UX For Kids: The Main Principles by@paveltahil

UX For Kids: The Main Principles

Pavel Tahil HackerNoon profile picture

Pavel Tahil

I’m a Senior UX Designer / UX Researcher with more than nine years of experience.

When we talk about design for children, a colorful picture with large buttons and cartoon characters usually appears before our eyes. In reality, of course, things are not so simple. When creating an interface for "children," you must consider dozens of nuances, from navigation to user paths, so your result matches the characteristics of a child's perception.

To create a quality solution, it is essential to understand how a child's mind works and how it differs from "adult" logic. How child interacts with a product is determined by their experience, cognitive ability, emotional control, and other things. As a rule, children act much less predictably in any usability test than older people.

However, this does not mean that the basic principles of UX design do not work here. As with any product, all the logic of user interaction with it should be subordinated to your goal. For example, if the goal is to teach a child to add fractions, we "lead" the student from exercise to exercise, from simple to complex, in parallel forming a tree of prompts - a kind of mini-steps to achieve the task.

Just like when creating products for adults, a UX designer has to think through and work through all possible scenarios of user behavior in advance: for understandability, accessibility, and emotional response. And preliminary studies in all age categories help better understand what exactly "will come" to children.

Perhaps these are the main nuances that unite UX / UX for children with other products. Now let's talk about the differences.

No "hamburgers", advertising and punishment

One of the critical requirements for a "childish" UI is its maximum clarity. Children still have little experience with interfaces, so it is difficult for them to "count" some abstract elements.

For example, suppose the connection between the "hamburger" icon and the menu is obvious to an adult. In that case, a child is unlikely to be able to catch it. That's why it is so essential to use visually understandable elements: arrows, checkmarks, crosses, etc.

If the use of an icon is necessary, then you need to make sure that its interpretation is understandable and unambiguous for children's perception. Some icons can be replaced or duplicated with inscriptions - but keep in mind that you must speak the same language as the children. For example, asking "think of a username" is likely to confuse a second grader, so it's best to replace it with a simple "What's your name?".

For example, asking "think of a username" is likely to confuse a second grader, so it's best to replace it with a simple "What's your name?"

At the same time, it is crucial to think over the states of the elements in detail so that when hovering, scrolling, or clicking, the element reacts as expected by the user. For example, when clicked, the input field should change to the active state; a caret should appear inside, and the button should react when hovered. In "bright interfaces," it is doubly important to ensure that elements do not get lost and stand out against the background of illustrations.

Closely related to the lack of interface habits is the lack of so-called banner blindness: children often do not distinguish between advertising and product content. So if you can't do without ads, add them only to sections for adults: for example, a parent's personal account.

Another feature of young users is the expectation of an immediate reaction to their actions. The child cannot wait for the end of the test to find out the result: after each question, he wants to see if he answered correctly.

Hence the general rule: for each correct step, we immediately praise; we prompt in case of an incorrect one. And one more thing, if you are doing an educational or developmental project, forget about the game-over model, when a child makes a mistake, you need to help him find a solution, and not turn learning into punishment and stress.

Involvement in the process

If adult users are usually annoyed by the abundance of bright colors and animations, then for children, the color scheme is a kind of visual guide: it helps to navigate the content, attracts attention, and creates a certain mood. That is why bright, juicy and cheerful colors are always used in children's products.

It is difficult for a child to deal with abstractions, so it is important that the design includes recognizable examples from real life: natural phenomena, household items, animals, and cartoon characters. The more realistic the picture looks, the more it excites the children's imagination.

But getting too carried away in creating a mood is also dangerous - the interface should not distract from the primary task. In addition, the task itself should not be too long. It is difficult for children to concentrate on one thing for a long time, and several tasks of the same type in a row can easily demotivate your user. To prevent this from happening, alternate between different types of activities and include time for rest in the product logic.

In addition to changing activities, the impact on emotions helps involve the child in the process: familiar topics, situations, favorite characters, game mechanics, and storytelling help out here. So, in our course on planning and setting goals, we integrated all the methodological material into the plot of an interactive cartoon, the student must make decisions for the main character, and how the course of action will unfold depends on his choice.

As a result, after completing the course, many children started it again in order to learn other options for the development of the plot - and thereby imperceptibly consolidated the material.

When testing the course, we asked the children questions after completing the course: what do you remember, what did you like? Many with burning eyes recalled the process and the choice of answers as if it were their experience in real life: "I gave my grandmother a picture! I managed to color it in time! She loved it!"

From toddlers to teenagers: age differences

The perception of a person at 25 and 30 years old is practically the same, but the difference will be huge for a six- and ten-year-old child. Children change with age, which must be taken into account both in the logic of the product and its interface.

So, we divide our content into two groups: elementary school and the main one. In the first case, the design is more "cartoonish" and playful, and for those who still cannot read, voice acting is provided. The design for older students is more restrained and contains more examples from life. For example, for students in grades 9-11, we make adjustments for age and interests. The content, in their case, will be impassive, and the illustrations will be calmer.

In general, high school is a very complex heterogeneous group. For example, everyone knows the golden rule of dealing with teenagers - do not treat them like children. Teenagers are accustomed to considering themselves adults and are painfully sensitive to any attempts to challenge this fact.

However, when we decided to test a gaming course on programming for grades 1-6 on older students, they reacted quite positively. Since the course was developed for children 7-11 years old, the interface was quite "childish," with the main character being a dinosaur - but despite this, most teenagers expressed a desire to "play".

In general, when creating products for teenagers, you can focus on two general principles:

  • Firstly, to qualitatively adapt and structure information, present it in a dosed manner and with good packaging.
  • Secondly, teenagers are especially annoyed by any bugs and freezes, so sometimes it is better to resort to a visually simple, but faster solution in terms of "loading".

Subtleties of adaptation

A typical mistake in the design of children's interfaces is the inattention to the needs of the so-called extreme users: children who do not read, children with insufficient experience in interacting with a computer, children with low concentration, and children with visual impairments.

It is also essential to consider the characteristics of the devices on which users can work with your product. For example, we always keep in mind that some students solve our tasks on an interactive whiteboard at school - and therefore we do not place critical interface elements at the top of the screen so that student growth does not become a barrier to learning process.

Also, if your product is designed for kids from different countries, you can't use the same design for everyone. In different parts of the world, users differ not only in language, but also in culture, the way of life that surrounds them, folklore, cuisine, and so on - and the corresponding realities of other countries may be unfamiliar or exciting to them.

In other words, such design elements as snowflakes or skis are unlikely to "go in" for the guys from South Africa and Brazil. And if in Finland it is possible to solve addition and subtraction problems with the help of pancakes, then for India, we draw traditional local chapati cakes.

There are also more subtle patterns: for example, we saw that children from the United States did not understand the exercise with the distribution of apples to hedgehogs. The peculiarities of the methodology also influence the interface: for example, in one country, children have explained the principles of addition on cubes, and in another - on disks. In particular, this is why we have assembled a separate team to adapt our product to the US market.

Any company needs to keep up with the times, invent practical approaches and methods of interactive education, to upgrade the accumulated experience because the market also does not standstill.


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