Three tips to keep in mind when designing games for toddlers

Bye bye baby – and hello toddler. Toddlers are fascinating as they begin to develop into real people with unique personalities, competences and abilities. Being new to the world, toddlers don’t really grasp the difference between right and wrong, reality and fiction. That’s why they copy their surroundings in any learning process. As Maurice, managing partner of The Little Big Partnership, says: Toddlers belong to the group we call ‘Copycats’. They haven’t quite understood that they’re unique individuals yet, so they mirror whomever they’re around - primarily their immediate family - a point that emphasises parents’ unique role in a toddler’s life.

From experience, we know that when designing games for kids, the possibilities are many. But. And this is a very important ‘but’. Games need to cater to their users regardless of who the target group is (obvious, but true). And when it comes to toddlers, you need to create experiences that match their specific cognitive, physical and emotional skills. In this article, we explore three tips that can prove very useful when designing for toddlers.

"Toddlers belong to the group we call ‘Copycats. They mirror whomever they’re around."

Maurice Wheeler, Managing Partner of The Little Big Partnership

They click on everything

Toddlers are natural explorers and curious about everything (parents know the burden. Ehm, joy). They don’t really think too much about what to click or when to click it, so it’s crucial that your game design invites the right actions. In this regard, it’s key that there is a clear distinction between the interactive objects and additional design extras.

1) Make interactive items pop

Toca Kitchen Monsters is a great example of how to make clickable items stand out and easing toddlers’ navigation. The beauty is that all items are clickable and interactive, giving the toddler instant feedback on every touch. Toddlers don’t know how to read yet, and that’s why it’s vital that game designs for toddlers use graphical cues instead of text.

They are easily distracted

Toddlers easily become distracted, and it doesn’t take many objects to leave toddlers feeling overwhelmed. In addition, they only have an attention span of a few seconds, making it essential that your design consists of recognisable elements and is free of clutter. Further, toddlers have trouble grasping three-dimensional figures, so you should stick to two dimensions only. This means that you’ll want to make the foreground clearer than the background to make interactive items stand out.

2) Keep It Simple… Superhero

Sago Mini is a master of making games for toddlers. Just take a look at this awesome simplicity. The simplicity calls for the right actions, and the toddler is freed of working through layers of unnecessary design add-ons to get to the fun.

They are clumsy

Toddlers’ motor skills are developing, and they haven’t quite mastered finer gestures. So when designing interfaces for toddlers, keep movements simple and easy to grasp. Game designs for toddlers should allow for simple tapping or swiping, but stay clear of more demanding gestures.

Also, when it comes to designing games for small touch devices, it’s important to be aware of the notorious fat finger problem. A problem that arises when the user’s finger covers the interactive item on the screen, making it difficult to navigate.   

3) Aid to toddlers’ clumsiness

LEGO DUPLO Trains is a great example of an entertaining app that only takes tapping and swiping to enjoy. And when the toddler stalls, they’re guided on by a hinting hand. Clever, simple and retaining.

Always put the toddler in the driver's seat

With the above tips in mind, you are one step closer to designing an age appropriate game that caters to your toddlers’ needs. However, it’s key to remember that you’re not only designing for them, you’re also designing for their parents. So be sure to acknowledge that parents function as a gatekeeper on your app and make it trustworthy enough to break through the parental barrier.

In short, you should always remember to put the toddlers in the driver’s seat - a point Maurice strongly emphasises: “Don’t just make the font huge and the colours pastel - design with the specific child in mind and focus on their unique skills and abilities”.

Sources: “Design for Kids” by Debra Levin Gelman, The Little Big Partnership and our own research and experience.



Published: 15.11.2016

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