How to design engaging digital products for kids

Whether it's an educational site, app or a physical product, you can help kids engage with your work by following some simple rules.

When it comes to designing for kids, there's one thing for sure – kids aren't just miniature adults. Rather, they present a completely different set of interaction, experience and usability conundrums.

To get a handle on how to design better digital products for kids we spoke to education professionals exhibiting at Bett 2015 – the world's leading event for learning technology.

Why is design so important for learning?

"Designing for kids is one of the most demanding fields there is," says Gary Beckett, Education Consultant at open source specialists, Precedence Technologies. "Kids are fantastic critics; the amount of technology at home and within education means that the look and feel of an object is almost as important as the job it performs."

The key is simplicity

Ben Dunford, Director, ePraise, a leading parent-teacher communication platform said: "Keep things simple – students don't like clutter and are easily distracted. Don't add irrelevant things to the screen, and lay things out in a sensible way with plenty of space" suggests Ben.

"It's also important to remember that kids grow up very quickly – something designed for a 15 year old may need to look and work differently to something designed for a 10 year old. Be as specific as possible about your intended audience, in order to get the best outcomes."

Filippo Yacob, CEO, connected toy specialist Primo, agrees that simplicity is vital. He advises: "Children are kings at cutting through all the fudge; stick to a simple story, it's more honest. I'd also say that it's important to make it 'un-master-able' – the best toys and games are easy to learn and impossible to master, giving you the opportunity to re-define your own long term goals and overall narrative."

Encourage continued learning outside of the classroom – this is where the power of digital learning really comes into play

Create an element of surprise

To keep kids engaged and eager to learn, keep your designs clear, simple and also add small rewards

According to Ingrid Connors, Founder and Director of mobile app, variety and surprise are key to keeping children engaged. "At Monster Phonics we found the key is to create a dynamic world. Children love surprises. They want to see something funny or unusual.

"It's important to connect with a child's experiences in the real world too," explains Connors. "Children respond best when they can clearly see that they are making progress. Small rewards along the way are vital. The reward system should allow the children to make choices, customising their online world."

Help foster a sense of ownership

Kids love to get involved in making and doing. Investing them with a sense of ownership is a great way to foster interaction

Paul Croft, Director of UltimakerGB and Founder of CREATE Education Project believes in participation from the children to keep them invested.

He explains: "With the maker movement sweeping the globe and brands like Nike allowing you to personalise products, it's not just kids who are getting excited about the transition from being consumers to prosumers!"

"Never before have we had the opportunity to get involved with designing our own products as we do now. Children love to be involved in creating and putting their unique stamp on something. What better way to keep kids invested than to give them true 'ownership' and a community to share with?"

Remember to use video

Paul Howell, founder at Stop Motion Pro, specialist in animated films, believes video demonstration is another great way to get children to engage with digital products.

He comments: "Supporting your product by creating student centric video demonstrations is a great way to engage kids in schools. Showing actual students solving creative challenges is a great way to help other kids see how your products will be relevant to them and their projects. They very quickly apply the ideas from the instructional videos to their own work, then everyone wins."

Picking the right technology

With BYOD sweeping classrooms and offices alike, it's important to pick the right platforms and technologies

Zulfi Baig, Operations Director, iBoardTouch, provider of interactive touchscreens stresses the importance of the device itself, not just the design.

"Enhancing learning and engagement in the digital classroom can be achieved with investment in the right piece of tech, used in the right way," says Baig. "Devices must offer diversity in collaboration and interaction connecting students and teacher, student and student; and student and interactive board with any type of BYOD device."

Learning happens at home too

It is important that children continue to be engaged in digital products outside of the classroom, to ensure that the learning process continues. Simon Davenport, Senior Direct Marketing Manager, LEGO Education Europe concludes by explaining why this is so important: "Encourage continued learning outside of the classroom – this is where the power of digital learning really comes into play.

"By establishing a two-way interaction with parents, children can take their classroom experiences into the home and work with parents to keep the learning journey alive."

Words: Louisa Wetton

Bett 2015 is free to attend and takes place from Wednesday 21 to Saturday 24 January 2015 at ExCeL London. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter.