One of the more interesting challenges we faced while designing the Dot to Dot Zoo Edition application was designing an interface for our target audience (i.e.: Children ages 4-9). The challenges were difficult, illuminating, exasperating, and very rewarding for our UX Designers. This blog entry will explain some of the UX considerations we incorporated into the gameplay to make this app fun and easy to use.
Moving the Main Navigation away from the Hardware Controls
A common frustration point for children (and parents) is the fact that an application will close suddenly because the main controls are placed near the hardware controls for the device (i.e.: home, back, etc.). As a child uses an application, their fine motor control and frenetic gestures often causes them to accidentally click these hardware controls and close the application. To prevent this from happening (as much as possible) we strategically placed the main navigation controls at the top of the screen, as well as created a “whitespace” buffer zone between the hardware controls and any controls that were placed towards the bottom of the screen. Both of these UX decisions instantly paid dividends. During testing, we noticed that children were able to play the app without accidentally closing it.
Iconography Supported by a Simple Game Play Structure
Knowing that a portion of our target audience was either at the pre-reading or beginning reader level, we decided to focus as much on Iconography as possible for navigation and controls. Though these controls also have supplemental text, the design of the controls and use of iconography drives the navigation and reduces the need to be able to read to functionally use the application.
The iconography is also supported by our focus on a simplified gameplay experience. There are only 4 main screens that a child interacts with during game play. The simple structure of the application (supported by simple iconography) ensures that actions are predictable and that a child never gets lost within the gameplay system.
Discovery and Leveraging the Concepts of the “Digital Native”
It is amazing to watch a child interact with a mobile application. There are so many things that they naturally know when interacting with a device. This level of comfort and inherent knowledge about mobile devices is known as being a “Digital Native”.
Using this as a basis, we decided that the application didn’t have to the normal UX queues that you might expect. Instead there are many interactions in the application that have no visual clues but are discoverable and usable based solely on the inherent knowledge of the “Digital Native”. As examples, children inherently know that when you tap on something that an action will occur. As such we chose to not shape control buttons as “buttons” but chose to give them shapes that were visually appealing and enticing. We also created an entire area of the application that is only accessible by tapping the animals in the Zoo knowing that this is an expected action by children. Finally, the animals in the Zoo also have subtle animations and sound effects that play when the child scrolls around the map. We knew that we could add these game play devices based understanding that our end users assume that screens scroll using swipe commands.
These are just a few of the UX design choices we incorporated for this application. We hope that our discoveries inspire your designs, as well as, show level of care that we put into making this a great application for kids.