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Colors in children's apps

Defining a color palette for our product is one of the most important steps of its visual design phase.

When we buy a new car, when we decorate our home, or when we decide what to wear in the morning, colors play a major role in our decisions. It’s almost impossible not to be influenced at some level by colors when we are presented with two or more options to choose from. This is also the reason why designers usually make their wireframes in grayscale, to avoid stakeholders(and themselves as well) to be biased toward a particular decision because of colors. Colors can contribute greatly to the success (or the failure) of a product, and each hue is used in design and marketing to send a particular message and inspire specific feelings (blue for trust, orange for playfulness, red for passion, etc.).

On colors and color theory we have an entire history of books. Colors set the mood of your product more than any other visual element; for this reason, the choice of the color palette is one of the most important steps during theUI design process.

A common misconception is that children’s interfaces should be very colorful. While it is true that kids, especially younger ones, love bold bright colors, we have to pay attention to not overwhelm them with a color palette that is too generous in hues.

Colors can be one of the tools we use to provide hierarchy in the user interface, we can use colors to distinguish what is in the background and what is an interactive element, for example.

For 2–4-year-olds, color is the primary variable they use to categorize objects.This means that, for a kid in that age range, a big red cube, a medium-sized blue sphere, and a small green pyramid are first and foremost red, blue, and green items, before being a cube, a sphere, and a pyramid or a small, medium, and big object. This is partly true for adults as well, color is a very prominent characteristic of an item, but we’re way more capable than young kids in using other means of categorization.

Bold and Bright

In a 1994 study5 called Children’s Emotional Associations with Colors, published inThe Journal of Genetic Psychology, Chris J. Boyatzis and Reenu Varghese tested the emotional reaction of 5–6-year-old children to a series of colors. What they found was that kids tended to express more positive emotion toward bright colors, such as pink, blue, and red, and associated negative feelings to darker, less saturated colors, like gray, black, and brown. This is not really surprising; most of us would probably agree with those children. But while for adults darker colors, like black or dark blue, can also inspire a sense of elegance, luxury, and premiumness, kids don’t seem to get much positive vibes from them, even though it’s interesting to notice that, according to this study, male children tend to associate positive feelings from darker tones more frequently than females of the same age.

In an older study6 published in Journal of Experimental Child Psychology in 1972, called Variables in Color Perception of Young Children, Professor Rosslyn Gaines tested how brightness and saturation of six different hues (green, red, purple, blue, orange, and yellow) effect color discrimination in children. In other words, is it harder for kids to distinguish different colors when these are darker or less saturated? According to this study, yes it is harder.While children are really good at discerning colors when these are bright and saturated, the error rate increases as the colors get darker or more muted.In 1975, this research has been extended to other age groups in another research that tested kindergarteners, fifth graders, high school sophomores, non artist adults, and professional artists. The error rate followed a similar pattern across all groups, but the frequency of error was linear with respect to age: the younger the group, the higher the error.

Finding harder to discern colors when these are darker and more neutral is part of the human biology, but in kids this trait is more prominent. It’s a good idea then to keep our colors reasonably saturated and bright, especially for interactive components. For backgrounds and elements that are not interactive, we can opt for more pastel tones, to clarify hierarchy and guide the interaction.

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