The UX of Dora: 3 Design Lessons from a Little Adventurer

As the father of two tiny people, I’ve spent a lot of time with big purple dinosaurs, curious monkeys and little backpack wearing adventurers. Interestingly, I‘ve discovered that kids shows can teach us a lot about good product design, especially that Dora the Explorer.

1. Make It Predictable

Every episode of Dora is the same. There is a clear end goal and Dora has to go through three steps to get there. The goal and the steps are articulated (repeatedly) by Dora and her friends throughout the adventure. This repetitive structure makes the show extremely enjoyable for kids because they can master it. They get what needs to happen, they understand the steps to get there and they know what’s coming next.

People are driven by a desire for mastery. We want to feel accomplished and capable. The easier it is for a person to master a product the more likely they are to feel good about the experience. Predictability goes a long way toward making that happen. There are a number of ways to make a product predictable:

  1. Maintain design consistency: Users should know what design elements mean, no matter where they appear in an experience. If tapping a specific icon is supposed to open a navigation menu, it needs to open that menu every time it appears. If it doesn’t, the user loses the ability to predict what the icon means and no longer knows when or how to use it.
  2. Leverage established design patterns: It can be enticing to get creative and reinvent the wheel, but using established design patterns for common tasks means less “new” for the user to learn.
  3. Use metaphors and animations: Well crafted metaphors and animations help users understand where they are in an experience, what state things are in, what options are available to them and what they should do next.

2. Use Simple Language

Dora is aimed at little kids so the language is simple and the dialogue is concise.

Your product might not be aimed at kids but there is rarely a downside to simple and concise language. The average adult American reads at a 7th — 8th grade level. Unless your product or market demands technical jargon or higher-level vocabulary, avoid it. This is especially important to keep in mind with error messages, where lack of comprehension has a higher likelihood of leading to user frustration.

3. Provide the Necessary Tools

On every adventure, Dora inevitably runs into problems. Swiper the Fox steals something, or she has to get past snakes, or alligators, or whatever. But, the ever-resourceful Dora has it covered thanks to her magic, talking backpack and her equally magic, equally talky map. The map keeps her on the right track, and her backpack is full (conveniently) of just what she might need at any given moment.

You can’t always predict what’s going to happen to your users in the wild. You can do your best to guide them down specific paths or toward specific outcomes, but people are complicated. They do what they want. And they will definitely do something you didn’t think of. It is important to always have a set of tools available to help them overcome problems they might encounter.

This includes navigational tools to help get them back on track if they end up in the wrong place, as well as functional tools to help them accomplish tasks, make decisions, and undo mistakes. Delivering just what a user needs right when they need it makes for a magical experience. You might not be able to give them a magic, talking backpack, but if you are thoughtful about the way you surface and design your tools, you can come pretty damn close.