Designing digital products for children

Hundreds of millions of children worldwide use the internet. In fact, many people would say that the internet is the domain of the young. They understand it, they use it, they master it better than their elders and are immersed in it more completely.

Their youth and their expectation probably lead them to look at online activity in differing ways to adults. One obvious difference is that children and young adults spend a huge amount of time on social media and often use this as their primary communication mechanism. Perhaps surprisingly though, email usage is much higher among adults than children now. This is most likely because children have actually moved past that technology now and are using other methods of contact like Facebook, Instagram and instant messaging.

Children are also more comfortable and proficient with the technology. They embrace innovation, are happy to use hand-held devices and are more familiar with the conventions and mechanisms in use. They are also less stymied by obstacles and more likely to find workarounds to achieve their goal. This is partially due to children’s innate flexibility but might also be influenced by factors such as diminished dexterity or sight in older users.

None of this means that usability isn’t an issue for younger uses. It is and should remain an important factor in designing for this audience.

Here are some issues for you to consider when designing usability into systems for children:

  1. Children are not just small versions of adults. They need to be treated differently. They react in different ways and are not as predictable. So you will need to do some work to establish how.
  2. Varying age levels will react and interact differently. Older children will understand more, especially written matter. You need to decide which age group you are designing for and act accordingly.
  3. Children’s brains are more plastic so they are more receptive to new ideas and learn quickly. They also get bored easily and have shorter attention spans. You need to bear these facts in mind as you design.
  4. Children also tend to be literal so you need to be clear and simple in instruction and direction. Using simple icons and shapes is likely to help. Don’t cloak stuff in metaphor or imagery. What appears to be irrelevant will either be ignored or make no sense to them. They won’t get it and it is likely to confuse and put them off.
  5. Kids are less patient and don’t like waiting for things to happen. It might be worth considering having little distractions to occupy them while pages are loading so they don’t switch off.

Kids like visual, bright and moving images. These keep them engaged and interested. They also respond to stories and these can help them understand what is going on. Using these techniques can help maintaining their engagement with your site.

Designing for children is likely to present more difficulties than you might anticipate. If you would like to understand more about this potentially challenging area, why not ring us for an exploratory conversation on +44(0)800 024624 or email us at