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UX Design for Kids: Principles and Recommendations

How is design different for children? Learn about the principles and best practices of UX design for kids with some real-world examples.

Written by RamotionOct 25, 202313 min read

Last updated: Oct 25, 2023


User experience design and research is a field that deals with several different audience groups. Being part of a UX design team, you have to understand the varying needs of a user group and design solutions accordingly, ensuring that the users get an overall satisfying experience.

From enterprises and healthcare departments to individual users, the design of a user interface strongly influences the overall usability of a product or service.

UI/UX designers must be extra careful when designing for an unconventional audience group. One such example is designing for children. More often than not, the needs of children are given less attention than those of any other user group, resulting in bad designs.

Designers must consider kids an honest audience group and prioritize their needs throughout the design process.

UX Design for Kids (Pexels)

In this article, we introduce the idea of child-centric design and highlight the importance of understanding the unique needs of children. We also list some best practices and design principles to ensure better quality designs for children of different ages. The article ends with some of the best examples of UX designs for kids and a few recommendations for designers working on similar projects.

Read along as we dive into the needs of this specific audience group.

Child-Centric UX Design

When designing for children, UI/UX designers must consider several aspects. When devising design strategies and applying design principles, it becomes critical to consider the audience's age group.

Additionally, children should be treated as any other user when getting their feedback or performing a test. This is what child-centric design is all about.

A child-centered design has children of different ages as its target audience. Thinking about children as the primary users, UI/UX professionals focus on their needs and attitudes when creating any design solution.

This means that a child-centered approach to design is derived from a much broader, user-centered design. In the former, though, the audience is a particular type of user group, i.e., children of varying ages.

Understanding the Unique UX Needs of Children vs. Adults

One of the primary aims of child-centered UX design is to help kids learn and enjoy and simultaneously make their experiences satisfying. It is, therefore, essential to conduct thorough user research and understand the unique needs of children.

More often than not, the designs are meant for adults, so when UX professionals create something for kids, they need to pay special attention to kids' needs and think outside the box. There is a need to think about the element that the user sees, the first impression, and the long-term goals of all such designs.

Four different aspects need to be considered when thinking about the unique UX needs of children as compared to adults.

Cognitive abilities

The cognitive abilities of children are less abstract as compared to adults. When designs are created for kids, particularly those of a younger age group, audio-visual aids and sensory inputs must be given due consideration. The cognitive development of kids with the help of useful designs is essential to consider, as most of the apps for kids are created with educational goals.

Motor skills

Another essential aspect to consider when designing for kids, is their motor skills. This is particularly important for younger children who have limited mobility. Adults have well-developed motor skills compared to children, so the designs for kids need to be considerate.

Attention span

The attention span of kids versus adults is another critical area for designers. When designing products and services for children, the content must be tailored to keep the kids engaged. This level of engagement and attention also varies based on the age groups of kids.

Attention Span of Kids (EducationWeek)

Emotional responses

Designers need to be extremely careful with kids when it comes to a user's emotions and emotional responses. Children usually do not have control over their feelings and have intense reactions compared to adults. Therefore, detailed design and less intense design choices with fair guidance and warnings should be created.

Common UX Preferences: Kids and Adults

The needs of children, when it comes to digital designs, vary from those of adults. However, several UX principles, design patterns, and preferences hold for kids and adults. The overarching goal of any design, i.e., to create valuable and usable solutions for a user, stays the same for all audiences.

Some common UX preferences for kids and adults in UX design are as follows.

1. Need for intuitive design

Irrespective of the type of users, demographic, or age group, UX professionals aim to create intuitive and straightforward designs. The same holds for designs produced with kids as the target audience. The principles of familiarity and similarity are similar for kids and adults.

2. Desire for engaging content

Engagement is another fundamental design principle and one of the most critical needs of users from any age group. In a usability test, users' engagement and satisfaction levels often go hand in hand. Therefore, when designing for the audience of any target age group, engagement should be considered.

Designing Engaging Content for Kids is Important (Pops in a Pod)

3. Importance of feedback

For a positive user experience, feedback plays a significant role. If the users get appropriate and quick feedback from a physical or digital design, they can gain interest, leading to a good user experience. The importance of immediate feedback gets even more pronounced in the case of kids when their attention span is less than that of adults.

Top Sectors Benefiting from Kids’ UX Design

Several designs, both in the physical and digital environments, have been created for kids over the years. Designers and product developers have explored several areas, from gaming consoles to reading and writing accessories. However, the UX designs created for kids typically have certain goals in common, falling under a few specific categories.

Four essential and popular sectors benefit from kids’ UX design.

1. Educational apps

Educational apps and learning platforms are the most popular types of UX designs for kids. Several websites and mobile apps have been created to help kids understand different concepts and help them develop essential skills. There are educational apps that test kids’ abilities and also make the learning process engaging and exciting at the same time.

2. Gaming platforms

We all know that children love games, irrespective of their age group. The gaming industry benefits primarily from UX designs created for kids, entertaining children, and impacting their learning. New games are launched for kids every year, which are almost always in demand.

Games for Kids are Always in Demand (Google Play)

3. Digital storybooks

Regarding kids of younger age groups, stories, poems, and music are always in demand. UX professionals combine all these aspects into digital storybooks, creating engaging content for children. These can also be combined with educational platforms, adding value to the learning experience.

4. Health and wellness apps

The health of children is also of extreme importance, particularly when it comes to older kids. As children go through various changes in their bodies and have less parental guidance, health and wellness apps can help them understand their needs in a better way, making them capable enough to take care of themselves.

How UX Preferences Evolve with Age: A Breakdown

When UI/UX designers create solutions and interventions for children, they need to be cognizant of the age group they are working with – and for. It is important to note that the basic principles of human-centered design stay the same. In this case, the designers still need to prioritize the needs of their target audience – children.

However, the needs of children vary from age group to age group. Therefore, paying attention to kids' specific needs and behaviors is critical when designing any product or service for them. Here are some of the essential characteristics of kids in different age groups.

Toddlers (1-3 years)

Children in this age group have limited motor skills, shorter attention spans, and the lowest levels of perception. Therefore, the best way to design user interfaces for kids this age is with the help of symbols, visuals, and music.

Preschoolers (4-6 years)

Preschool children have a little more understanding of the world around them and better motor skills, with increased attention spans. These kids, however, enjoy fun and games and much visual content. Children can interact with a little advanced interface, understanding the utility of touch and how things work on a digital screen.

School-age children (7-12 years)

The users in this age group can better understand how to navigate digital interfaces and interact with slightly complex user interfaces. The needs of children are not necessarily restricted to games, but they can extract valuable knowledge from products and services. These children have high levels of curiosity and energy and enjoy engaging content.

Adolescents (13-17 years)

As the kids grow up, their needs – and the nature of designs for them – get closer to those of adults. Nowadays, we see adolescents using most mobile applications like adults. Social media platforms, fitness applications, note-taking, and other similar designs are commonly used by adolescents. Therefore, the boundaries between designing for kids and adults are not too well-defined.

Top UX Design Principles Tailored for Children

As mentioned above, when it comes to the basic principles of UI/UX design and the utilization of design patterns, there are many similarities between designs for children and adults.

However, when applying specific methodologies, such as usability testing and creating interactive content, the design principles must be tailored in some ways.

Some important UX principles tailored for children are discussed below.

Simplicity and clarity

Simplicity in design and clarity of information are fundamental principles of UX design. However, when the target users are children, the importance of these principles is further emphasized. The entire design team must be on the same page when creating content for children.

The use of plain and straightforward language is necessary to make sure that the kids understand the content. The design choices must be simple, so children with shorter attention spans can navigate easily.

Interactive and engaging elements

The user interface must be highly interactive and engaging when designing for children.

Small features, such as gestures and touch controls, can significantly impact the overall usability of any design. Additionally, designers should use attractive colors for children of lower age groups.

Age-appropriate content

When dealing with designs for children, parental control and restricted content are always used. This is one UX design principle we don’t see when designing for adults. However, trigger warnings and sensitive content alerts can be thought of as parallels to age-restricted content.

Ensuring that the kids are only exposed to appropriate content for their age is essential.

Parental Control and Restricted Content (YouTube)

Safety and privacy

Children's safety, security, and privacy are important in any design. These aspects are essential for any design, but the significance gets more pronounced when the designs are meant for children.

Designers must consider the users' needs and guardians' concerns when creating a design intervention.

Consistent feedback and rewards

Children always need engaging content with quick feedback and instant rewards. One reason for this is shorter attention spans.

When UX designers are creating an application for young users, they need to ensure that the children get timely feedback so that they can stay engaged. Additionally, the types of feedback are also important. For example, kids appreciate music, so the designers should use audio feedback well.

Designing for Touch: The ‘Press vs. ‘Tap’ Debate in Kids’ UX

All modern hand-held devices, such as smartphones and tablets, have some touch functionality. Some functionalities are attached to touch and tap, whether navigating a web page or playing a game on your mobile phone.

The same holds when designing for younger users. Usability testing has revealed that children expect something to happen when they touch something on the screen or tap somewhere because of their familiarity with digital designs.

There is, however, an ongoing debate between designing for press or tap when it comes to kids. Some UX professionals believe the designs are more friendly and easy for kids to use when taping a particular element.

However, others indicate the necessity of pressing for more prolonged durations so the kids can easily skip the content. In either case, it is essential to note that touch-friendly design is critical for children.

Kids, especially younger ones, have limited motor abilities and shorter attention spans. Therefore, they need help understanding complicated commands and performing multiple steps to reach a desired goal. Designers must tailor the interfaces so that children of all ages can easily interact with them.

Spotlight: Best-in-Class UX Designs for Kids

There are several quality designs for children out there. Many big and small organizations have created interactive apps for kids to use for education and entertainment.

Some of the best designs are discussed below.

1. Khan Academy Kids

Khan Academy Kids is an excellent learning platform for children. The content is tailored for kids of different ages. The best feature of this learning platform is that it utilizes media elements carefully and engagingly. Kids can learn a lot of new concepts with the help of videos, images, and animation.

Khan Academy Kids (Khan Academy)

2. Duolingo ABC

Duolingo ABC is another learning platform for younger kids still learning to read. The app uses animated characters and a carefully-guided learning environment to ensure the kids learn slowly and easily.

Duolingo ABC (Twitter)

3. Toca Boca apps

Toca Boca has created a world of games for children of different ages. The concept of entertainment and learning is blended nicely in all Toca Boca apps. Gamification is an excellent way of keeping the children engaged, and Toca Boca greatly uses it. The designs are simple and easy to understand, adding to the children's experience.

Toca Boca Apps (Toca Boca)

Expert Recommendations for Crafting Kids’ UX Design

UX designers and scholars have conducted much research on designs for kids. Based on some examples discussed above and the research conducted by scholars, here are some recommendations for designs working on kids’ UX designs.

Use vibrant colors and animations

To keep the kids engaged and give them an overall satisfying experience, it is essential to focus on the elements they get most attracted to. Using vibrant colors, images, and animation is always helpful for children.

Avoid clutter and distractions.

Children have shorter attention spans and less developed cognitive skills. Therefore, keeping the designs clean and safe from clutter and distractions is essential. This will help kids get the best experience.

Incorporate voice and sound feedback.

One type of feedback that kids appreciate and pay the most attention to is sound. Designers should include engaging sound feedback and music in their apps when working with children. They can incorporate different sounds during the usability testing phase and pick the ones that work well for children of all ages.

Music for Kids’ Apps (The Guardian)

Ensure safety and parental controls

As discussed above, parental guidance and control are essential in kids’ UX designs. The designers must care about the content they intend to share with the target audience. One way to take care of parental controls is to involve parents and guardians in user tests so that they can give valuable feedback to the designers.

Wrapping Up: The Future of UX Design for Young Users

Children's needs are increasingly recognized in the UI/UX design industry. Important sectors – education, gaming, and healthcare – are now seeking designers specializing in creating interactive solutions for children.

With technological advancements, including augmented and virtual reality, organizations invest money and energy to create compelling designs for children. Therefore, if you’re an aspiring UX designer, learning about these trends and gaining expertise in child-centric designs can be helpful in the job market.

However, it is essential to be mindful of the safety and security concerns when working on a project related to the needs and experiences of kids. When designing a product or service for children, particularly in the digital environment, it is critical to understand their mental and emotional health and the need for parental guidance and control.

UI/UX designers must make responsible decisions to ensure the kids get a valuable experience without compromising their safety.