3 tips on designing games for kids of different stages

Together with Maurice Wheeler, Managing Partner of The Little Big Partnership, this article shed light on the complexity of designing for kids.

At Funday Factory, we work with designing for kids on a daily basis, and we know the joy (and bewilderment) of understanding their wondrous world. We put pride in building age-appropriate game designs that not only take age into account — but also kids’ physical, emotional and cognitive skills. And it’s a tricky business.

Kids’ imaginations are wild, free and unrestricted. They’re inspiring, fascinating and very, very complex. And when we asked Maurice why designing games for kids is such an intricate process, the answer was simple: Because we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be kids. As he says: “We don’t remember what it was like not to be influenced by experience, logic and culture, and that becomes a barrier when we want to create products for kids who’ve only been around for 3 or 4 years.” It’s pretty basic, but think about it for a moment. As adults, we’ve outgrown our childish selves, making it hard to grasp the universe, kids roam around in.

And the consequences are clear. We often experience that people believe designing games for kids is a piece-of-cake procedure. As Maurice says: “Many people seem to think that if you just make the colours bright and friendly and the text big enough, you’ve designed a successful app for kids”. Sorry to burst the bubble — it does take a bit more to get it right.

So how do you design for these marvels?

Based on research and our own experience, we’ve put together a guideline on how to design for different stages.

Designing Games for Toddlers

1) Toddlers click on everything: Make a clear distinction between interactive objects and design add-ons

2) Toddlers easily become overwhelmed: Pick only a small set of objects and keep them simple and recognisable

3) Their motor skills are developing — but they cannot be precise: Allow for tapping and swiping — but keep movements simple and easy to grasp

Designing Games for Pre-Schoolers

1) Pre-schoolers are curios by nature and want to learn new ideas and skills: Make tasks simple, short and rewarding to keep them tuned and entertained

2) Pre-schoolers are empathic: Provide a game design that lets them interact with others — real or fictitious

3) Pre-schoolers are pretty nifty, and they like to create on their own rather than following strict rules: Make room for imagination, invention and self-expression

Designing Games for Primary-Schoolers

1) These kids are very focused and they like to complete something before moving on: Create a level system to add positive progression

2) Primary schoolers love the feeling of accomplishment:Provide them with rewards, badges or bonuses and allow them to save, store and share their accomplishments

3) They like to know what is expected from them: Provide them with all the rules needed to complete the activities

Designing Games for Tweens

1) Tweens love being experts and don’t spend much time on reading instructions or rules: Provide them with feedback on completed tasks rather than informing them upfront

2) They are able to take into account several aspects of a problem: Keep the complexity rather high, but don’t set the tween up to fail with unrealistically difficult tasks

3) Tweens like to dive into opportunities rather than following strict rules: Let the tweens explore and investigate!