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When Designing for Kids – Design for Extrinsic Motivation

By February 13, 2014June 19th, 2020Child centered design, kids, kids & media, teeners

It’s 2014. Technology has become a constant companion in our lives. Computers, smart phones, the Internet – it seems impossible to imagine a life without it. Technology helps us to be more connected, more productive, and more flexible. At the same time, it keeps us entertained 24/7.

Admittedly, those are only the positive effects of this digital age – and there certainly is a downside to it as well – but it’s the advantages that make technology so powerful.

Looking back just a few years, or talking to our parents and grandparents – it’s really not that long ago that people managed their lives just fine with little or even no technology at all. Yet, chances are rather small that we will be going back in time – technology will remain and if anything, it will become even more important.

This holds true for us – as adults – but just as much for the younger generations. Kids nowadays grow up surrounded by digital media. You could argue that this is a bad thing – but technology isn’t going anywhere and it is our responsibility as adults to prepare kids for the world they live it. Keeping kids away from technology isn’t going to prepare them at all.

Rather, we should embrace the advantages that come with today’s technology and use them in a positive way. If we do that, digital media, such as websites and apps can be very powerful tools to educate children.

Adults are driven by intrinsic motivation

In general, adults are very goal oriented when using technology. For example, when going online, we have many different goals. In 2013, 85% of all American adults uses the Internet. The top 7 reasons for doing so were related to finding information, connecting with other people, or buying a product. Going online just for fun or to pass the time only made it to the 8th place.

Top 8 reasons why adults use the Internet:

  1. Use a search engine to find information
  2. Send or read e-mail
  3. Look for info on a hobby or interest
  4. Search for a map or driving directions
  5. Check the weather
  6. Look for information online about a service or product you are thinking of buying
  7. Get news
  8. Go online just for fun or to pass the time

Kids rely on extrinsic motivation

While adults are usually driven by intrinsic goals, kids rely much more on extrinsic motivation. Their main goal for going online – or using any kind of media as a matter of fact – is to get entertained.

A website or app that isn’t fun, or exciting, or challenging won’t keep a child engaged for long. Most kids don’t have the same focus as adult to help them pursue their goals. Rather, they are easily distracted and get bored quickly – if there are no extrinsic triggers to keep them going.

Websites and apps are the perfect platform to offer those triggers and keep kids engaged. For example, a storyline doesn’t have to be linear anymore, but can allow for a lot more exploration and surprise.

Animations and sound add an extra layer of entertainment throughout the user journey. Interactive elements facilitate high engagement and allow the child to get involved.

At the same time, kids can be challenged over a period of time by applying basic aspects of gamification. Those can be multiple levels to master, earning points and other rewards for achievements, allowing for progress over time – rather than having to start over every time, or sharing high-scores with friends.

Especially for educational purposes, interactive media bears endless potential for children. Learning can become fun and exciting instead of a boring obligation.

Kids are all different

Of course, for every age group, there are other aspects that are more important or more effective for getting kids engaged.

For example, kids age 6-8 don’t like to make mistakes. They prefer clear instructions at the beginning to make sure they know exactly what is expected of them. Kids 8 years+ on the other hand like to think they are already the expert and they jump right into the action. Those kids need instructions and feedback as the they go and discover the interface on their own terms.

While younger kids focus on their individual achievement, kids 8+ start to compare themselves with their peers and like to share their results.

Also, as kids grow older, they develop their own identity and take in a clear position of what they like and dislike.

Make sure you know your target age group well and take their preferences and interests into consideration when designing for them.

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