Friday, September 6, 2019

Designing FOR Kids, Not AT Kids

Photo © Kirill_grekov -

Children are unique.  They may look like small adults, but they behave quite differently.  The great W.C. Fields was once quoted as saying “Never work with children or animals.  They are … completely unpredictable”.  He of course meant that working with children was difficult for an actor or director, but many designers feel the same way when it comes to designing FOR children (I don’t know how they feel about animals).

Illustration © Blueringmedia -

Whether you are building a website, educational materials, game or “marketing” messages aimed at children, it is critical to understand how kids process and use information differently from adults.

Photo © Ipek Morel Diplikaya -

Let them Play

Kids learn through play.  They are quick to use the knowledge they have from everyday life, and apply them to the challenge or “game” at hand.  Use interfaces that are intuitive and self-explanatory. The more a child can relate to the task at hand the faster they will develop new skills to accomplish the task.  Give clear directions by making the goals specific and clear.  And of course, make it fun and engaging with multiple levels of “rewards” built in while accomplishing tasks and goals.

Be Clear and Concise

Stating objectives or goals of the exercise to a child can help prevent them from getting confused or discouraged.  And while it is important to give specifics, it is equally as important to not  “lecture” or be too demanding on how they approach the goals.  It is important to encourage kids to explore on their own to tap into their natural curiosity.

Illustration © Evgenii Naumov -

Pick the right level

The ability to learn new skills, follow directions, and infer information varies differently within a few years of age for children.  In everyday conversation, you talk differently to a 6 year old than you would to a 9-year-old.  Take into consideration the target age group for your design and the limitations that come at that age.  Talk at the right level – not above or below it.

Engage the senses

Regardless of your users age, information is learned and processed differently depending on how it is delivered.   While there are no hard and fast statistics – every individual learns uniquely – it is generally agreed that people learn more from doing something than they do from simply seeing or hearing something.  Creating designs that encourage interactions will be far more effective that ones that only present information in a static manner.

Photo © Yarruta -

Don’t Dictate the Pace

All children are unique.  Using an interface that assumes how fast or how slow a child will learn or process information can lead to discouragement and disengagement.  Set up your design to let the kids set their own pace, giving them options to slow down, speed up, or go back in the process.

And while designing a fun and engaging environment for children can be challenging and rewarding, it is important to always maintain ethical standards when targeting such a vulnerable population.  Keep it fun, keep it safe.

Thanks to for the illustrations and images used in this article.