At the risk of stating the obvious, he had to say it: Kids are different than adults. Then, shortly after saying that, he had to use “the cheesy ‘kids are our future’ quote.”
Recounting how IQ Content built an educational website for children between six and 18 years old, Laurence Veale (@laurenceveale), told of how his team went from research to construction — and drew up six design principles for websites for young people.
His lecture, User Experience for Kids, was delivered at Refresh Dublin’s (@refreshdublin) monthly gathering in TCD’s Science Gallery. Short but informative, the talk was followed by plenty of questions from an audience clearly interested in the subject.
In short, the user-experience principles are:
- Design for the appropriate age. But, if in doubt, design for older rather than younger kids. It can be easy to turn five or six year olds off if they think, “that is for babies.”
- Establish very clear boundaries and make it difficult to cross them. Veale cited the example of the Nickelodeon site where kids are shown ads or where they can stray to inappropriate material for their age.
- Design for exploration and discovery.
- Design for challenge. The problem here is hitting the “sweet spot,” Veale said. Make it too hard, and kids will give up and leave in frustration. Make it too easy, and they will just leave uninterested.
- Design for safe social interactions.
- Design for construction and intrinsic reward.
During testing, Veale described user testing as “very humbling” since kids are more honest and less inhibited offering their opinions. He also noted it is very easy to get condescending. Use of cutesy fonts or text talk can put children and teenagers off. In fact, the way he wrote UX 4 Kidz was a dig at adults’ attempts to appear hip.
At the Q&A session, Veale was asked about gender differences and how boys would shy away from anything that could be seen as “girly.” Veale said the site design built in skins, allowed users to change background colors and even let kids pick avatars. This approach also helped kids customize the site to what was appropriate for their ages. The site “allows for chaos around the edges,” he said.
Another questioner said she was less concerned about kids being groomed by predators than being “groomed as consumers.” Veale said he does not like his own children watching Nickelodeon because of the advertising. But large non-commercial sites like the BBC or PBS require a lot of resources, he noted. Commercial pressure is “not just online,” said, “but it is everywhere.”
During the research phase, Veale and his team looked at a number of sites. They were impressed with how the BBC progressed its sites from the very young to older kids. Club Penguin has some good points, he said, but it is a commercial site. A lot of what it does can provoke “digital nagging” of parents. Veale mentioned that kids get rewards for completing tasks, but they could not spend those rewards in the online environment unless their parents subscribed for $5 a month.
After the project with its research, user testing and peer analysis was complete, Veale came to the conclusion that “good research informs good design.”
Photo of baby playing with PC courtesy of Zakwitnij on Flickr.