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Prototypes for the kids: design thinking for different age groups

Prototypes for the kids: design thinking for different age groups


We’re discussing some industry expert tips on how prototyping can improve app design for younger users. Tears, tantrums, and short attention spans; and we’re not just talking about the kids!

In today’s design-centric culture, it seems that web design is transcending the quadrants with the growing range of users. We’re seeing a higher adoption of technology and interactive devices among kids than ever before and a boom in apps and brands targeting younger users as a result. App design as we know it has changed and it should be in the interactive designer’s best interest to design for different age groups. But what’s the best way to go about designing for younger generations? In this post, we’ll discuss some points about prototyping and testing our designs to enable us to build better apps for younger users.

“Age is an influential factor on the web in terms of not only psychology, but also accessibility, usability, and user interface design.” UX Web Designer Alexander Dawson, Six Revisions

User research for a better user experience

Think app design for kids is easy? Think again! We’ve previously written about the importance of empathy in user-centric design, but when it comes to designing for youngsters, how can adults be expected to design from a child’s perspective? User research, testing and observation are the essence of acquiring thorough knowledge of your audience, and is of the utmost importance when designing for kids.

“More people need to understand that excellent technologies for children are not just born, but hard work, real time, and careful planning need to happen.” Dr. Allison Druin on Debra Gelman’s Design for Kids

Mutual Mobile Senior UX Researcher Becky White offers some fantastic advice on user research for kids. She emphasizes the importance of determining the target age range for your app, explaining that there are huge development differences just between four, six and eight-year-olds.

As you start to design and develop your app, iterative testing should be a constant feature in your development cycle. Testing early on in the prototyping phase of the design process will allow you to avoid errors further down the line, as well as enable you to bring the user to the forefront of the process; exactly where they should be! Without this step, you’ll be missing vital information related to one of the toughest user groups to design for!

 

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Participatory design for awesome user observation results

When it comes to observing young users, there are loads of variables to consider. As User Advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group Jakob Nielsen points out, there are several fundamental differences between child and adult users. It’s not a case of simply adding bigger font, shorter words or more images to satisfy the demands of our young users. You’ll need to take note of how the different genders as well as different ages interact with your content, functionality, interactions, and visual design. Other factors include whether children are playing/working indoors or outdoors and whether they’re interacting with the app on their own or in a group as well as cultural traditions, economic power, and family values. Participatory design, which brings the user into the center of research and development, is a great way to get immediate feedback from young users who need a little more guidance. You could even get the children to teach you how to play a game, or navigate an app to see if they’re really getting it. Other great group testing for kids involves interviewing kids in friendship pairs/groups who know each other well and can discuss between themselves on an experience that they’re sharing.

Yahoo UX Researcher Catalina Naranjo-Bock outlines some general guidelines to consider when testing out your apps with kids:

  • Define clear objectives: remember that whilst some young users are going to prefer getting stuck directly into the app, others will require instruction of some kind. In engaging in participatory design, you’ll be able to guide your users – but remember that it should really be your app that’s offering this kind of assistance!
  • Promote a casual and fun atmosphere: make sure that children feel part of the process to help ensure that they are enjoying the experience.
  • Engage kids in group activities as well as individual tests to see how multi-player-friendly your app really is.
  • Invite the grownups to join in! Are they actively participating in the app play or are they supervising?

By using a prototyping tool to test and validate your app model, you can have your young testers try out the app directly on the device that your final product will appear on and you can learn about their user behavior patterns. When it comes to child’s play, the more realistic the better! The great thing about testing at the prototyping phase is that it’s a failure-tolerate iterative design tool, leveraging failure as learning more about the user towards an even better final product.

 

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Interaction for age-appropriate design

“Adults want feedback when something goes wrong. Kids want feedback whenever anything happens.” Becky White, Mutual Mobile

Depending on their age and development stage, kids require different degrees of stimulation, confirmation and feedback from an app. But we’ve found that an overriding factor when designing for kids of any age is to make sure that they can engage with the app. Remember, those short attention spans! In fact, our attention spans are shortening with our ever-increasingly digital lifestyles. Maintaining an uncluttered user interface (UI), using bright, exciting colors and including animation, interaction and sound in your app could help to keep kids engaged. Becky White’s article offers guidance on the importance of affordances and feedback that you absolutely must consider when design apps for children. She explains that it is essential to be explicitly clear about what app elements are interactive and which kids shouldn’t expect to react to their touch. For example: “buttons could have a simple white outline or drop shadow; interactive background items should wiggle, sparkle, or draw the user’s attention somehow.” She also suggests adding muting colors in non-interactive sections of an app for younger users who need a little more guidance. The Disney Puzzle Book apps do this particularly well.

With a high-fidelity prototyping tool, you can add interactions and animation like swiping, tapping and zooming gestures as well as high-resolution visual design without adding any code. These are components that kids will expect to find in their digital apps. When it comes to very young users, it’s just as much about physical development as it is emotional that you’ll need to cater for. As Becky points out, very young children without fully developed motor skills, can’t use their hands the way adults can. As such, it’s important to test out app gestures from as early on as possible in the design process to ensure that your target age range can engage them effectively.

Learned Path Bias

When kids find a route in a game or navigation flow in an educational app that works for them, they are even more likely than adults to stick with it – this is a trait referred to as ‘learned path bias’. Consider designing your app with a narrow age range as each group is a world apart in terms of behavior and ability. This should make it easier to maintain a consistent user experience throughout the app, and allow users to develop a learned path bias.

Use a prototyping tool that allows you to define functional scenarios to help you map out the user flow. This will help you to understand the route options available to the user and might push you to close a few gaps or widen them, depending on your target audience!

 

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When it comes to app design for kids, it’s great to embrace risk, as long as it pays off! By incorporating prototyping into the design process, you can take as many risks as you like and test them throughout before moving on to development.

Justinmind offers an intuitive, low to high-fidelity prototyping platform that’s easy to get started with and also child-friendly! Download us today and check out what we’ve got in store for your design needs!download-justinmind-prototyping-tool-banner-1

Emily Grace Adiseshiah

About the Author

Emily is Marketing Content Editor at Justinmind

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