DRAFT Chapter 3 – Designing for Kids 2-4

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  • Dear Readers,

    Want a sneak preview of Design for Kids for Christmukkah? Want to get the inside scoop on designing for the under-5 set? Want to start putting some of these ideas into practice in 2012?

    You’re in luck! Here’s a draft of chapter 3, which focuses on designing for 2-4 year olds. But there’s a catch. I need your feedback. After all, what would a UX practitioner be without input from actual users/readers/customers/etc? Take a read, and if you’re so inclined, let me know the following:

    1. What am I missing?
    2. Is this what you’d expect from a Rosenfeld Media book?
    3. What’s boring (ie, what do I ramble on too long about?)
    4. What would you like to know more about?
    5. Is it academic enough?
    6. Is it too academic?
    7. What else?

    You’ll probably be itching to correct stuff like grammar, copy, etc (I know I would) but I have a great editor for that. What would really help is feedback on the content itself.

    Many thanks for your help, and for getting the conversation started about designing for kids.

    kids 2to4.pdf



    10 Responses to “DRAFT Chapter 3 – Designing for Kids 2-4”

    1. Are there different design challenges when designing for 2-4 year olds that are using an iPad vs. a laptop or standalone PC? For this age group, do you have any recommendations about designing with the parent in mind, (assuming that the parent may provide some assistance or guidance)?

      Thanks for sharing! I look forward to reading the complete book.

    2. Amber DeRosa

      Great Chapter Deb,

      I am glad the chapter was written in a way that I did not need to have children to understand. I found the information very informative and helpful for me to understand a child at this age group. I think the chapter provided me with the information I would need to know to design for this age child.

      The only suggestion I would have is around organization. It seemed to be abrupt to go right into research for this age group after the focus of the design. I wonder if research for this age is a separate chapter or maybe just more transition between design and research would help.

      Otherwise great job. I look forward to reading the entire book when it is released.

    3. Hi Debra. Thank you for letting me participate in this review – I’m so glad you are writing this book!

      First, you provide a lot of information that I wasn’t expecting (which is a really good thing!) I really like to know (and was surprised) to find out that kids have difficulty with too many colors and that they need more differentiation between foreground and background. I also found the sections on clear visual ranking and how to apply sounds to be very helpful.

      I think the highlighting of elements that are active feels very similar to good usability for adults. What I’m not sure of when I read this is, should there be an additional elements for accessibility for children? (Such as color blinded kids). You allude to this with a sound that highlights an action on the fairy princess site (it tinkles once a princess is selected). Should this be a specific usability guideline? Not sure how many people reading this book will come from a UX background, so you might want to point out some overall usability guidelines for children. So if a color palette were limited to a few bright colors, would orange and red, if used together, be confusing to a child is color blind?

      For the “What do they like” section, I read this more like “capabilities” but I was expecting (and hoping) to find out more about learning preferences. For instance, what types of games work better for teaching? You mention short, complete interactions, but you don’t say what type of interaction. Should they be pattern oriented? Should they be linear or more organic/free form for choices? Should they be reward based (in that you can keep a score)? Also, baby books talk about how babies like to see faces. Is this true for the 2-4 year old crowd? Also, should illustrations be more “baby-faced” versus realistic? Blues Clues and Elmo’s world both mix a non-animated adult figure in with their animations. Has this been shown to be more effective than just animations alone?

      How about size and shape of elements? Touch pad design usually factors in fat fingers to allow room for error. Are there additional things to consider when the fingers are also a bit uncoordinated? Are there gestures, for instance, that work better for kids? Or, are there touch gestures that should be avoided?

      For the research section, I think this should be separated out. I was combing it to see if any of the answers to my questions would be in there, but I feel like it make me come up with more questions. I also would expect to see aggregated results on preferences based on age and gender after reading research. Also not sure if you want focus group feedback to take up so much content in this chapter unless the entire book is divided up by results and research. If so, then the instructions on how to conduct research should also probably be separated out more and the examples used to accentuate your points.

      Additional questions I had: Parental control. Specifically, because I use the ipad for games and movies with my baby daily. He’s only 10 months old, but he’s been hooked on the ipad since I introduced it to him at around 3 months and I can already notice some expected behaviors when he interacts with the device. One of our biggest problems is accidental navigation. A lot of games have the controls all over the screen, so he accidentally hits navigation when he was trying to interact with a game (see “tap tap baby” as an example of this). Even in the product reviews, parents ask how they can lock the navigation to let the baby stay on one game at a time. Is this an issue for the 2-4 year old crowd as well? Also, should there be a way for a more advanced kid to hide navigation away until they want to access it? (Rather than just providing a back button or quitting the program to start over.) Is this idea too complex for kids?

      Also, some apps that offer coloring book style games that behave differently, so I was wondering if this was based on capability. In the “Pat the Bunny” book, any swipe fills in the color as it was originally illustrated. In the Sesame Streets ABC game with Elmo, the kids choose their colors and can make a mess, just like they do with real crayons. Neither offers an option to adjust the size of the coloring brush or hardness of the tip, however.

      I would be interested in reading more. If you think I could help with additional feedback, please let me know. This looks like it’s going to be a great book – and I can’t wait to read the whole thing!

      Happy writing (and happy 2012) to you!

    4. Debra Gelman

      Hi Mitzie – Thanks SO MUCH for this great feedback! See, I knew I left a bunch of stuff out ;). You’ve given me a lot to think about in terms of how detailed this book should be and what type of information designers will find helpful.

      Let me take a shot at a few of your questions…

      1) Games/activities for teaching: For concrete stuff like counting, animal sounds, or item identification, a linear, pattern-based approach works best. For teaching feelings, behaviors (sharing, taking turns) or relationships, a more organic, experiential approach is better.

      2) Reward-based learning: For a 2-year-old, a “reward” can be as simple as a visual or audio acknowledgement. When my daughter was 18 months, she loved a shape-finder app that would cheer every time she selected the right shape. Keeping score can be effective for older kids (4+) but is not particularly meaningful to the younger ones. A simple acknowledgement of success works best.

      3) Mobile gestures and elements: As far as gestures go, like when designing for adults, the most important thing is to make sure they feel natural for little hands and map to existing metaphors (ie flipping through a book or grasping to pick something up). Since these young kids are still developing fine-motor skills, focus on larger, broader gestures instead of smaller, finer ones – swiping and rubbing instead of pinching and spreading. Make elements big enough so kids can use more than just index finger and thumb to control them – kids under 4 tend to use their whole hand when scrolling instead of a single finger.

      4) Color and accessibility: The short answer: I don’t know! Would information on accessibility issues such as color blindness be helpful in supporting the content of the book?

      Thanks for the feedback about the research stuff too…sounds like you and Amber are on the same page here. I’ll revisit the organization of that section and see if I can find a more meaningful place for it.

      Feel free to keep asking…love the way the conversation is evolving.


    5. Debra Gelman

      OH – and as for the parent controls…I have loads of information about this. My thoughts are, much like designing for adults, apps should anticipate and eliminate errors as much as possible. A game where parents feel like they need to lock the screen hasn’t been properly designed for its toddler audience. I’m actually working on a sidebar about parental controls, but in a nutshell, if you find yourself needing lots of parental involvement, you may want to re-think the interface.


    6. Hi Debra. Thank you so much for answering my questions! Very helpful feedback! I would definitely appreciate some insight on accessibility somewhere in the book. Maybe color is the only issue to discuss, but I’m not completely sure on that. Maybe Amber can offer some thoughts? I know she has done some great work on accessibility for adults that focused on touch screen devices. I think @angelacolter would also be a great person to ask for feedback on this issue. (Angela’s also a mom, so she might have an extra insight as well.)

    7. Great chapter! I really learned a lot about designing for this age group.

      My own kid recently graduated from the 2-4 age group. And if there is one thing I would want to communicate to those designing for this age group, it would be this: please consider the context of use.

      When am I likely to allow Junior to play a game on a device? When I’m trying to keep him occupied while Mommy and Daddy try to eat a meal in a restaurant. Or maybe keeping him distracted before the airplane takes off. In either instance, being able to play the game with the sound off is really important. At least that’s how I interpret the glares I get from nearby adults.

      Maybe I’m an exception here, but I only tended to give my young’un the chance to play these kinds of games when I really needed him to be occupied. And that’s usually not when we’re at home by ourselves.

      So I’d make a plea for considering the needs of the adults in addition to the needs of the 2- to 4-year-olds. But I’m selfish that way 😉

      As for the issue of accessibility, my understanding of color-blindness is that it affects a significant (Wikipedia says 8%) proportion of the male population. I assume that the condition is present from birth, but I don’t know that for sure. So yes, making sure that you’re not depending on color alone to indicate the important stuff–like what’s clickable–is an issue. A lot of the reading I’ve done indicates that CONTRAST is what’s really important, not the hue used. I can send some resources your way if you like.

      Great job!

    8. Thanks for letting us preview this chapter, Deb! I loved reading it–the writing is so engaging, and it’s full of insights that never would have occurred to me, as a non-parent.

      I had the same reaction as Amber: the transition to the research material seems abrupt. I wondered, in fact, if it wouldn’t make sense to start with the research section, or even to give it its own chapter. As to the question of “academic-ness,” I did want to know a little bit more about the developmental milestones in your table on the first page of the chapter. How have those been identified? Are they specific to kids in Western nations? How widely do they apply? That was the only point at which I felt like a bit more academic background was needed–just a tiny bit, really. I also wanted to know more about the gender issue, but I realize that’s a big topic that could easily fill up its own book.

      Can’t wait to read the whole thing!

    9. Debra Gelman

      Great insights, Angela and Amy!

      Angela — love the idea to put more information around context in this chapter. That’s a key factor when designing for kids under 10. I have some stuff on this in the chapter for 4-6 year olds, but I believe it does merit a call-out here as well. Thanks! And thanks for your insights into color-blindness. I’ll likely include a separate chapter on accessibility issues and that’ll fit well there.

      Amy — yeah, the research part’s definitely organizationally challenged. I’m trying to figure out how to fix that. I like your idea of giving that content its own chapter, but I also like the idea of grouping all relevant information for different age groups together. This may be a question for my editor extraordinaire.

      I wonder if the gender issue might need a separate chapter too…there are implications across all age groups in terms of gender and self-identification. Hmmm…

      Thanks again for this feedback…much appreciated.


    10. Janna C

      It would be nice to have an example and counter example of egocentric design – and perhaps some “litmus test” questions. Right now, I’m not sure if I could identify if my design follows this recommendation or not. Similarly, it would be good to have examples of “complete” interactions.

      Could you offer a general heuristic for the maximum number of colours?

      On the section on gender, I was left wondering how to take this into consideration without pushing kids into stereotypes.

      I love the research interview quotes. They make the material more memorable.

      It would be nice to have a chapter summary of design considerations. I really appreciate these in other UX books.

      It would be nice to have references for further reading – especially research papers. I think this would give further credibility to the content.

      Really happy you’re writing this book!