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What Can Experience Designers Learn from Kids?

by UX Magazine Staff
4 min read
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Five actionable insights from Debra Levin Gelman and the winners of our Design for Kids giveaway.

Last month we announced a contest with Rosenfeld Media to win a copy of the new book by Debra Levin Gelman, Design for Kids. To enter, we asked readers to answer the following question: “What is the most remarkable thing that you’ve learned about experience design by watching or interacting with a kid?” Below you can see the reponses from our winners along with comments from the author. You can also check out an excerpt from the book, “Designing for Kids, Then and Now.”

“Kids don’t have fear when interacting with a system. They are not afraid to break something and just try it out. They’re also very flexible when trying things out until they succeed. Once a mental model is created in their heads, they will follow it and repeat their found paths, even if there might be more efficient ways. I might be a good example of this myself. I used to play games with an English UI, long before I have learned English in school, whereas my native language is German.”—Alexander Emming of Berlin

Debra Levin Gelman: This is absolutely true! While adults blame themselves when they can’t use technology, kids blame the technology. They try things over and over again in order to figure out how and why they work. The great thing about this is that kids will jump right into sites and apps without worrying about whether or not they know how to use them. The challenge with this is that if something in your design doesn’t work the way they expect it to, kids will be more likely than adults to abandon it and move on to something else.

Kids jump right into sites and apps without worrying about whether or not they know how to use them

“What I’ve noticed time and time again with my kids as they play games—whether Minecraft, or a new LEGO game on the Wii, or with their new Sphero—is that they don’t want a tutorial, or to learn how to do things in a forced way via game play. Their natural tendency is to explore until they figure it out themselves.”—Amie Gillingham of Greensburg, Pa.

DLG: Yes! This is a great example of how lots of kids (and some adults, too) prefer to learn by exploration and discovery rather than by non-contextual instructions or tutorials. A good way to help kids learn how to use a system or game is to provide on-the-go information that kids uncover as they use it, whether upon failure or upon success.

“Whatever you’ve designed, you absolutely have to test with children because they’ll use it in ways you never expected.”—Jackie Wolf of Ann Arbor, Mich.

DLG:This is one of my favorite aspects of designing for kids—the fact that they will find crazy ways to use whatever it is you’ve designed and still accomplish their goals. Testing’s important, for many reasons, but I love seeing how creative kids get with technology and figuring out ways to harness their ideas into future versions of the design.

“Young kids have no go-to patterns, no mold, no expectations about how something should work; they just see everything new at face value, and that’s when your work must be simply brilliant.”—Wilhelm Rahn of Tenerife, Spain

DLG: Brilliant and deliberate. Since kids, especially younger kids, do not have preconceived expectations around how a system should work, they have a hard time figuring out what to do, so designers have to be restrained when it comes to interactivity, detail, and color. Kids between the ages of two and four need the design of an experience to guide them. Color, audio, and motion are all important communication devices in getting kids through the experience, so it’s important to be calculated and judicious in their usage.

“When my daughter was two, we were driving around. She spotted a convertible car and shouted, “Daddy, Daddy! That car has no lid!” Children will always see something in ways that we, as adults, have learned to see in conditioned ways.”—Cameron Barrett of Verona, N.J.

DLG: I love this example! Young kids evaluate objects in the world around them based on their existing mental framework. So, your daughter saw a car with an open top and was able to draw a parallel between the car and the other things in her world that sometimes are open at the top—concluding that the car was missing its lid. This concept is important when designing for kids, because while kids may not be familiar with all the elements in your design, they will search for commonalities in their mental repository and will “see” things in different ways than you may have intended.


Image of painted child’s hand courtesy of Shutterstock.

post authorUX Magazine Staff

UX Magazine Staff, UX Magazine was created to be a central, one-stop resource for everything related to user experience. Our primary goal is to provide a steady stream of current, informative, and credible information about UX and related fields to enhance the professional and creative lives of UX practitioners and those exploring the field. Our content is driven and created by an impressive roster of experienced professionals who work in all areas of UX and cover the field from diverse angles and perspectives.


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