Understanding HCI

Designing for Children

Age-Appropriate Content

  • Extensive text is problematic for young children, who are just beginning to read.
  • Severe usability problems were observed when kids were inadvertently thrown into sections that were written above their current reading level.
  • Also, kids are very aware of their age and differentiate sharply between material that is appropriate for them and material for older or younger kids, however close in age they might be. At one website, a six-year-old said, "This website is for babies, maybe four or five years old. You can tell because of the cartoons and trains."

Differences between Children and Adult Users

The usability findings for kids often differed from those typically found when testing adult users. Some of the more striking differences are noted below


  • Animation and sound effects were positive design elements for children;
  • They often created a good first impression that encouraged young users to stay with a site.

Screen scrubbing

  • Children are willing to "mine-sweep,"
  • Scrubbing the screen with the mouse either to find
    • clickable areas or
    • simply to enjoy the sound effects that different screen elements played.

Navigation Metaphors

  • Geographic navigation metaphors work
  • Kids like pictures of rooms, villages, 3D maps, or other simulated environments that serve as an overview and entry point to various site or subsite features.


  • Children rarely scroll pages
  • Mainly interacte with information that was visible above the fold.


  • Half of the young users are willing to read instructions;
  • They often prefer to read a paragraph or so of instructions before starting a new game.
  • In contrast, most adult users hate instructions and try to use websites without having to read about what they are supposed to do.


  • Unlike adults, who typically use the Web in business settings and for goal-oriented tasks, children often use the Web for entertainment, though older kids also use it for schoolwork and community.

Advertising Works

  • Children click website advertisements, often by mistake, thinking ads are just one more site element.
  • They cannot yet distinguish between content and advertising.
  • To kids, ads are just one more content source.
  • If a banner contains a popular character or something that looks like a cool game, they'll click it.

Gender Differences

In this study, they found bigger differences between boys and girls than usually found when testing adult men and women.

  • Boys are significantly more annoyed by verbose (wordy) pages than girls (40% of the boys complain, compar to 8% of the girls), possibly because at the ages tested, boys are not as accomplished at reading as girls.
  • In contrast, girls complain much more than boys when sites lack good instructions (76% of the girls compared to 33% of the boys).
  • Also, boys spend more time alone with computers, and girls spend more time using computers with a parent.

Content & Interaction

Children want content that is

  • entertaining
  • funny
  • colorful
  • uses multimedia effects

However, for homepage design and navigation systems, the user interface should be unobtrusive and let kids get to the content as simply as possible. Children enjoy exploration and games, but it should not be a challenge to operate the website itself. The content should be cool, but the design must offer high usability or kids will go elsewhere.

Further reading

  1. Intergenerational Design