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Interaction design and children
Abstract This editorial paper introduces an emerging area for human– computer interaction research, which concerns interaction design and children. To avoid treating children as a homogeneous user group, it discusses some perspectives on their development, their use of technology for entertainment and education and, ﬁnally, how to involve children in the various stages of the design process. q 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: User-centred design; Children; Usability; Fun; User characteristics; Technology
1. Introduction A central tenet for user centred design practices is that there is no design that ﬁts all, but rather design should be driven by knowledge of the target users. However, mainstream research in human– computer interaction, has often generalised in terms of theories, models, methodologies and sometimes guidelines that are articulated in a manner neutral to users (perhaps assuming middle aged adult, fully able workers). The growing interest in universal accessibility has brought to the forefront considerations of different target user groups, disabilities, and different cultures. In the last 10 years, a growing amount of attention is paid to children as a special user group (Bruckman and Bandlow, 2003), which is growing in numbers and in ﬁnancial terms (McNeal, 1992). A responsible stance of the industry should also seek to design good quality products which contribute positively to children’s development and health (Wartella et al., 2000; Cordes and Miller, 2000). Research has tried to address the different interests and capabilities of children, how they can be involved in the design of technology and in developing interaction technologies to suit their needs. The sections in this editorial discuss some key issues for this growing research ﬁeld. Furthermore, it introduces a collection of ﬁve papers that were presented at the ﬁrst conference on ‘Interaction Design and Children’, an event that took place in August 2002, at Eindhoven, The Netherlands (Bekker et al., 2002). Children are not a homogeneous group for which a single theory and practice may be recommended. Section 2 discusses how children’s skills, needs, knowledge and their
0953-5438/03/$ - see front matter q 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/S0953-5438(03)00004-3
needs and knowledge of children. 2. Their form should be round and support active exploration (Acuff and Reiher. Babies speak their ﬁrst words around the ﬁrst year. . they cannot yet play together. By various press. They enable children to become acquainted with simple sounds and words. emotional. children’s relation to interactive technologies varies. Within these stages we discuss the developing skills. Products for children up to two should be based on simple concepts. M. 2000). preferring parallel play. spin and slide activities the child can practice ﬁne motor skills. The division between stages are approximate as there exist large individual differences between children and the various development theories also assume different boundaries. They have mostly physiological. characters. Such products often have friendly colours and pictures of fantasylike characters and animals. reﬂecting their changing interests. with pictures. For each age group. letters. Finally. humour. The editorial concludes with some reﬂections about the relation between mainstream HCI research and this budding sub-ﬁeld that focuses on children. A successful study of their interaction with technology requires that we understand the purpose and context for which children will interact with technology as well as their own needs. Section 3 discusses how user centred design can be oriented to children. 2. social. Children enjoy repetitive sensorimotor actions. moral and language development perspectives in the context of marketing to children. such products stimulate problem-solving activities with action – reaction activities. love and safety needs. 1997). or stages of development for children. numbers and colours. The dependency/exploratory stage (ages birth –2 years) This is a stage of learning. The four stages have been adopted from Acuff and Reiher (1997) who have based these stages on a synthesis of cognitive.142 P. Also. children of this age group begin to develop conversational strategies such as turntaking (1 – 2 years) (Berk. Bekker / Interacting with Computers 15 (2003) 141–149 relation to technology change with growing up. Infants start to experiment with making sounds and developing the right intonation and sound patterns (birth to 1 year). Vocabulary size develops from about 50 words for a toddler to several hundred words by the age of two. Section 4 discusses two such contexts that are crucial for children: entertainment and learning. for example in relation to animals. give a feeling of safety and stimulate learning. Characterising children At different ages. the relationship between the characteristics of the age group and certain design features is discussed. exploration and discovery. Markopoulos. hand eye –hand coordination and practice initial language skills. An example of a product for this age group is an electronic ‘activity centre’. contexts and settings. which has the form of a tablet. The discussion below distinguishes four age groups. buttons and sliders.1.
Products should be based on concepts that are not too abstract and are tuned to the not yet fully developed reasoning skills of this age group. Bekker / Interacting with Computers 15 (2003) 141–149 143 2. The meaning of onscreen buttons is mostly depicted using symbols and animations. Around the age of 8. They become more aware of the age-appropriateness of products and more sensitive to acceptance by their peers. 1997). themes such as science ﬁction become more popular (Acuff and Reiher. Products for children between 8 and 12 years old can be more complex and challenging. 1997). They start to characters into words. doing a lot of parallel play. more complex sentences . For example. love and safety. though they are developing a greater need for autonomy. children shift from learning to read. children enjoy fantasy and magic. Simplicity is still important for products for this age group. M.3. The rule/role stage (ages 8– 12) Interests of children in this age group shift gradually from fantasy to reality.2. The emerging-autonomy stage (ages 3 –7) In this stage. Along the way the children get to solve riddles and play games that allow them to practice for example basic language. Markopoulos. Since concepts such as the past and the future can be grasped. there is a shift from a main inﬂuence of parents and school to a bigger inﬂuence from friends. Between the age of 2 –6 years children develop their knowledge about letters. ﬁnding a treasure. Finally. Children start developing a sense of logic and reasoning and simple abstractions. etc. such as rescuing somebody. words and books. musical and math skills. Children of this age group are fairly self-centred. also variation and competition play an important role. Since ideas based on the past or future are still difﬁcult to understand. children start to use more complex grammatical sentences in which two sentences are combined using connective words such as ‘and’ or ‘because’.P. They have a need for stimulation. Children in this age group also develop their initial writing skills. concepts around themes playing in the present and close to home are most appealing (Acuff and Reiher. in which the children have to search for items that enable them to reach a ﬁnal goal. 2. They play in pairs and groups and become more interested in competition. blending and synthesizing (breaking words apart. From 8 till 12 children start to understand more abstract terms and longer. Then they develop the ability to write words and create sentences and leave spaces between words. 2000). or combining words into new words). with limited use of words and explanations. They slowly get an understanding of rhyming and alliteration (words sounding the same at their beginnings or ends). Between 3 and 6. to reading to learn. Between 3 and 5 they start developing conversational strategies such as adjusting speech in relation to social expectations and between 5 and 9 the ability to gradually change the topics of discussion (Berk. They have a need for acceptance and success. Looking at educational games for this age group also provides some insights into their developing skills and interests of this age groups. computer games for this age group are often placed in the context of a fantasy world. starting with being able to scribble single characters around the age of four.
In addition. While the actual design challenges may differ. like adults.g. They relate most strongly with more realistic characters and prefer realistic settings over a fantasy world. a wide range of mobile phone covers with pictures of famous cartoon characters is available to tailor a phone to the intended image of the user. Over the years children develop an increasingly large vocabulary and understanding of multiple meanings of words (6 –10 years).g. For example. The products need to have a realistic look and contribute to the user’s image.4. writing complete sentences. the use of language can be more complex and abstract. e. they learn to deal with more than one point of view. From 14. They are able to understand more difﬁcult concepts and develop the ability to integrate new ideas. e. They have to relate to activities that appeal to this age group such as sports and social activities.000 words in adolescence (Berk. They also develop the ability to signal subtle differences using pronunciation. they become more proﬁcient at spelling words correctly. In such cases. school –clubs and social activities with friends. like multiple functions under one button and nested menu-structures. it is clear that HCI methodologies can be extended and specialised to address the needs of children. are laptops or handheld computing devices targeting this age group. points of views and concepts. such as sports. They develop an increased understanding of irony and sarcasm (11 years and older). These products often provide complex interfaces. and in using capitals and punctuations (7 – 9 years). they use less bright colours such as dark blue. Early and late adolescence (ages 13 and up) In this phase children develop their abstract thinking and logical skills. These devices look more adult and serious-like than those designed for younger ages. Markopoulos. silver and black. usability and ﬁtness for purpose are crucial. though they may be specially designed to target this age group. Vocabulary size develops to over 40. M. Products for this age group are very similar to products designed for adults. activities become both more socially and more goal-oriented. Designing for children Children. 2000). Adolescents can handle abstract problems and complexity. The functionality allows them to be more autonomous and to keep in touch with their friends.144 P. They become increasingly independent of peers and their parents. Examples of current products. In the age range of 13 –15. Their needs focus mostly on needs of identity and sexuality. mobile phones and MP3 players. Children of the age of nine and 10 are still not very good at planning their story and start telling the story straight away. 2. often use technology to perform some tasks. Two major topics in the context of designing for children are: . Bekker / Interacting with Computers 15 (2003) 141–149 and they develop the ability to critically analyse what they read. Subsequently. 3.
the role of children changes in two ways: First. the size of the on screen objects. represents the more radical view that children should act as designers. to a very active involvement as a member of the design team. Different text input techniques suitable for children are discussed by Read et al. A minimal and rather pragmatic requirement for user centred design is to involve children as testers of products.g. examine the success of novel input devices designed to ﬁt young children’s musical and motor skills. et al. advances in input technology.P. Further. advocated by Druin. A more moderate view. in the area of tangible user interfaces may offer novel opportunities for engaging children to interact with technology. and input/output devices for different ages of children. Markopoulos. 1. The inner circle represents the traditional role of children as end-users of technology. 1. illustrates a model introduced by Druin (2002) to discuss the relation of the various roles children can play during the design process. the suitability of input devices. Fig. Compared to corresponding research for adults this research is still rather limited. 1. Bekker / Interacting with Computers 15 (2003) 141–149 145 † age-speciﬁc interaction styles. with no involvement in its design (an approach that is not commendable from a user centred design perspective). Research in the former is very sparse. 1. in this issue. e. that subscribes to the same Fig. setting a value in a range). The relation of children to technology can vary simply being the end-user of a technology that is designed by adults.g. Figure adapted from Druin (2002). how to structure menus. fonts. . Inkpen (2001) reports that point and click is preferred by children 9– 13 over drag and drop. Involving children as designers offers several challenges and opportunities and some debate surrounds the issues as to how participatory design techniques should be adapted. i. As we move from inner circles to outer circles in the diagram of Fig. M. as participants in usability tests. For example Stienstra and Hoonhout (2002).e. The outer skin of the onion in Fig. e. For example. is used in the study reported by Hourcade.g. input of text. to gather empirically based guidelines as to what could be appropriate combinations of tasks (e. second. This view. It will perhaps require extensive empirical testing and evaluation. children get involved in more stages of the design activity. (2001). Another critical issue concerns the various ways in which children can be involved in design. and † the involvement of children in the design process. etc. for the design of an interactive digital library for children. selection. it becomes more active and responsible and.
146 P. called KidReporter. Markopoulos.. Two papers in this special issue attempt to ﬁll this apparent gap in current research results. is for children to be involved as informants in the design process (Scaife and Rogers. 1999). 1980) would suggest that children acquire knowledge through experience. Successful learning is correspondingly harder to operationalise and to design for. 1968) one might try to encourage learning through repeated stimulus and reinforcement. Contrary to the behaviourist view. in which children contribute to the design process by creating a newspaper about the activity that the product under design aims to support. For example. the peer tutoring technique can potentially prove to be useful also for adult users. Designing for education and play Compared to adults. We expect signiﬁcant advances in the near future in usability testing for children and perhaps some useful cross over with usability testing methodology for adults. adopting a behaviourist view (Skinner. Limited methodological advice has been published to date regarding the adaptation of usability testing procedures for children of different ages. The method is based on adapting a classroom teaching technique.. 1999). Markopoulos and Bekker in this issue discuss usability testing methods which have been developed and established for adult users. The more traditional HCI considerations about usability and usefulness need to be extended and specialised with some consideration of how to create successful learning activities. Soloway et al. Bekker / Interacting with Computers 15 (2003) 141–149 aspirations about involving children but addresses some of the practical limitations of doing so. Hoysniemi. and how well they fare when ¨ the test participants are children. but provides a theoretical framework for studying interaction and for qualifying successful educational activities. specially created for children. Other research in this area explores the suitability of design techniques for involving children in speciﬁc phases of design. M. Adopting a constructivist view (Papert. children interact with technology mostly in relation to two activities: education/learning and play. Technologies for learning are seen as construction kits rather than instruction programs. For example. as well. The paper by Bekker et al in this issue. to guide design of relevant products. Microsoft researchers who have been working on software products for children have proposed guidelines for usability testing with children (Hanna et al. Theories of learning can be applied. less predictable activities by the children may result and learning becomes more personalised. e. (1994) suggest that construction kits and activities should involve familiar object and actions allowing new ideas to be connected to extant knowledge and intuition and secondly. 1997) and survey techniques measuring children’s attitudes and preferences (Hanna et al. 4. examines the use of an early requirements gathering technique. Considering the importance of the topic and its practical utility there are surprisingly few research results published to guide the practitioner. Hamalainen and Turkki describe Peer Tutoring. and involves peers teaching each other how to use a software product during the usability test. the extent to which appropriate responses are obtained from given stimuli. This not only suggests a certain type of activity to be supported by technology. construction kits should make certain ideas and ways of thinking salient so that . a usability testing method.g.
1996) MOOSE Crossing (Bruckman. the subsequent level should be addressed. Malone and Lepper. reasoning that fun contributes to being motivated to pursue an activity. Considerable debate has been published regarding the multidisciplinary nature of this ﬁeld and its scope.. (1983). how to maintain the right level of challenge. a solid body of substantive and methodological knowledge has resulted. discuss the design of technology for supporting playful learning and describe ﬁve core elements for playful learning: (1) exploration through interaction. Similar issues arise when considering how to successfully support less task-oriented activities such as play. 2000) and on the development of interactive multimedia environments to practice narrative skills (Plowman et al. Determining how knowledge about play. (4) imagination. Sherman et al. will play a crucial role in the development of this area. entertainment and education (Long. Concluding remarks The ﬁeld of human – computer interaction is approximately two decades old. In this volume Price. Prensky. Scaife and Rogers. 2003. Bekker / Interacting with Computers 15 (2003) 141–149 147 users are likely to make connections to them. According to Jordan. Their case study traces evidence of these elements in the interaction of children with an educational game that supports interaction through tangibles. The emphasis with such activities is not necessarily on usability. e. the relationship between functionality. In the recent years a lot of effort has been put into developing technologies that will support learning in a constructionist manner: these may include online communities. Many researchers have explored the relationship between fun. Green and Jordan. (2) engagement. how to provide clear indications of action and progress. 1999). but can also guide the assessment of enjoyment throughout the activity. 2000).. and as such can also contribute to learning effectively (e. as they were 20 years ago. play and learning. M.. 1994). .g. but also on having pleasure and fun (Blythe et al.. and thinking at different levels of abstraction and (5) collaboration. (3) reﬂection. Nevertheless. Cassell et al. Maintaining this engagement can guide the design of interaction. 1999).g. Advantages for the children can be social development and language development. usability and pleasure can be described as a hierarchy of needs (Jordan. the 20th ACM CHI annual conference or by referring to the seminal publication of Card et al.g. 2001. Enjoyment can of course relate to social activities and to learning activities for which such a theoretical construction may need to be extended.g. 1987. Markopoulos. 1990) which seems appropriate for many of the playful activities of children. The methods of scientiﬁc investigation and the philosophical orientations of researchers within this discipline may be as open to debate today. Many researchers view enjoyment as relating to engagement (Csikszentmihalyi. or programming for children (Smith and Cypher. at least measured by some prominent conferences in the ﬁeld. 2002).g.. engagement and fun can be applied to design for children. e. Other examples of research on how children learn when interacting with technology is the work on developing experimental prototypes for supporting children to tell stories. indicating that when a lower level need has been fulﬁlled. creativity. 2000). as a contribution to the HCI discipline problem: how best to design the interaction between humans and systems to ensure effective work. e.P. (e. 1996). programmable bricks (Resnick et al. 5.
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