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The audience of kids' digital products

Unlike products for adults, kids' ones have to deal with audiences with very different goals in mind

Normally any product, digital or not, involves a reference target. The target is the answer to the question: who is this product for? It can be a group defined by age, gender, language, territory, habits, by tastes, and many more segmentations, also in combination to one another. For example, we aim a product at people 25 to 34 years old, living in big cities, who love doing sports and listening to music. That’s a broad target. By adding more filters, we can shrink it down depending on our business strategy.

Usually, a product has a broader or narrower target audience, but it’s rarely more than one (with the exception of products/services heavily focusing on content, where the variety in genres can please many kinds of users, e.g.,streaming services). Kids’ products, especially the digital ones (and especially the ones requiring a subscription), have different kinds of users to please, and these users, more often than not, have very different goals in mind. As you already understood, we are talking of children and parents, and to these two categories I like to add educators, I’ll explain why soon.

In this Venn diagram, one circle represents the interests and goals for the kids and another the parents’; we can see how small the intersection of these two is, while the goals for parents and educators overlap much more(but not completely; teachers might care more about collaboration features, while parents monitoring screen time, just to make an example).

This is a key distinction between products for adults and products for kids that makes the latter more challenging to market. Normally kids have more interest in the fun part of the product, while parents care most about the educational value. But you don’t have to think about educational value in a strictly academic meaning. A game à la Angry Birds can demonstrate about physics of bodies, gravity, and so on; it’s an entertaining game to play, for both kids and adults, but while grown-ups should already have those concepts clear in their mind, for children this could serve as a lesson and not just an occasion of mere entertainment.

The Kids

This is our primary focus, because as designers we share with the parents and the educators the ambition to create something valuable for children.

By “valuable” I mean

  • Not harmful (physically and psychologically)
    The product must comply with laws concerning children’s safety and with best practices as advised by pediatricians and other experts.
  • Focused on their development
    The product should contribute positively to the kid’s development, both cognitive and physical. Regardless of the main scope of the app being education or not, it should always provide an experience where the well-being of the young user is at the center.
  • Fun to use
    Nobody enjoys boring stuff, and this can’t be truer for children. Especially when your product’s intents are educational, you want children to have fun when using it, to keep their interest and curiosity alive. It’s like making a medication sweet in order for them to take it. There’s no purpose in a bitter syrup that no kid wants to swallow.
  • Easy to use
    This is strictly connected with the previous point.Even the most fun idea becomes boring if the app or website is burdensome to use. You don’t want to frustrate your users, losing their attention is extremely easy. Adults can endure the burden of a terrible UX because maybe they have no other choice (e.g., with software related to their work), but kids want to use these apps for entertainment and edutainment. Don’t spoil the fun with a bad UX.
  • Accessible and inclusive
    Diversity has finally entered design talks. With our communities being more and more multicultural, even if you work on a product for a specific region, you want to consider inclusivity as an added value. Besides ethnicity or religion or home country, diversity can also mean being affected by physical and/or cognitive impairment; inclusivity means taking this into account and working on accessible products.

In the introduction of this book, I briefly pointed out how kids, compared to adult users, present a segmentation based on the age. This can be a problem, because, as you can imagine even without being a parent, a 3-year-old has very different cognitive abilities and motor skills than a 10-year-old. The first one most probably cannot read, and the kid has a much more limited knowledge of the world, a limited ability for abstraction, different logic and mathematical skills, but also a different dexterity when it comes to performing gestures, a drag-and-drop action that can be very easy for the older kid could be tricky for the younger one, and so on.

This book cannot address all the details of physical and mental development of children; that’s a task for medicine manuals and pediatricians. What I can do though is giving some input and more practical tips, and we’ll see these later when going deeper into UX and UI matters.

Depending on the age of the kid, the parents also have a different weight when it comes to decision-making. For younger kids, which apps to spend money on and download is a parent’s choice, while older kids might have a bigger influence on such decisions. So, it’s still true that when designing you should always have both children and parents in mind, but the balance shifts a little as kids grow up.

So, as you can see, our first audience is already fragmented on so many levels. It’s important to understand and decide which age group we design our product for. I used the singular “age group” and not “groups” on purpose; considering the sizeable differences in development occurring in even just 1year, it’s a tough job to make a product suitable for more than a 2–3-year span. Common age groups are 3–5, 6–8, 9–11 or sometimes 2–4, 5–7, and so on; on both Google Play Store and App Store, they call the youngest group “5 and under.”

The Parents

As we said earlier, a parent’s role as decision-makers, when it comes to buying digital products, usually decreases as the kids grow up. But no kid is economically self-sufficient; for this reason, you still have to hold parents’ needs (and opinions) in high regard. The needs of the parents are different from their kids’. They care more about the educational value an app might have, how safe it is, how addictive it is. Is it something they could leave their kids alone with for a few minutes, or does it require constant supervision (hint: if it requires constant supervision, something doesn’t seem right)? Plus other considerations of financial nature, such as the price of the product or, depending on the business model, cost of the subscription, and consequent value for money relation.

Whether a product is appropriate for children or not can be, in part, very subjective. There are boundaries determined by the law, but for minor things like poo or fart jokes, things are interpreted very differently, because of culture or simply personal taste and beliefs. Parents hold two powerful bargaining weapons that can make or break our products: the wallet and the reviews on the app stores (or any other platform featuring user reviews).

To spend money on a product, parents need to be convinced about its quality, value, and safety. In this book, we’ll cover several topics to achieve all of those, from a design and from a marketing standpoint. The reviews can be a curse or a blessing for any kind of product, but parents, being naturally (and rightfully) protective over their children, have no mercy when a product is below their expectations, so pay attention to the reviews. Parents usually trust educators, so it’s important to have them on board.

The Educators

Teachers are our best allies. They share two things with the parents: they care about children and they are adults. But teachers have different needs from parents and also a different spending power. Especially in public schools, teachers might not have enough funding to buy your product in bulk, so consider giving free access to them. Why? Because teachers can become your ambassadors to promote the product among parents (and other teachers, who will do the same with more parents in a potentially viral mechanic).

Teachers need to have genuine reasons to endorse your product, so quality matters even more with them. While parents might not have the right tools to evaluate the quality of an app for kids, teachers know when a product is worth being used in classrooms and promoted for use at home. Some teachers also have blogs and social media channels where they give advice on digital products to peers. So it’s important to involve teachers in the development process from the very beginning, having an education expert consultant in the team is of paramount importance, as it is having a pool of beta-testing teachers to collect feedback from.

When you design an educational product for children and you expect it to be used by teachers in classrooms, know that teachers will require a back-end dashboard where they can analyze the usage of the product, the results, keep track of activities, possibly customize such activities, and more. This part will be a different task from the kid-facing side of the product as it will be a part of your children’s product designed for grown-up needs in a professional setting, and this is just another example on how complicated a product “for kids” can be.

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Learn how to design beautiful digital products for kids!

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