How to Design Ethical UI for Children

Erbis
11 min readNov 6, 2023

Modern kids are growing up surrounded by screens and technology, making ethical UI design for children more important than ever. While aesthetics still play a crucial role, safe and developmentally appropriate digital experiences are indispensable in UX product design for children.

Ethical UI is the bridge between captivating interfaces and responsible digital interaction. It ensures each kid’s journey through an app is exciting and secure, emphasizing educational enrichment.

Ethical UI design aligns with children’s cognitive and emotional development. It nurtures positive online habits from childhood and contributes to a more responsible, secure, and inclusive digital world.

UX product design for children: what challenges to expect?

Creating UX product design for children presents specific challenges that require thoughtful consideration:

Cognitive development

Children of varying ages possess different cognitive abilities. Designers must tailor content, interactions, and interface elements to the age developmental stages. This will ensure a meaningful interaction with a software product and an enjoyable user experience.

Safety

Ensuring online safety is paramount in UX product design for children. To achieve this, you must exclude inappropriate content, prevent unauthorized access, and protect your software from potential cybersecurity threats.

Privacy

Balancing personalization with privacy preservation is a delicate task. When creating a UX product design for children, you should receive parental consent for using data. You should also reduce the collected data to the necessary minimum. For example, for a children’s educational app, you might collect data such as age, language preferences, and learning progress but should not collect location data or browsing history.

Engagement

Ethical UI design for children engages users while ensuring they don’t get addicted to the app. In this regard, the main challenge for UI/UX designers is to create a software product that captivates children but does not reduce the significance of reality. Designers, in particular, need to avoid sessions (such as gaming) interrupted at the most exciting moments, enticing users to start a new round without leaving the app.

Parental involvement

Incorporating features that allow parents to monitor their kids’ interactions is a unique challenge in UX product design for children. Designers must balance empowering parents to ensure a safe experience for their kids while allowing young users a degree of independence within the app. An example of ethical parental involvement is to allow parents to set filters that restrict content based on age appropriateness. Thus, on the one hand, they control the app content; on the other hand, they do not interfere with how the child explores the application.

Designing for kids too challenging? Delegate the design creation to UI/UX experts.

Aligning UX product design for children of different ages

Children progress through distinct stages of cognitive, emotional, and social growth. Ethical UI design for children must adapt to kids’ evolving needs and offer age-appropriate engagement.

Critical stages of child development and their impact on UI design

These stages significantly impact how kids interact with digital environments. You should consider them if you want to design an ethical UI for children.

Infancy and early childhood (0–5 years). Children are in the early stages of cognitive development. The UI should feature simple, colorful visuals, large interactive elements, and minimal text. Voice-guided interactions can enhance engagement.

Middle childhood (6–11 years). Cognitive abilities expand. Ethical UI design for children should be intuitive and engaging, with interactive content that balances education and entertainment. Visuals should be age-appropriate, and text should be clear and concise.

Adolescence (12–18 years). Teens exhibit advanced cognitive abilities. UI/UX design can resemble adult interfaces but should prioritize safety, privacy, and responsible content. Tailoring content to individual interests becomes essential.

UI/UX design for kids of different ages

How cognitive, emotional, and social development influences ethical UI design for children

UX product design for children dramatically differs depending on the age group it targets. Here is how cognitive, emotional, and social development influences design decisions:

Cognitive development. Consider users’ cognitive abilities and design interactions that match their developmental stage. Progressively introduce more complex interactions as they grow.

For example, UX product design for the youngest children should be as simple and understandable as possible. You should give clear instructions on what needs to be done and avoid confusing phrases and complicated scenarios.

For older children, instructions like ‘click here to get this’ might be too obvious and uninteresting. As the child’s cognitive abilities develop, user paths must be more complex. You can also use smaller and less obvious design elements, for example, the play button without the title “Play.”

Emotional development. Understand the emotional needs of children and create a UI that fosters positive impressions. Provide opportunities for self-expression and feedback.

For instance, you can tailor feedback elements based on the child’s emotional response. A younger child might respond well to cheerful animations and encouraging words, while older children might appreciate more subtle forms of acknowledgment, such as unlocking new levels or earning badges.

Social development. Consider how children interact with peers in digital environments. Design features that promote collaboration, sharing, and social learning.

For example, you can implement challenges for preschoolers where they need to share virtual toys or resources with their digital peers. This will teach them the concept of sharing and cooperation.

For older kids, you can offer to share their works (for instance, drawings), and others can leave comments or virtual stickers. This will create social interactions and build community within the app.

Privacy and security and two pillars of ethical UI design for children

Security, privacy, and data protection are paramount for UX product design for children. They include:

  • Protecting children from potential online threats and cyber criminals
  • Ensuring that data collection and sharing are subject to parental consent
  • Building trust with parents and young users by respecting their privacy

When designing ethical UI for children, consider adhering to the following industry standards:

Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA)

COPPA is a US law aimed to protect the privacy of children under 13 years old. It regulates children’s personal information collection by websites and online services.

Under COPPA, online platforms that collect information from children under 13 must obtain verifiable parental consent before collecting, using, or disclosing such information. The law also requires posting privacy policies, allowing parents to review and delete their child’s information, and keeping collected data secure.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)

FERPA is another important federal law in the United States that protects the privacy of student education records, including those collected online. FERPA applies to educational agencies and institutions that receive funding from the US Department of Education.

General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

In the European Union, GDPR, among other things, describes the protection of children’s personal data. It requires explicit parental consent for processing the personal data of children under 16, although individual EU members can lower this age requirement to a minimum of 13 years old.

Tips to develop ethical UI/UX product design for children

Creating user-friendly interfaces for kids requires a thoughtful approach. Here are some tips for designing efficient UX product design for children:

Use vivid colors

Choose colors that align with the content and the child’s age group.

For example, for a preschool educational app, opt for warm and cheerful colors such as bright yellows, soft blues, and lively greens. These colors are visually appealing and promote a sense of playfulness and engagement. Such a color palette enhances the learning experience for young children.

Alternatively, for a teenage gaming app, consider using bold and vibrant colors like electric blues, fiery reds, and energetic oranges. These colors evoke a sense of excitement and intensity, catering to the preferences of older children and teenagers. They make the gaming interface visually stimulating and captivating.

Using vivid colors in UI design for kids

Adapt interactive elements

Appropriate interactive elements are crucial for UX product design for kids. Incorporate those that encourage exploration and engagement and align with acknowledged age-related characteristics.

For younger children, consider implementing large, colorful buttons that are easy to tap, drag, or swipe. These buttons can trigger animations or sound effects, providing immediate feedback and enhancing their motor skills. Interactive elements like pop-up animations of animals or interactive puzzles, where children can drag and drop pieces to complete a picture, can be both entertaining and educational.

For older children and teenagers, interactive elements can involve more complex challenges, such as interactive quizzes or decision-making scenarios within storytelling apps. Implementing drag-and-drop interfaces for creative tasks like designing characters or building virtual worlds can also be engaging. Additionally, incorporating gesture-based interactions, such as shaking the device for a random outcome or tilting it for interactive parallax effects, adds an extra layer of engagement for this age group.

Provide educational value

The peculiarity of applications for children is that they are designed to provide educational value through play, interaction, or exploration. Even apps that are not explicitly labeled as “educational” can offer significant educational value to children. Here’s how:

Many games, even those designed for entertainment, require players to strategize, analyze situations, and make decisions. This enhances critical thinking skills and teaches them to make fast and informed decisions.

Apps, especially those with rich narratives, expose children to new words and phrases. Engaging with characters and stories helps expand vocabulary and improves language comprehension.

Creative apps like drawing, music-making, or storytelling apps allow children to express themselves artistically. These nurture creativity and develop imagination.

Apps that require precise tapping, swiping, or tilting enhance fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. These skills are fundamental for writing, playing musical instruments, and participating in sports.

Thematic UI/UX product design for children can spark interest in various subjects. For example, the dinosaur theme can ignite a passion for paleontology, the cosmos theme — for astronomy, a car theme — for automotive, etc.

Drawing app for older kids

Reinforce positive emotions

Reinforcing positive emotions in UX product design for children is crucial for creating an enjoyable experience. Here are some effective practices to achieve this:

  • Use vibrant and cheerful colors that evoke positive emotions
  • Introduce friendly and relatable characters within the app
  • Provide immediate and positive feedback for every action or achievement
  • Use positive and encouraging language in instructions and feedback messages
  • Introduce unexpected interactive elements or surprises that trigger positive reactions
  • Personalize the app experience based on a child’s preferences and achievements
  • Offer opportunities for children to make choices within the app
  • Use cheerful background music and playful sound effects
  • Implement progress trackers, achievement badges, and celebration screens when children complete tasks or reach milestones
  • Design features that enable children to collaborate with friends

Protect from harmful content

When creating ethical UI/UX design for children, it’s crucial to prioritize their safety. Here are the ways to protect kids from harmful content:

  • Implement a robust content moderation system that uses both automated filters and human moderators to screen user-generated content
  • Utilize keyword filters, image recognition, and artificial intelligence algorithms to detect and block inappropriate content in real-time
  • Clearly label content to indicate the target age group, allowing parents to make informed decisions about what their child can access
  • Integrate comprehensive parental control features that allow parents to restrict content, app usage duration, in-app purchases, and social interactions
  • If the app includes social features, create secure communication systems that allow children to interact only with approved contacts, like friends and family members
  • Implement an easy-to-use reporting system that allows both children and parents to flag inappropriate content or behavior

Disrupt the market with an efficient product. Create a competitive app for kids.

Testing UX product design for children

It is essential to thoroughly test product design for kids and receive comprehensive feedback from real users. Testing and feedback ensure that the interface is not just functional but also engaging and educational.

Why conduct user testing when implementing an app for kids

As adults, we may make assumptions about engaging UI design for children. Whereas, asking children directly will give more accurate and straightforward ideas on essential features. By involving real users in testing UX product design for children, you get:

User-centric design. Kids will help you ensure the interface is tailored to their needs and preferences.

Usability. Testing identifies usability issues early. This enhances the user-friendliness and effectiveness of the UI.

Content relevance. Children’s feedback helps in curating content that resonates with them, making the experience engaging and informative.

How to implement UX product design for children based on real experiences

Involving young testers in the quality assurance process requires careful planning. Here are the steps to take:

Recruit participants. Obtain parental consent. Aim for diversity in your participants: consider such factors as age, gender, socio-economic background, and technological proficiency.

Create a child-friendly environment. Consider using familiar spaces like schools, libraries, or community centers.

Develop prototypes. Use tools like Figma or InVision to develop clickable prototypes that mimic the actual user experience.

Run moderated and unmoderated testing. You can have a facilitator guide the children through the testing process or allow children to interact with the prototype without direct supervision.

Gather feedback. Use a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods to collect feedback. Surveys, interviews, and observation notes can provide valuable insights into the user experience.

Engage with parents/guardians. Collect feedback, not only from children, but also from their parents or guardians. The insights of these adults are crucial for understanding the context in which the children are using your product.

Iterate and improve. Analyze the feedback systematically. Identify common patterns and issues raised by the children and their parents/guardians.

Document and report. Prepare a comprehensive report summarizing the findings and improvements made based on the feedback received.

Conclusion

In the digital landscape, ethical considerations remain paramount. Upholding the principles of responsibility, respect, and transparency guarantees that children explore, learn, and have fun in a secure and principled digital environment.

At Erbis, we can help you develop digital solutions tailored to your business needs. Whether you design for children or adults, we ensure your product design is captivating, user-friendly, and secure. If you are not sure where to start your UI/UX design journey, contact us. We will analyze your project, suggest our design solutions, and let you decide whether or not to move forward with us.

FAQ

What is the main difference between ethical UI design for children and adults?

The main difference lies in understanding the cognitive development of each group. Ethical UI design for children focuses on simplicity, safety, and educational value. It considers age-appropriate content and interactive elements. Ethical UI design for adults often emphasizes efficiency, clarity, and ease of navigation. It is tailored to users’ specific needs and goals.

What do kids like in design?

Children like colorful, visually engaging designs with playful animations and interactive elements. They enjoy relatable characters, intuitive interfaces, and content that spark their curiosity, fostering a sense of exploration and discovery in the digital realm.

How can I ensure the content and messaging in the UX product design for children is age-appropriate?

To ensure age-appropriate and responsible content, conduct thorough research on the target age group, involve child psychologists if possible, adhere to industry standards like COPPA, and regularly gather feedback from parents and educators to maintain a safe digital environment.

What security measures should be implemented in a UI for children?

In a UI for children, security measures include strict privacy controls, age-appropriate content filtering, parental controls, encrypted communication, secure login, and regular security audits. These measures protect against online threats and foster a safe digital environment for young users.

How can I ensure that my UI design evolves with the changing needs of children and technology trends?

Conduct regular user research to understand children’s evolving preferences and behaviors. Stay updated with industry trends, incorporate feedback loops from users and parents, and maintain flexibility in your design approach. Consider integrating new features based on emerging technologies and evolving user demands.

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