Design elements: There are completely different rules when you make a web design or game design with target audience of kids. Some rules might sound even ridiculous and against common sense, but it’s how it works for kids.
Bright colors: kids love bright colors, no matter how irritating they might be for the eye of adults. Orange, green, red capture immediately a kid’s attention.
Happy experience: most web sites for kids, implement characters who are smiling and looking welcoming and positive in any way. That makes a happy impression to the kids, which lead to the will to visit the web site or game again.
Recognizable elements from the real world: kids need elements that are familiar to them and not abstract. In most case that are elements from the nature – trees, flowers, mountains, rivers, animals. If there are too many things they’ve never seen before, they will lose interest and leave the site soon (and never come back again).
Things near real life: shadows, gradients, gloss – anything that gives a 3 dimensional effect would be a plus. Don’t leave your design with a flat look.
Animation and moving objects: whenever something movies on a web site, we notice it. It’s just the way we are build. By knowing this – it’s very easy to guide a child’s attention to different parts of a web site, it can also indicate interaction areas.
Options: kids like to have a lot of options to chose from and to customize. Just think about all those games where you dress a princess – there are no levels, but just tons of cloths that you can combine. That’s what makes kids happy – having freedom and place to realize their creativity.
Sounds: we all hate sounds on internet, but for kids, sounds might be a very vital element. By using ascending sounds, you can point when something has been done correct, and descending sounds for error. You can implement extra sounds in your game, in case the kid makes a long progress without a single mistake (something like Monster Kill in Warcraft).
Icons instead of words for navigation: kids hate reading, so keep your explanations small, and even try to make your menu through icons.
Explaining game rules: don’t just put text explaining how a kid should play a game. Take your time and create a good video with audio explaining each possible scenario or case on the game. If it isn’t easy enough for a kid to understand a game it will get frustrated and leave it.
Usability: When you have all those design elements implemented comes time for user/usability test. There are tons of articles written on how to conduct a user test, but I’m going to repeat some of the most important points and give example questions that you might ask.
From making 1 usability test on a game or web site can be reviled 50% of the problems. With each following test are revieled the same problems including small details. Approximately 12 people are needed to test a game/site in order to find all problem areas.
It’s normal for kids to be shy in front of people that they don’t know, especially when they are making some sorts of researches. That’s why it’s very important that we make the kid feel comfortable and make it think that it’s the expert here, who is going to tell us how kids at its age explore new games. It’s very important to stress that it’s not the kid who is tested, but the game.
We have to tell the kid to think aloud, or said in more simple words – explain what is it doing all the time. From here we can take two directions – let the kid explore the game and talk all the time, or have a set of simple questions and tasks to execute.
Example questions for testing a game:
- What can you see on the screen? (its important to understand what objects make first impression and if that are the objects we expected kids would see first)
- What is that game about?
- How do you play that game? (you want to find out how easy is for the kid to learn to play the game, if it seems too hard, may be you’ve chosen the wrong target group, or simply you need to revise some parts of your game)
- Does the kid realize how the game works? (its one thing reading it in Rules section, another thing is playing it)
- Does the kid realize the scoring system – is it visible enough? (using sounds might help a lot here)
- Was it hard?
- Was it interesting?
- Why do you find it interesting?
- Is it clear the final score, when you complete the game?
- What options do you have after finishing the game?
There are many more questions you can ask, according to your specific case. Don’t use leading questions, for example ask “What do you think about the game?” instead of “What do you like about the game?”.
In any case, after conducting a usability test,you would have a lot of guidelines and information to help you improve your game. That is the purpose of usability tests – finding flaws and if you are on right track designing for the right people, the right product.