Designing mobile and tablet experiences for Children

| by Lisa Barron, Molly Whitehead-Jones | what we're working on

Code have recently been working with the BBC to explore the evolution of their CBeebies and CBBC websites on mobile and tablet platforms.

To help us understand the user behaviour of children today, we conducted some ethnographic research at our offices where we observed children aged between 3 and 12 naturally interacting with a range of different devices.

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Based on our research findings, we’ve put together a list of our top 5 best practices when designing mobile and tablet experiences for children:

1. Use recognisable characters to drive forward moving journeys

Children very rarely go backwards when using apps or mobile sites. As adults, we depend on menu navigation and the back button to find our way around but children navigate in a completely different way, recognising their favourite characters and moving through a continuous forward journey. To accomodate this behaviour, consider using a secondary character based navigation to help guide onward journeys.

2. Show feedback when content is loading

Children often don’t recognise when content is loading, causing them to repeatedly tap the same area of the screen. To reduce this confusion, use noticeable loading animations to clearly show children that something is happening as a result of their actions.

3. Follow familiar design patterns such as Youtube & Google images

When we asked them to show us their favourite websites most children over the age of five took us to YouTube or Google images, where they loved swiping through images of their favourite characters in the gallery or watching video clips. Children quickly recogise and remember how to interact with sites that they have used before. Take this into account by incorporating familiar interaction patterns within your designs.

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4. Use large buttons with large clickable areas

Children don’t understand text links and struggle to accurately tap small areas of the screen. Large buttons with large clickable areas help to account for tapping errors increase user success.

5. Create an inactive frame around the edge of the screen

Some children, especially those who were less experienced using an iPad, had difficulty interacting with some games. Although they were performing the right actions they did not get the expected results because they would then unintentionally rest their hand on the screen.. To overcome this frustrating issue, consider creating an inactive frame around the game or app which allows the child to rest their hands without effecting the main screen area.

If you’re interested in finding out more about designing user experiences for children, come along to Code for the next NUX event, where the BBC’s own Leanne Dougan will be talking about children’s web design and usability, and sharing some of the methods she employs when user testing designs with an audience who often find it difficult to articulate their thoughts. Advance tickets have now sold out, but this event will be open to all, so just show up!