Top tips from GDC Next speakers on designing apps for kids

With GDC Next just a few months away, iKids Weekly got a sneak peek into the conference's latest session on designing games and apps for kids. ChoreMonster, one of the session's presenters, talks about the right way to design apps for kids, and what attendees can expect from GDC Next.
September 4, 2014

With GDC Next just two months away, iKids Weekly got a preview of the latest session to be announced for the game developers conference: Designing Apps and Games for Kids (The Right Way).

The session looks at how app developers can design apps that truly engage today’s tech-savvy generation of seen-it-all kids, who are growing up with hundreds of mobile games and apps being released each day. Led by app developers ChoreMonster, THUP Games (Monkey Preschool Lunchbox) and Ubooly, the session focuses on getting developers to design like kids and not just for them.

iKids Weekly talked with ChoreMonster’s head of marketing Alex Bowman (AB) and Paul Armstrong (PA) co-founder and chief creative at the Cincinnati-based company, about designing apps for kids and what attendees can expect from the GDC Next session.

Why should participants attend this session?
AB: We hope this will be an interesting session for attendees currently working on—or even considering working on—an app or game where kids are either a part of, or primarily the audience. The founders of ChoreMonster, Ubooly and THUP Games will be talking about their real-life examples, successes and mistakes that they’ve made along the way—things for other developers to use, apply and in some cases, avoid!

What can app designers take away from this session? The conference at large?
AB: We’ll be providing real-life examples and best practices from our experiences and mistakes that will assist participants in designing their apps and games to truly engage kids, and not just pander to kids.

Why is it important to design like kids and not just for kids? What’s the difference?
PA: I see it as a matter of perspective. I feel there is a tendency to pander to kids, to assume that they must like primary colors and silly typefaces and outlandish design elements. But to design like kids is to give them proper respect, just as you would any audience. You don’t follow the assumption of the masses, but instead search for a resonance and clarity of communication. You communicate with and to them in a way they understand.

How can we design apps that are a hit with today’s generation of touchscreen and digital first kids?
PA: I have a few things that I try and keep in mind:

  • Refuse common solutions: Just because it’s a common solution doesn’t mean it’s a good solution. Kids see more than just red, yellow and blue, they can actually see the entire rainbow.
  • Reward exploration: Kids don’t share the same concern for doing something wrong that adults often do. Adults fear that touching the wrong button will alert the NSA and they’ll be hunted down by drones and sent to GitMo. Kids will touch and explore to see what happens — reward that!
  • Show, don’t tell: Regardless of the age range of kids, saying less is always better. It’s always better to show someone what to do than to tell them what to do.

How can independent or small brand designers compete with the likes of Disney or Nickelodeon?
PA: They can’t—not if they’re small and independent. But that’s more a matter of scale. If “compete” is a measure of success, then of course they can. Have a great story to tell, execute that story creatively and effectively, and find the audience to hear the story, and you’ll find ways to succeed.

Do you have any advice for smaller brands to follow when they’re developing apps/mobile games?
PA: Keep your vision focused and stay as true to it as possible.

What’s an important thing to keep in mind when designing apps?
PA: Nothing lasts forever. Don’t get stuck attempting to find some perfect design solution, because you will always be changing. Refine, revise and repeat.

How do apps like ChoreMonster engage kids? What can you tell us about your app and what’s going on behind the scenes in terms of usage?
AB: We use shapes and colors as cues for kids, and use the least amount of text possible – since some kids using our app aren’t able to read yet. In ChoreMonster, we also have two levels of gamification, with collectible monsters that speak specifically to a child’s sense of humor.

We just hit the six million chore completed mark on ChoreMonster, in only about a year and a half, and we just launched on Android and Kindle Fire a little over a month ago.

What marketing tactics can designers use to grow their audience?
AB: It’s actually been really helpful for us to attend conferences like GDC Next. It’s a place where you’re able to meet and learn from other developers, through networking and attending sessions where developers share what works for them.

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