Designing successful iPad apps for children is especially difficult. Designers are tasked with presenting quality, age-appropriate content in a way that is easy to understand and interact with. This is made ever more challenging when considered alongside the flow of the app and the complexity of the gestures that can be implemented on a tablet.
Many apps manage to get this right and many more fall short. As with everything though, the key to a successful product is always analysing its performance and making improvements. But what should be considered from the start when designers are designing iPad apps for children?
Lean navigation and intuitive interactive elements are essential for a successful app. Children have smaller hands and are less precise when clicking on things. This means that interactive elements must:
- Be placed where they can’t be accidentally tapped. Children often lean on the bottom of the screen or cover it with their hands whilst holding the device. Therefore, putting a menu or other interactive elements at the top of the page is ideal to avoid accidental taps. Even better would be applying a two-touch method to bring up the menu, or require an element to be pulled down the page to reveal the menu.
- Be obvious they are clickable. Apply an outline, make the button move, or add an arrow pointing to it. Whichever characteristic you apply; make sure it’s obvious this content can be interacted with.
For most apps swiping is commonplace when navigating between screens. With children, however, a precise swiping motion is hard to perfect with smaller hands. In addition to this, younger children may create a swiping motion accidentally as they attempt to move things around the screen. It’s much more effective then to introduce “Next” and “back” buttons for children to navigate through screens instead.
Another consideration is to accommodate for multiple children pressing the screen at one time, or a child holding the screen and tapping simultaneously. It’s good practice then to treat press and tap gestures the same as tap gestures, and allow for multi-touch to stop any confusion or null actions.
Avoid splash screens
Children have short attention spans and when they want to play a game or read a storybook, they have little patience for long loading times and pointless splash screens. In addition to this, the home button, which is always visible on the iPad is prone to both curious and accidental taps. Apps should allow a quick return to the application and avoid any unnecessary long loading times and menus to prevent a frustrating user experience.
There’s nothing more detrimental to a user experience than suddenly finding out a “free” app comes with a bill. This is even more frustrating when the bill is presented to a parent whose child has racked up the cost on a “freemium” app. Children can’t distinguish between promotional content
so disguised ads or paid ad-ons are likely to distract and trick children into clicking on them. When their parents find out, the app is most likely deleted. Even worse, negative word of mouth can kill your app as parents find out and delete it before their children can rack up a large bill. We’re used to seeing dark UX patterns, but don’t push it onto children to elicit a sneaky payment.
If advertising is part of an app’s revenue model, then be responsible for it. It’s unfavourable to take children out of the app and to the browser. It’s a confusing flow and makes it unlikely for a child to return to the app.
Avoid the accelerometer
There are many good uses of the iPad’s accelerometer feature in apps; in driving games for example. A very bad use of the accelerometer though is when designing iPad apps for children. Children tend to drop things and sadly an expensive iPad can be far less forgiving than most objects. Children also like to play apps with their friends. It’s much better to design an app that’s intended to be played with the iPad placed on a table than asking a group of children to fight over whose turn it is to shake the tablet and potentially create a disaster.
Design a child-friendly user interface
It’s important to make sure that any interface elements fit in with the established design and don’t intrude on the user experience. iPad apps for children tend to use bright, bold colours and shapes, so any pop-ups should inherit these initial styles.
Equally as important is ensuring that young children can easily understand the interface. There’s nothing worse that including a menu with vocabulary children have never seen before or adding a set-up menu that children can’t use.
Designing iPad apps for children presents a whole new array of challenges than designing iPad apps for adults, and it’s a task that is very hard to get right. We’ve covered the basic principles to consider when first designing an app, but it’s also important to take into account the intended age group of the target user and the specific needs of the app so the design can be adjusted accordingly.
Testing is key to a successful app but adhering to the basic principles we’ve outlined when initially designing ensures that the app is off to the best start. Of course, once users begin to use an app it can be tweaked and improved based on the problems that users are experiencing to make sure that the app has the greatest possible user experience and remains a success.