UX Design for Kids: Key Design Considerations

January 6, 2020

Although the Web is maturing quickly, User Experience remains a primary area of contention for most Web sites and applications across diverse product domains. But User Experience is not a constant across all audiences, irrespective of their age group. A UX design that works perfectly for most people, most of the time, might not work at all well for kids. Children have particular wants and needs that you must address.

All UX designers and app developers must take the needs of kids into account when designing Web and mobile apps. Children’s perceptions and experiences matter because kids now make up an essential audience for many Web sites and apps. There are numerous educational Web sites and apps, online games and mobile game apps, productivity apps, and entertainment Web sites and apps that cater to children. These services and platforms are increasingly gaining popularity among children. Plus, online learning is becoming more and more popular among kids of all ages.

When kids are your audience, your UX design concepts and solutions must address their specific concerns and needs. So, in this article, I’ll explain various aspects of UX design for kids and describe why they matter.

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Kids-First Design

Most UX designers, in pursuing design for kids, merely resort to the use of brightly colored imagery and large buttons. But relying on such an oversimplified design approach to appeal to children only results in commonplace design clichés that fail to meet children’s needs.

What exactly is a kids-first approach to design? There are many considerations that you’ll need to take into account during your design process to satisfy the needs of children. Implementing a kids-first design approach is far from simple.

Designing for Specific Age Groups

First of all, you must think beyond the gross concepts of kids or children. Kids’ needs are highly variable and relative to several different age groups under the age of maturity. Each of these age groups has its own specific constraints, attributes, and perceptions that UX designers have to address. Children’s needs also depend on the part of the globe and the society to which a child belongs. Your UX design decisions should be based on both a child’s age and psychosomatic development, which determine appropriate UX design elements.

Unlike for adults, who you can easily place in broad age groups—for example, spanning the ages of 25 to 45—defining the right age groups for kids is much more critical. A couple of years can completely alter the capabilities and skills of a child. Therefore, grouping kids into different age brackets and designing solutions for each of them is of paramount importance. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, UX designers should create design solutions for children belonging to at least three major age groups:

  1. Young kids who are approximately three to five years old
  2. Kids who are six to eight years old
  3. Older kids who are nine to twelve years old

Now, let’s explore the characteristics of children belonging to various age groups, whose behaviors and physical and cognitive abilities differ significantly. It’s important to understand the key attributes of each individual age group.

  • two through six years old—Children in this age group—who according to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development belong to the preoperational stage of cognitive development—typically include children in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade, who have the lowest levels of perception and understanding. Kids in this age group think primarily in symbols and visuals. As a result, they have a minimal vocabulary. Therefore, when you’re designing for an audience in this age group, it is essential that you use minimal text and instead rely mostly on symbols and visuals that instantly create a meaningful reference for kids.
  • seven to nine years old—These children belong to the fully operational stage. They are capable of thinking logically and reasoning through various things in their mind. At this stage, children’s ability to understand what they read also develops. Their vocabulary also tends to expand and, gradually, greater understanding of more complex statements and words develops. But, for an audience at this stage, the use of symbols, icons, and imagery should still be the primary mode of communication. But there should be a relative increase in the use of textual content. For both the design of a site or an app and its content, there should be an emphasis on simplicity.
  • nine to eleven years old—In this age group, children gradually tend to develop expertise in the use of touch screens and can easily comprehend common user-interface design patterns. At this stage, kids have a larger vocabulary and better reading comprehension and reasoning capabilities. While the use of icons, symbols, and imagery should still take priority for the visual elements of a user interface, you should depend less on these elements for more meaningful communications. You can also introduce simple, hierarchical elements to your designs for older kids, who can now handle multiple concepts simultaneously.

Addressing Children’s Needs Through Design

Now, that you have an overview of kids specific design needs and requirements, let’s look at some time-tested approaches to designing for children.

  • instant gratification—Because kids tend to have little patience for anything that blocks their progress along the way, your designs should create a sense of instant gratification to help them keep engaged. For kids’ games, this philosophy has resulted in the creation of multiple steps with in-game rewards at each step.
  • meaningful signs and symbols—Kids tend to be quite literal, so they would likely think a hamburger menu icon actually refers to a hamburger. Always use icons that have a literal meaning that kids can easily understand.
  • storytelling—Since children’s understanding and reasoning are still developing, you need to bridge the gaps in their comprehension through storytelling—events unfold as the story progress.
  • appreciation and encouragement—Kids lack the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. They also lack the motivation to stick to anything for very long. This is why, instead of creating a user interface that dwells on one thing for a prolonged period of time, you should break the content into small chunks. Also, engage kids through gamified elements such as badges of appreciation and encouraging gifts that await them at various milestones.


Always remember that kids of different ages have different abilities and needs. Your design solutions must address those needs. You can keep kids engaged with your applications through instant gratification, the use of meaningful symbols, storytelling, and rewards. Ensure that your design patterns accommodate the limited understanding of children while also encouraging them to stay on board. 

CTO at Cerdonis Technologies LLC

Westmont, Illinois, USA

Paul OsbornePaul has worked in technology for more than a decade, working on technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and mobile apps. He is currently Chief Technical Officer at Cerdonis Technologies LLC, a development company that delivers comprehensive solutions for mobile, Web, and desktop applications. He also has experience in business, sales, and fundraising. Working with small, medium, and enterprise businesses, Paul has amassed knowledge of technologies’ vulnerabilities and is now sharing his knowledge to help people learn optimal practices for overcoming them.  Read More

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