NN/G: Children’s UX

What would we do without Normon Neilson Group’s broad strokes.

New research with users aged 3–12 shows that children have gained substantial proficiency in using websites and apps since our last studies, though many designs are still not optimized for younger users. Designing for children requires distinct usability approaches, including targeting content narrowly for children of different ages.

As anecdotal evidence might dictate, kids with ever increasing times spent with screen based devices are becoming more proficient in their use and more particular in their preferred interaction models:

Little kids, big expectations. Because children spend more time with devices than 8 years ago, they have more opportunities to get a sense of how things can and should work online. Children expected to be able to tap on and interact with characters and pictures in interfaces, both on touchscreens and desktop displays. (Speaking of touchscreens, several kids tried tapping on nontouchscreen laptop displays and were disappointed when they got no response). Kids expected some sites to play sound or have animation. One pair of 8-year-old girls spent several minutes trying to get a page to play sound and animate, so they could enjoy a game more.

Despite these higher expectations around interactivity, children did not have the same degree of disappointment that adults did when an app or site didn’t work quite as they expected. Yes, children did get frustrated when designs weren’t as fast as they liked, but they also were used to a lot of games simply not working, so they shrugged it off as a bug or something beyond their control. Still, given the option, they’d choose to browse or play something else if a site wasn’t working well.

A willingness to work around difficulties. There’s a myth that children “just know” how to fix a problem or get a website or app to work correctly. That’s not generally true (except for a few especially tech-savvy users). However, as kids get experienced with devices, they do become comfortable trying a different approach before giving up entirely. They would refresh the page, close and reopen the browser or app, or use the Back button and try again. Though they weren’t skilled troubleshooters (they weren’t good at problem solving or understanding the root of the issue, and they struggled to interpret error messages), they were very willing to try a few quick solutions. This willingness to experiment is something that users who have grown up with digital devices are more likely to have than users who have entered the digital world later in life. If after a few tries kids still couldn’t get something to work, they’d just close the tab, the browser, or tap the device’s Home button and pick something else do to.

It’s a great report full of useful (and reusable) bits of data.

Children’s UX: Usability Issues in Designing for Young People