Usability for Children

6 February 2009
Ben Logan

Author: Ben Logan

Passionate about improving services and experiences for the people that use them.

Young children these days are born into the digital age, and are surrounded by mobile technology and the internet everywhere they go. My own nephew who is 4 has a “pay as you go” mobile phone and a pretend mini laptop, and I find it fascinating that he can operate it.

Children as web users

There are currently millions of children already using the Internet, and millions more are coming online each year.

Social networking sites, such as Bebo have a higher number of teenage users with a lower age demographic than say Facebook, and even mainstream websites are adding “kids” sections aimed at children to build brand loyalty from an early age.

Children are brought up with computers, using games and educational software from a very early age, and virtually all will have acquired basic computer skills by the time they leave primary school.

We are specifically refering to children aged between 5 and 12 in this article as the range we consider to be children.

Examples of web sites accessed by children

There are a vast number of websites available to children now and we have highlighted a few as fitting this age range (in no particular order):

What are some of the characteristics of children using the web?

Its no secret that children lose patience with things very quickly and have a shorter attention span than most adults, which means that they will often leave a site quickly when faced with Usability issues.

We have highlighted a few characteristics of children using the web:

  • Can lose patience quickly
  • Will often be using older PCs handed down through the family
  • Internet access times will be likely to be after school 3pm-4pm
  • Sharing household broadband connection
  • Typically will surf the web at home
  • Boys can take longer to read web pages than girls
  • Girls are more likely to complain if there are inadequate help or instructions

What are some of the issues children face?

Children face a lot of the same Usability issues as adults but areas such as simplicity of copy and instructions is key:

  • Complex language can be a barrier to entry for children
  • Inconsistencies in primary and secondary navigation causing the children to become disorientated
  • Not always sure if an object is a link or is clickable
  • Too much copy to digest can be a blocker for children
  • Waiting for multimedia content to load can cause children to exit the site

What can you do to reassure children during Usability testing?

Children require a slightly different approach when it comes to running a Usabiltiy testing session:

  • Make sure the testing is shorter than a normal testing session
  • Assure them that this is not a test as children associate tests with school
  • Make sure there are lots of breaks and access to soft drinks
  • Make the compensation relevant at the end of the session e.g. a £30 payment will not be as appreciated as perhaps some “High School Musical” merchandise
  • Make sure the parents are near by incase the children become startled
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