Ships, port big Jigsaw Puzzles, Vintage City. Children ages 2-4 are the perfect audience for touch-based interfaces, simply because they haven't been tainted by years of poorly designed screen interfaces like adults have. However, these kids also haven't been exposed to a tremendous number of real-world gestures yet either, so designing touch interfaces for these young users can be complicated. For example, kids think of pinching as either picking up a small object o something you do to your friend when you're mad at her, not as a way to shrink an on-screen element. In addition, these little ones are still a bit clumsy, so some of the finer gestures are difficult for them to master.
When designing touch interfaces for younger ones, you'll want to do the following:
- Focus on large, broad gestures instead of small, fine ones. Try using swiping and grabbing instead of pinching and flicking.
- Make on-screen elements big enough for kids to manipulate. This can be hard on smaller screens. You'll want to do some testing to make sure that items are large enough for little hands
- When possible, make use of full hand gestures instead of relying on the thumb and index finger alone. Kids under age 5 tend to use their whole hand to scroll instead of just a single finger.
- Place navigation controls at the bottom of the screen, in the left and right corners to indicate the forward and backward motion. Make these large and easy for clumsy thumbs to tap. Kids under age 5 won't recognize left- and right-facing arrows as progression, but they will realize that right means forward and left means back.
There are plenty of offline gestures kids are comfortable with, like turning pages in a book or rubbing a crayon on a piece of paper. Just make sure the gestural metaphors you choose map to ones your young users already know.
Looking Across the River, Falcon
As adorable as the Gugl game is, it makes a lot (A LOT) of noise. It also occasionally pops up messages asking the user to sign in to the GameCenter. For parents who pass it back for example, hand tablets and smartphones over to kids as a form of distraction for a long car trip or in a restaurant it's really annoying to have to constantly reach back and close a dialog box or correct an error.
These messages can have financial and privacy implications as well, particularly when they ask for access to Facebook accounts, photos, location data, or permission for the user to make in app store purchases. When designing apps for kids, make sure there are set it and forget it parental controls for things like volume, upsells, and messaging so that parents can set their preferences once and hand the device over without worry.
Make Literal Use of Pictures and Icons
Kids ages 2-4 are just beginning to understand abstract thought. As a result, icons and images common to adults can confuse them. By the age of 3, most of them understand that clicking on an X closes a window, and that left and right-pointing arrows move forward and backward, but this behavior is learned, not understood.
Of course, kids in this age group can't read, so pictures and icons are even more important. As a general rule of thumb, if you need more than a word or two to describe how something is supposed to work, the interaction is too complicated. You know you're on the right track if you can identify a representative symbol to communicate your task.
2 Puzzles, Beautiful Summer's Day, Falcon
You'll know your design is too complicated for 2-4-year olds if it needs text or audio instructions. Any design or part of a design requiring more than a couple of words to describe what kids are supposed to do needs to be re-thought.
The Nick Jr. website uses iconography that's probably confusing to a lot of young children. Take this control panel from the Backyardigans section, for example. The game's icon, a video game controller, isn't a great choice here, because it represents a specific interaction model unrelated to the website.
Kids of this age group may not have even seen a video game controller like this before, as game systems like Nintendo and XBOX target older kids. A better choice would have been an image of a child playing a computer or tablet game, to give the users some information about the types of things they'll see in that section.