Child-Centered Design is User-Centered Design, But Then Different

By August 16, 2013June 19th, 2020Child centered design, UX

“User-centered design (UCD) is an approach to design that grounds the process in information about the people who will use the product. UCD processes focus on users through the planning, design and development of a product.”

UCD has been around for a while now and designers all over the world are familiar with the concept. There is even an international standard that defines the general process for human-centered activities throughout a development life-cycle (ISO 13407: Human-centred design process).

While the concept of user-centered design has gained wide popularity, there is one major limitation: ‘Users’ are not considered to include children.

And it is true, children are different from adults, but that doesn’t make them a less important target group. Neither does it justify that we ignore children when designing products for them. Rather, we should take what we have learned from UCD and apply it to kids. What we get then is child-centered design (CCD) – a perfectly justified field.

Let’s take a look at the CCD process and what it means to put kids at the center of our attention.

Child-centered design

The Usability Professional’s Association (UPA) has identified four key activities that make up the user centered design process. Here is what you get if you specify ‘human’ with ‘children’:

Child-centered design is user-centered design, only different. Child-centered design is user-centered design, only different.

Obviously, first of all, we need to identify and accept the need for child centered design. Once we have the right mindset, it’s a piece of cake to follow these four steps:

1. Specify the context of use

Start with identifying the “people who will use your product, what they will use it for, and under what conditions they will use it”. In case of CCD, these people are children.

In order to truly understand the context of use, you might have to go out there and do some field research. Talk to parents, teachers, and other adults that can tell you about children habits. Then take the time to observe kids in their own environment to find out how they act, what they do, and what matters to them.

2. Specify requirements

Once you know who will use your product and in what context, it’s time to get to know your target age group. Depending on the age, you can either observe them or engage them in a conversation to get more specific insights. It is also important to talk to parents and teachers – those who will most likely pay for your product.

When designing for children, keep in mind that there are several stakeholders involved with different interests. Make sure you cater to all of those interests without losing sight of your users.

Requirements include both “business requirements, and user goals that must be met for the product to be successful”.

3. Create design solutions

Based on all the insights you gained from your context analysis and considering your product requirements, you can go ahead and create your design solutions. Don’t worry if you are not 100% satisfied after your first draft – this part of the process “may be done in stages, building from a rough concept to a complete design”.

Participatory design is a great way to involve kids in this part of the process. Their unbiased creativity can be very liberating, helping you to look past your familiar patterns and best practices.

4. Evaluate designs

Now it’s time to evaluate your design – ideally through user testing your target audience. In this case, there is no way around getting together with your target group to find out if there are any unexpected issues.

When designing for children, it is not only important that your product is easy to use for your target age group, it also has to be fun and engaging. While adults are often driven by an intrinsic motivation, kids usually need extrinsic factors in order to even use your product.

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