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If Not for Those Meddling Kids…

I am classifying this panel as Reinvention in our SXSW analysis because I feel we have to be open to rethinking common user interface conventions to reach the unique market commonly known as ‘tomorrow’s future.’

I attended the Designing for Kids session today hosted by a slew of uber-talented folks from PBS for a discussion of how they design the web experiences that complement their extensive TV cartoon line-up. Let’s call a spade a spade. Most truly creative people have blocked out their childhoods entirely cause suppressing all that pain and misery is what makes them so cool, deep and hip at present. So how do you even begin to design a user experience for an age range that your own brain has locked in dark psychological vault, leaving you with no insights to draw upon?

All joking aside, how do you creatively engage the alien-seeming mental landscape known as ages 2-4, 4-6 and 6-8? According to our eloquent panel, the biggest danger seems to be in making assumptions, cause we all know how that cliche goes. The biggest one being that children are simply shorter, smaller users. Don’t bother putting a pause button on your video player interface for the super young, cause user research shows that when a 3-year-old is ‘done’ at any point with your content…that they just run away! Buttons labeled ‘BIG’ effectively communicate making the cartoon clip of choice enlarge on screen and activate play versus the typical adult icons. In other scenarios, you don’t have to kill yourself over-thinking the UI of game play segments because children naturally just want to tap the screen as much as they possibly can. Also, if you have the money, you really need to invest in user testing. And this is an area where you don’t cut corners or hire just anyone. According to the panel, because children are such unique creatures in terms of mental processing, your “moderator can make or break the study.” Moderators for these projects have to make children feel comfortable, like they are not performing for a teacher or parent, and exhibit a near Super Nanny ability to casually draw children from distractions to re-focus on the test materials at hand.

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