We’ve talked about how kids are different than adults and how we need a separate approach to user centered design – that is child centered design – in order to create valuable digital products for them. But what exactly is is that makes an app valuable? What kind of experiences are kids looking for?
There are several criteria that contribute to a good user experience for children – and at the same time to a successful product. For example, a valuable app for kids has to be visually attractive and fun, it needs to be usable for the target age group, and above all its content must be age appropriate.
Let’s take a look at the key criteria of a good user experience for kids:
To start with, digital media for kids have to be fun. Other than adults, most kids use media for entertainment – not for work or for being productive in some way.
Children expect an high entertainment factor – and their tolerance is rather low. That means if you disappoint them and don’t offer a fun and surprising experience – they will lose interest in your app quickly and look for an alternative.
On the other hand, fun apps are more popular and thus (1) more likely to be upgraded and (2) recommended to friends.
2. Visual appeal
Next, the visual appeal of your app is super important. While adults often use media for a higher purpose, kids need some kind of extrinsic motivation. This motivation can be the recommendation of a friend, or the design of the app itself.
A fun and attractive design can trigger children’s curiosity and motivate them to start using an app. After the initial usage, the visual appeal is still important – but not the only criterion to keep kids hooked.
Whether or not kids want to use an app repetitively depends on whether the app leaves them with a positive feeling or not.
The usability of your app also affects its popularity. Keep in mind that kids nowadays have grown up with digital media. They are “speakers of the digital language” and where adults feel intimidated by digital media and start to doubt their own abilities, kids will always blame the media.
Kids have very little patience and also a low tolerance threshold. If your app doesn’t work the way they expect – if it’s not intuitive – kids won’t bother to read the instructions (assuming they can read) or spend extra time to figure it out.
Apps that are user friendly – that match the physical and cognitive abilities as well as the expectations of the target age group – are more effective.
4. Age appropriate content
Besides the visual design and the usability, content plays an important role when it comes to creating valuable digital media for kids. Make sure your content matches the natural interests and mental models for your target age group.
Content that is too simple will easily be considered boring. At the same time, kids have difficulties to focus on content that is too complex. Considering the fast development of children under 12 years of age, it is critical for any good app to focus on specific age groups. If more than one age group is addressed in an app, it is important to offer multiple levels of complexity.
For example, in his theory of cognitive growth, Piaget describes five stages of cognitive development that are:
- 0-2 years: sensory-motor intelligence
- 2-4 years: preconceptual thought
- 4-7 years: intuitive thought
- 7-11 years: concrete operations
- 11-15 years: formal operations
5. Encouraged learning
Kids are curious by nature – they want to learn – and they do so through playing. Digital media offer almost endless possibilities for serving this desire to learn through play.
Interesting and new content can make your apps fun and captivating. Again, it is important to meet the abilities of your target age group. For an extended usage, consider to offer multiple levels. Each new level should add new challenges to keep it exciting.
Relevant learning fields for kids are (1) language skills: vocabulary, pronunciation, reading, writing, (2) motoric skills: gross motor skills, fine motor skills, and (3) logical thinking.