Comparing Usability for Kids and Adults (Part 1)

By November 21, 2013June 19th, 2020Child centered design, kids, teeners, UX

So we’ve been taking a close look at Child-Centered Design lately. Main reason for that was to create consciousness for children as autonomous target groups. There is no way adult designers can design games, websites, and apps for kids without getting the target age group involved at some point.

Sure, it’s always possible to add some colors and some puppets and simplify some of the interactions that adults experience as complicated, but that is not what makes a product usable and fun for kids.

We’ve also looked at the implications of Child-Centered Design. One aspect was making digital products for kids easier to use. Let’s take a closer look at the usability and why it has such effects on the user experience.

Usability is key to finding content

Kids usually use media for different goals than adults do. Adults use the Web to find information, or communicate with others. We go to news sites, search engines, content portals, shopping sites, and a wide range of social media platforms. Kids on the other hand look for entertainment when they go online.

While these goals differ a lot in nature, both kids and adults have the same interest when visiting a website. That is: finding something. For the usability and the design of a website, it is of secondary importance what it is that users want to find.

In any case, and for any target age group – adults included – the usability of a website defines whether or not users can reach their goals. This perception of success or failure has a huge impact on the overall user experience on that particular website. For kids even more so than for adults.

Adults have more web experience in general. This allows them to take detours on a website and find information that does not appear to be available on first sight. Kids often lack this experience. If a site is not usable – meaning critical content is not easy to find – kids give up and leave. No matter how qualitative your content is, if it involves too much work to find, most kids won’t bother.

How Usability is similar for kids and adults

We already know that there is a big difference between kids and adults. also, we just learned that kids have different goals when going online. But how does that affect good usability for both kids and adults? Does that mean usability always has to be different when designing for kids?

Jakob Nielsen has conducted multiple user testing sessions with kids (3-12 years of age) and compared his findings to what we already know about adults. The result is a list of key aspects of good usability.

Let’s take a look at the aspects that are the same for kids and adults:

1. Initial Reaction

Like mentioned above, both kids and adults want to find something when visiting a website. While the “what” can differ a lot, the “how” does not so much. The first impression makes a huge difference in whether users expect to find certain content on a website, or not.

According to Nielsen, “both adults and children react immediately to websites. Some get excited and want to dig in and find something interesting, while others want almost immediately to click the Back button and look for something else.”

The first impression does not only affect your users’ initial reaction, but also their entire user experience. A positive first impression leaves people motivated and excited, making them more forgiving for later design problems.

2. Good Design

When designing a website – no matter for what target group – it is important to adhere to the basic principles of good design, such as a good readability, consistency, aesthetics, clarity, and instructional feedback.

Nielsen tested some well-designed general-audience websites like Amazon, Yahoo!, and Google with children. He found that “for general tasks like browsing, searching and buying books, kids do not need a special children’s interface.” A simple and user-friendly website for adults can thus also be useful for kids.

Of course this is not always the case. Especially, when user goals differ, or when designing for small kids with limited reading abilities, kids need a different design approach.

3. Standardization

Both for kids and adults, a website is just a framework for getting what they are really looking for. Users don’t want to spend any unnecessary time to figure out how to use a website, or making sense of the navigation structure. Rather, they want to get to their desired content as quickly and as easily as possible.

Especially adults already have certain expectations and habits when visiting a website – simply, because they have a lot of experience with other websites. If you don’t meet these expectations, you force your users to re-orientate and invest time and effort in learning new ways.

Kids in general have less experience and therefore less expectations. Yet, once they have figured out how to use your site, make sure that interaction is consistent and they can rely on it to work throughout your whole site.

4. Control

Nielsen has found that “both adults and children want to be in control of their Web experience. They want to have the option to stop activities and resume them as they please, and to have the option to use help and search when they choose.”

Make sure you put your users in control. This includes any form of navigation as well as anything that might happen on your site.

Only use wording and content categories that make sense to your target age group to avoid confusion. Allow users to go back step by step, or return to the beginning at any time. If your site includes games, audio, or video, allow your users to stop, restart, and skip any media.

If your users feel they have lost control, they will feel confused, or even frustrated. These feelings result in a negative user experience and might cause your users to (1) leave your site and (2) not return in the future.

5. Technical Interferences

Web technologies advance by the day and with it come new ways to offer a great user experience on your website. However, the fact that new technologies are available doesn’t mean your users have access to them.

Nielsen explains that “users don’t want to deal with things they don’t understand. Technical difficulties are perceived as anything from annoying to unbearable, when people of any age have problems during their Web experience.”

Especially kids often use devices that is not up to date, but passed on from parents or older siblings. These might be missing plugins, audio output, or have a limited internet connection. Make sure you keep any technical limitations your users might encounter in mind and offer alternatives.

Also, keep failures to a minimum and avoid error messages as much as possible. Obviously, that’s not always possible. In that case, make sure you offer your users clear and instructive feedback to help them recover from their mistakes quickly.

Part 2

Read the rest of this article here.

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