What can others learn from the successes and failures of how you crafted your product experience for children?: 

For anyone creating an app for children today, we would emphasize the following points: Importance of testing: Throughout the project development, from concept to testing, it is important to observe children from different age groups, nationalities and backgrounds using the product. Learn from how they interact with mobile devices, their reactions to visual and audio content, their expressions and the comments they make whilst using the product. Leading on from this point, as always UX is important, but for young children it is even more important. Kids tend to ‘button-bash’ devices and can have very little patience when they see loading screens or don’t know what to do next. Parents will not appreciate having to constantly check that their child is not opening advertisements or buying in app purchases due to a badly placed link, or one that is too enticing to a child. This can be remedied by techniques such as making parent-accessed sections require a long press, spelling or mathematical sum to enter. Keep up with competitors: The range of apps for children in the app stores is vast, with more and more developers targeting this market. Therefore, it’s a useful exercise to continuously watch what others are producing and stay ahead of trends. For example, developers are currently using functionalities such as the microphone, camera and motion sensor in new and creative ways.

Please describe any research, data, and other information about the needs of your young users that was used in the design of your product and how it significantly affected the thought process and final outcome.: 

We were already targeting other markets and wanted to grow to a new audience that we weren't catering for at the time with our language learning products - children. When deciding on which specific age group, we looked at research into the most common age groups targeted in the app store. The vast majority of apps available for children were addressing the pre-school and elementary school age groups. We considered creating a web product, but as we researched child psychology and behaviors at different age groups it became clear that mobile was the ideal platform for meeting the learning needs of this group.

We followed a methodology that we have tried and tested in the classroom which allows the child to:

1) discover the vocabulary for themselves

2) interact by playing games with the vocabulary

3) see how well they remember the vocabulary

4) go a level deeper by associating letter shapes with their sounds (phonics) and

5) utilize their imagination with a creative activity.

In what ways did the specific needs of and constraints inherent to children affect the design of the product?: 

We would reiterate our points above about UX being very important when developing products for children, and also the importance of observation. In addition, it’s important to understand the mindset of today’s children when deciding on visuals. We went through many iterations of the character design (these being vibrant flowers made up of the vocabulary pictures to represent different learning units). In the testing of our first designs, we found the characters were too ‘cutesy’ to be likeable by boys, but on requesting some less cute characters we were presented with a few very gruesome looking plants! Our final design, which did exceptionally well in our testing, is a good balance of the two. We wanted the flowers to be considered as ‘cool’ characters in a universally likeable style. We drew inspiration from Disney’s Pixar film studios.

How did you test your product designs and prototypes with children, and how did that testing affect the designs or how you thought about the product’s requirements?: 

We tested with children from different nationalities and age groups to see how thoroughly we resonated with our target market. As language proficiency can vary greatly even amongst kids of the same age, the aim was to check that our product was attractive to a variety of ages - both in an engaging, visual way, and also as a useful learning tool. This was done by periodically going out into the community, observing and asking how the children felt about the app. Kids from 2 to 10 years old had highly positive responses and provided valuable feedback. Following this testing we made some minor adjustments around the sensibility of the touchscreen, and the size and placement of images.

Please share any quantitative, qualitative, and/or anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of your designs for children and/or of the impact your product has on its users.: 

Our apps for children have had excellent reviews in the app stores, consistently achieving four stars or above. Apple has featured the apps on the App Store across 100 different country stores.

The Guardian (UK) newspaper included our product in the top 50 kids apps of 2013.