IXD301 – The Definitive Guide to Building Apps for Kids

As I am designing for kids and not for adults, I must reset my mental intuition roughly about 12 years in order to think like a child. Asking myself simple questions such as “If I was a child, how would I engage or want from an app?” This is beneficial but nowhere near enough and cannot be sold as a solution. Time has passed and our culture has changed, the kids 10+ years ago aren’t the same kids today. They are more intertwined in technology through the surge and demand for popular digital kids products that have been ever so common in today’s market. Before I do any research or surveys, I must understand the thinking processes and motives of kids. Through my research, I have found an excellent article that explains exactly that. I want to analyse this article and apply the same standards to my work.

First of all, before I begin, we must acknowledge the differences between kids and adults. Seems easy enough, but without knowing the differences it can be hard to design the right product or features. As said by Debra Gelman which has been tokened by author Tanya Junell, “The main difference between building apps for kids and designing for adults comes down to the goal(s) of the users.” However, one really interesting bit of information that has changed my perception in designing the app is the end goal. For adults, the end goal is seen as the objective, however, for kids, it’s the story that takes you to the end goal which is the most desired part. This means adults are more planned and structured whereas kids are in the moment and engulfed in whatever is appearing on-screen with little or no repercussion of what is going to happen.


What is required in building an app for kids?

1. Challenges

Kids love a challenge, predominantly when playing an interactive game as it bolsters a sense of immersion through intertwining an appropriate amount of work that makes the end goal feel more achieving. This sense of feedback and accomplishment is crucial for kids to develop and engage in products. The reasoning for this is theorized by Gelman explaining, “Micro-conflicts help children resolve their own inner conflicts.” On the other hand, adults would rather get a task done as efficiently as possible.

2. Feedback

This is a crucial factor for developing kids’ apps. For example, take a crossword puzzle if a kid enters a wrong letter into the suggested line. It is important that there contains constructive feedback onscreen, such as “Uh Oh” or “Try Again!” this helps the children learn from their past experiences in a non-concise manner whilst providing positive responses so that the children aren’t deterred from accomplishing goals.

3. Trust 

As explained before children can’t predict or for-think the consequences of their actions ahead of time. It must be ensured that designers build safeguards into children’s apps

4. Development

I must remember that kids develop pretty quickly, so a 5-7-year-old app on the AppStore will be completely different from an 8-10-year-old. This means I have to search carefully when looking at competitor apps to find out its targeted age group as it can be wildly inaccurate.


What is required in designing an app for kids?

1. Consistency – Kids and adults alike consistency, this shouldn’t be a shocker as to have a fluent and unobtrusive experience there must be a sense of flow in one’s app. Without, these basic implementations kids will become frustrated which can increase the chance of them abandoning that particular app.

2. Incentive – As a designer myself, both kids and adults need a reason to use an app. Adults are constantly on the move while children can lose interest if not captivated quickly so my app needs to be engaging and reactive. This means not displaying unnecessary or too much information as kids will rely on visuals more than anything else.

3. Functionality – When kids download an app from the AppStore, they want it to work as to how it was intended to be. If they open the app and it shows otherwise they can be quickly uninterested and frustrated. Gelman explains perfectly in another quote, “As a kid adding gems to a box in a game, they expect to be able to open the box where the gems are stored to see them all, not to have to open the box, pull out drawers, and hunt for the stuff they thought was in there.”

4. “Lagniappe” – Kids want to be additionally surprised as they want to explore and discover to be able to feel a sense of self-accomplishment. Easter eggs are a fun way to create an immersive world inside of the app itself. A broader example of this would be Google’s special event easter eggs such as being able to play Pac-Man on google maps.


How can I approach designing a successful app for kids?

At the beginning of this blog, I quickly covered how I can design as if I was a child. Recently in our IXD301 module, we have covered this. For kids, we must observe their cognitive, physical and emotional situation while conducting short surveys or any other means of interaction. This means writing down their responses and actions in a sketchbook or something similar.

Alternatively, for my app, I have a different vision to show various modules of my app such as different characters and colour schemes by printing them out to show children all in an attempt to observe the children’s reaction when asking them basic questions such as:

“Do you like him?” — “Why do you like him?” (How is this character/feature appealing to the child)

“Can you tell me a story about this character” (This is an attempt to ask the child to explore their past experiences relative to my elemental character as this allows me to identify behavior patterns and observe from their point of view.) — Participatory design


When observing children’s interactions with my product I must look out for these three things:

  • Do kids in this age range enjoy sticking to the rules, or do they prefer inventing their own games?
  • Are they trying very hard, or are they just trying to out-silly each other?
  • Are there differences between the ways boys and girls approach play?

Going a little bit further into my product’s future. This can also be a crucial stage to test and refine – taking away features that aren’t necessary and strengthing features that kids love the most.


Children First

When designing an app for children, it is obvious that children must come first but this is a more common mistake than people think. Little things that can be culturally learned such as unique symbols in a navigation bar can outsmart kids due to not having proper experience. It must be acknowledged while kids are very innovative they might not be able to understand a lot of things older people can.

While we must design for kids first, adults must also be added to the culture especially with my informational elements project. I can foreshadow some of the scenarios that might involve adults such as using this product for school, etc. This means it is highly recommended to get as much feedback as possible not just from kids but also from teachers and parents.



What have I learned? 

This article was very informative and very beneficial to me in my area of study. Through this article, I have discovered many techniques, observations and information in order to help me understand the mindset of children better. Additionally, it has offered me a better understanding into the cognitive, physical, and emotional situation of children whilst allowing me to study their behavioral approach in order to construct and design a successful app for kids of 8 to 10 years. Lastly, It has helped me understand and acknowledge many activities such as participatory design, constructive feedback and user testing with children.




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