5 key rules for designing interactions for kids

[] [/]Kids nowadays grow up in a world where a lot of things are trivial and ever-changing. This holds especially true for digital media. While adults often find it difficult to adjust, kids don’t know any better. They are used to going back and forth between apps and have little hesitation trying out new things.

As a consequence, kids usually don’t have a lot of patience when interacting with media. It’s so easy and natural for them to just move on to the next alternative if their expectations are not met. To keep them interested and engaged, keep in mind these five key rules for your next interaction design for kids:

1. Keep it efficient

“I would place this content further at the top. This far down the page it’s like it’s not important because usually you don’t scroll that far down a page.” (boy, 12 years)

Kids hate waiting. I guess no one particularly enjoys it when something takes longer than necessary. But at least adults often have some kind of intrinsic motivation to push them through. Kids really don’t bother staying if they experience the interaction with a website or app as a waste of time.

Keeping loading times short is a first step. However, there are more aspects to consider for more efficiency. For example, try to avoid vertical scrolling and use more direct interactions like horizontal swiping. This way you create the impression that content is clustered better and more accessible. Also, focus on a flat content hierarchy to avoid long click paths and use your content early on to give clues of what to expect.

2. Keep it consistent

Kids are fast learners. Everyone knows that. But what does this mean when designing interactions for them? Kids gain more and more experience interacting with digital media and they start to recognize patterns. At the same time, they are not as bound to these patterns as most adults are. They are open for new ideas and, by guiding them, you can easily teach them new ways of doing something.

The Efteling got rid of the traditional menu structure and allows kids to go back and forth between different types of content.The Efteling got rid of a traditional menu structure and allows kids to endlessly go back and forth between different types of content.

However, whether you stick to common patterns or come up with new ones, make sure to use them consistently within your product. Recognizing interactions makes kids feel safe and allows them to explore a product feeling confident. Use content and your visual design to add elements of surprise and variety.

3. Offer feedback

“If you get stuck on a question, after a minute or so they should ask you if you need any help. If you really need it, you are even willing to read the instructions” (girl, 11 years)

Don’t expect kids to use the main menu as tool for navigating a website or app. This would require abstract thinking, which is a skill kids only learn around the age of 12. Instead, kids consider the main menu as an indicator telling them where they are. Keep in mind that this usually happens once they have already dived into the content.

Kids don’t look for instructions in advance. Only when they get stuck or insecure about where they are, they will look for clues telling them what to do next.

4. Allow for trial & error

Kids actively explore an interface by clicking on whatever draws their attention. While adults worry about ‘the right path’, kids don’t think about structure. If they see something interesting, they almost randomly swipe and tap on the screen to find out what the object of interest has to offer them.

The sesamstraat website is designed for exploration. Kids navigate through the content by clicking on different elements that draw their attention. The sesamstraat website is designed for exploration. Kids navigate through the content by clicking on different elements that draw their attention.

Keep this explorative behaviour in mind and place your content strategically. Know where you want kids to go and what you want them to do and use your design to guide them down that path.

5. Offer visual clues

Kids don’t read. Young kids haven’t learned to read yet. At a certain age, they know how to read, but it still takes them a lot of effort. Eventually their reading skills get better and they gain the ability to scan text. And yet, they still don’t read. Not if there is a way around it anyways.

The Zappelin website uses colors and icons for different types of content. Also, they cut off content indicating that there is more to explore.  The Zappelin website uses colors and icons for different types of content. Also, they cut off content indicating that there is more to explore.

Instead of reading, kids are focused on visual clues to tell them what to expect, where to go and how to get there. Make sure your visual design supports this behaviour by (1) guiding the user’s attention and (2) providing information necessary to understand the interaction.

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