself in the shoes of the primary user and understand the user’s background and capabilities.

Skills of kids vary depending on their age.

Kids from ages 3-5 will have less-developed motor skills, so they will have difficulties using the mouse or typing on a keyboard. They have little or basic reading skills, so large photos and visual and audio feedback are important.

Kids from ages 6-8 can read pretty well and are more adept at the keyboard, but keep in mind that their vocabularies are limited compared to adults. Words such as “username” and “submit” may be confusing to them, so “nickname” and “Go” or “Start” might be easier to understand.

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Big buttons with vibrant, colorful images make it easy for kids to use the Disney Junior site. With the pictures of the characters as navigation buttons, there’s no need to put in labels.

Have a tap-friendly interface for apps.

Many kids nowadays grew up using a tablet or smartphone. Tapping is a basic and a natural gesture for them, since pointing to something was one of their early forms of speechless communication. Make sure apps you design are easily tappable – buttons are better than links, and what looks like a button should be a button. It’s not fun to see kids furiously tapping at an unresponsive or slow app then finding out later that they’ve been tapping at the wrong place after all.

Double-taps and long-presses also take some getting used to so it’s best to avoid them when designing the interface. To tap twice at a button is a learned interaction, and not an intuitive activity.

Pop-ups are distracting.

When a child uses an app for the first time, he wants to get to the entertaining content as soon as possible. A pop-up asking him to register, to rate the app 5 stars, an interstitial banner ad or a some other window full of text distracts them from their goal, and can be frustrating specially if they need to type something or to select the right option before they can proceed. If you do need to show a pop-up, make sure there’s a big X at the upper right corner so kids can easily close the window and get back to what they were doing.

teaparty
Somewhere inside the Toca Tea Party app is the pop-up shown above. For younger kids, the instructions look complicated. The child needs to be able to read the message and use two fingers (instead of the usual one) at the same time. The child would just press the X button to get rid of the pop-up.

Design for playing.

While the trend in websites has been simple, clean and minimalistic interfaces, that same interface is probably unattractive to children. They go to websites to play, to interact and to be entertained. Think colorful websites with big images, interactive elements that makes sounds and moves when clicked or tapped. The website needs to hold the kids attention and keep them playing.

fox
The Little Fox Music Box app encourages kids to explore and play. Each element on the screen reacts to a tap, whether it be frogs croaking or the light bulb turning on and off.

The importance of testing.

As with any UX design activity, testing is very important. You may think you have a fantastic interface, but a child may think otherwise. Build a prototype (a colorful one!) and let kids try it out. You may discover that they’ll try to interact with your app in ways you never thought of.

Conclusion

Designing UX for kids is a challenging exercise. Limitations in motor skills, vocabulary and attention span are factors that you need to consider as you put together the app or website’s interactive elements and navigation. Design from the perspective of a child or better yet, bring a child along to test your interface!

Sources:

Smashing Magazine: Designing Web Interfaces For Kids

Smashing Magazine: Designing for Kids Is Not Child’s Paly

A List A Part: Designing Web Registration Processes for Kids

UX Magazine: Designing for Kids, Then and Now

UX Design: Design Considerations for Little Fingers

User Testing: UX for Kids’ Products: Designing for the Youngest of Users

 

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