Designers! Read this definitive guide on how to build apps for kids

Impatience. Stubbornness. Restlessness. Attributes like these make building apps for kids a formidable proposition. However, with a bit of insight, designers can design experiences and build apps for kids that can improve their brain development and help them play and learn.

“I definitely wouldn’t have gotten into programming if I hadn’t played games as a kid,” said Mark Zuckerberg.

Designers can have a significant influence over future generations because creating a winning app for kids has an incredible but often underestimated power to mold the future. These winning apps may someday be responsible for creating the next Zuckerberg.

Building apps for kids isn’t easy. In fact, it’s often quite difficult. But the most popular interactive apps for kids have achieved success because they follow certain best practices.

We’ll look at:

  • The differences between designing for kids and adults
  • The similarities between designing for kids and adults
  • A framework for designing apps for kids
  • Tips and best practices for building apps for kids

Building apps for kids vs. adults: the 4 Key differences

The main difference between building apps for kids and designing for adults comes down to the goal(s) of the users. According to Debra Gelman, author of Designing for Kids: Digital Products for Playing and Learning, when designing for adults—even when developing games for adults—the goal is to help them cross the finish line. When designing digital products for children, the finish line is just a small part of the story.

Here are four key differences to consider when building apps for kids.

Kids love a good challenger or conflict

Using a banking or email app, an adult wants to accomplish their tasks as quickly and efficiently as possible. Whereas a child, playing a game, enjoys challenges and conflicts along the way because, in the end, it makes their accomplishment more significant.

A prime example is Toca House, a popular iPad app by the makers at Toca Boca, which challenges children to vacuum a dirty rug. Of course, the rug is not clean after just one swipe because that wouldn’t be hard enough.

Gelman says that micro-conflicts (like vacuuming a dirty rug) help children resolve their own inner conflicts. She bolsters her case with a LEGO study on conflict play, which states that micro-conflicts help kids develop skills such as:

  • Predicting how others are likely to react to their behavior
  • Controlling their own emotions
  • Communicating clearly
  • Seeing other people’s points of view
  • Creatively resolving disagreements
Designing apps for kids

Kids want feedback on everything

When playing in a digital space, kids expect visual and auditory feedback whenever they interact with something. Most successful children’s apps generate a response (feedback) to every interaction. Children expect to be rewarded for whatever they do.

Kids are more trusting than adults

Because children can’t predict or understand the consequences of their actions ahead of time, they are typically much more trusting than adults. Designers need to build safeguards into children’s apps.

Kids develop faster than adults

In the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store, the kids’ category can be filtered by age ranges: “Ages five and under,” “Ages 6-8,” and “Ages 9-11.” Kids develop much faster than adults: an app for a four-year-old won’t be a fit for a six-year-old.

A good rule of thumb is to focus on a two-year age range. There are differences to consider between a four- and an eight-year-old. While one age group may dive in and learn the app as they go, another may need clear instructions to boost their confidence in using the app.

Best apps for children