Children’s Websites: Usability Issues in Designing for Kids (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

The biggest finding in both the new and old research is the need to target very narrow age groups when designing for children. Indeed, there’s no such thing as “designing for children,” defined as everybody aged 3–12. At a minimum, you must distinguish between young (3–5), mid-range (6–8), and older (9–12) children. Each group has different behaviors, and the users get substantially more web-savvy as they get older. And, those different needs range far beyond the obvious imperative to design differently for pre-readers, beginning readers, and moderately skilled readers.

We found that young users reacted negatively to content designed for kids that were even one school grade below or above their own level. Children are acutely aware of age differences: at one website, a 6-year-old said, “This website is for babies, maybe 4 or 5 years old. You can tell because of the cartoons and trains.” (Although you might view both 5- and 6-year olds as “little kids,” in the mind of a 6-year-old, the difference between them is vast.)

Finally, it’s important to retain a consistent user experience rather than bounce users among pages targeting different age groups. In particular, by understanding what attracts children’s attention, you can “bury” the links to service content for parents in places that kids are unlikely to click. Text-only footers worked well for this purpose.

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