The Finer Details of UX for Kids

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In the previous article we discussed what we mean when we refer to “kids”, the unique challenges they bring, as well as some key considerations when designing UX for kids. In this post we’ll discuss items UX professionals should pay close attention to after they hand off their formal UX. />

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The 3 Ds of Building UX for Kids

The 5 Ps were considerations you should take into account when designing your UX. The 3 Ds I want to discuss are what occurs after the base UX is complete. Although it may not be a UXer’s direct responsibility, you can and should have some influence.

Having a hand in every aspect of the product is key to good UX. Know your boundaries, but UX doesn’t stop when you hand off the wireframes and information architecture.

#1 Design

During visual design, there are several points and considerations for a kids’ product. Those listed below may not be strictly UX items, but they are certainly items that a UXer and visual designer can collaborate on in order to assure a top notch product.

Colors

You’ve probably noticed that most kids’ products are brightly colored. Vision is a trait that develops with children. Bright colors help attract attention, provide stark contrast needed for not yet fully developed eyes, as well as teach colors. The attention aspect can help make the product seem more fun, as well as help draw attention to certain UI aspects. The stark contrast helps younger children see differences that they might not otherwise notice with more subtle color differences. Teaching kids colors is an added bonus, especially in younger ages.

PBS Kids />
PBS Kids uses a very bright color scheme.

Iconography

Icons, when paired with text, provide much faster recognition than just icons or text alone says a recent Boxes and Arrows article. Not only that, but you can also pair them with fun animations to provide an extra delighter (see Stephen Anderson’s work for more on delighters). This creates navigation that is fun to play with, as well as serve their utility for the product.

Characters

Characters are great for recognition for kids. Kids will often remember a character’s face over the name of the product or other aspects of a product. You’ve probably seen that a lot of kids’ products have mascots for this very reason.

Google's Santa />
Google’s Santa

If your product doesn’t already have some sort of associated character, you might want to consider creating one. It may dramatically increase recognition and brand retention with kids.

Attention

Good UXers are good at drawing users’ attention where they want it. I’ve found that with kids these attention-drawing techniques often need to be exaggerated. Kids don’t get subtlety very well and it’s much more difficult to draw their attention away from whatever activity they are engaged in at the time.

Don’t be afraid to BE LOUD! The line between being in their face enough to get their attention and being annoying is much larger with kids than it is with adults. That is to say that you are much less likely to annoy them with “loud” interface elements. Be able to get out of their way, but don’t be timid with your UI, especially with notifications and errors.

#2 Dev

While I don’t believe UX professionals need to be super savvy coders (a topic for a later article), I do think they should absolutely know enough about code to communicate in an informed way when speaking with a developer. This also means that you should know what the current popular programming languages and frameworks are. You should also know when and why they are used. For instance, I couldn’t do my current job without knowing what a JSON file is, how it works, how it is constructed, and when it is used. I don’t ever sit down and write a JSON file but I absolutely need that knowledge in order to perform my job.

Business-side Dev(elopment)

As I mentioned, on the back end of things you need to know what systems are being put in place and what frameworks are being used. Know the languages being used to put together both the back-end and front-end sides of your product. Know the capabilities and limitations of those technologies as those will shape what UX you are able to construct. Developers will appreciate it and your relationships with them will benefit tremendously.

JavaScript Source Code on Monitor on Photodune />
JavaScript Source Code on Monitor on Photodune

With kids’ products, you might be more likely to lean on languages and frameworks that have a heavy visual component to them. Knowing, at least on a surface level, such things as CSS animations and jQuery can be quite fruitful. Even Flash, if used appropriately, can be beneficial in the kids space.

You should also know what kind of content management system you will use if your product needs one. A different CMS could dramatically affect how your product is managed, and accounting for that in the interface will increase ease of use for those managing the site day to day. With kids’ products, there can be a lot of content updating so that kids see something new and exciting most of the time when they visit your site. I’ve found that creating UX for any custom part of the CMS can be extremely productive and helpful for those that will then manage the site on a daily basis.

Client-side Dev(ices)

On the user end of this you need to know what kind of devices and technology are in play. For example, kids are often a generation behind on technology due to getting their devices passed down to them after the parents have upgraded to the latest technology.

Kids, like everyone else, are also making a huge push to mobile. It may be even more prevalent with kids because they are using mobile devices when the adults in the home have control over the TV or other technology. They are also using them in the car on the way to events.

Meet the user where they are.

Meeting the user where they are, in this case, means we often need to be mobile-centric when designing sites for kids. Maybe this means you are better off providing an app instead of a traditional site. Perhaps it means that a responsive site would serve you well. I’ll provide the caveat though that I’ve seen heavy evidence that kids are going to apps at a much higher rate than websites on a mobile browser. This is not to say that desktop websites are dead by any means, but ignoring mobile may spell your own death, as a product, in the future.

kid hands using mobile smart phone on Photodune />
kid hands using mobile smart phone on Photodune

To give you an idea of what devices I’ve seen kids using most often I’ve listed them in order of usage:

  • iTouch
  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Other Tablets
  • Other phones

For the more home-based technologies you should also be considering:

  • Televisions
  • Entertainment boxes (Roku, Tivo, Apple TV, etc.)
  • Gaming Consoles (Xbox, Playstation, etc.)

#3 Diagnosis

By diagnosis, I’m referring to user testing, which is an absolute must with kids. Testing is something you need to do with all products, but kids make that need even more poignant. For one, their likes/dislikes are always changing. It’s a group that constantly has new users coming in and old users moving on from this demographic. There are a few other big reasons to test your products with kids.

Growing Gap

We, as UX designers, are always aging. Yet, our demographic, even though it has new users remains the same age. That means that there is always a growing gap between us and our users. To mitigate that gap we need to be in constant contact with our users. As I mentioned, kids are always changing and, like with technology, we need to stay knowledgeable of the latest trends and changes.

It is certainly true that we gain expertise as UX professionals as we continue to practice and hone our craft. However, that expertise does not excuse the very first rule of UX which is to “Know Your User.” With kids, even the most seasoned expert can quickly grow out of touch with kids and lose the knowledge that would make them a good UXer in the first place. It’s an exciting field in that it’s always changing, but that means staying on top of that change and knowing your users’ habits and how they are changing day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year.

Generational Change

Like we talked about earlier, generations also change every couple of decades or so. While there’s no hard split there are absolutely tendencies, general characteristics, and knowledge bases that you should pay attention to.

  • Parenting styles change. The generation the parent comes from could affect how their kids interact with technology.
  • Interaction patterns change. For example, I’ve heard from numerous parents about young kids going up to non-swipable screens and being frustrated when their swipes don’t have any effect.
  • Cultural likes and dislikes change. Kids from my generation (I was born in 1984) generally liked much more silly and goofy humor. Today, kids trend more towards comedies with families made up of members of multiple backgrounds that make fun of relational issues.

These generational changes in both kids and parents are important to keep up with. Testing can help reveal these changes. Pulling parents into testing can help expose the generational changes there as well. This can be done either with the kids present or separately from the kids depending on your testing needs and what will provide more accurate results. Remember that in the presence of their parents kids might provide different answers so you may even do one part with and part without the parents.

Kids are Honest

Kids can be brutally honest with you, which in a testing situation is exactly what you want. Kids typically don’t have as much of a filter as adults do and will express when and what they don’t like. They might not be as articulate, so it may require some reading between the lines, but there’s always good stuff that comes out of user testing with kids.

If you are in a group setting then you may need to watch out for a “bully” or leader-type that starts to sway the answers of other kids. Otherwise, kids are very straightforward and will tell you whether or not they like something.

Confused boy with a computer on Photodune />
Confused boy with a computer on Photodune

This does come with one caveat that I’d like to address. Kids are fantastic at giving you their opinion on what’s in front of them. They are not always great at expressing what they want or don’t want that’s not already being experienced by them. They may tell you things, but answers can sometimes be all over the board and are not always what they would want in practice. This is where expertise in kids UX comes into play and you have to tamper their answers with experience and knowledge from other sources.

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The UX Itself

We’ve spoken about the process, but I also believe there are some intangibles needed to succeed in designing UX for kids. I personally believe it is crucial to be a bit of a kid yourself.

The most sophisticated people I know – inside they are all children. />

-Jim Henson

Kids UX is an incredibly fun field and if you’re not having fun yourself during the design process then it can be difficult to put together a quality product. We talked about play being an important part of kids UX but it’s also an important part of creating kids UX.

I think that inside every adult is the heart of a child. We just gradually convince ourselves that we have to act more like adults. />

-Shigeru Miyamoto

Remember to be genuine. Kids are often not given anywhere near the credit they deserve. They are incredibly insightful and often pick up on details even adults can miss. Be yourself. Be true to your product and don’t try to fool kids with a childish facade that covers a substandard product.

Kids don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are. />

-Jim Henson

Again, make a great product before you focus on making a great kids’ product. Such a heavy focus on the kids aspect will often leave you making the fatal mistake of dumbing the product down resulting in a lousy product.

Most kids don’t want to grow up and most grown ups still want to be a kid. You can, and often should, design a product that works well for both. Many companies have achieved massive success off of this strategy because it works.

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Conclusion

Designing UX for kids comes with a lot of unique challenges and angles, but that can make it a lot more fun. There’s rarely a boring product and if it is boring then there’s always a way to make it more exciting. We talked about some key considerations when designing UX for kids, the constraints you need to consider in C.O.P.P.A.. We went into detail on the 5Ps of desiging UX for kids:

  • Parenting
  • Play
  • Practice
  • Patience
  • Popularity

We then dove into what a UX professional needs to do for a kids product after they hand off their UX. Those are the 3 Ds of building UX for kids:

  • Design
  • Dev
  • Diagnosis

Then we discussed some intangibles that a great kids UX designer posseses with some advice from some of the greatest designers of “kids’” products.

If you catch yourself designing UX for kids, or are just interested in the field, then I hope these articles serve as a good launching point. As always, I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments, as well as any questions you may have. Good luck and don’t ever grow up!


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