The idea that children younger than five now have ready access to the web can be nerve-wracking. With their brutal honesty about what they like and don't like, there has been extensive research done into how to properly design sites for children. One of the best ways to understand the trends without wading through the scholarly sources is to look at some of the more prominent kids' sites, and see what they have in common. Some may look odd to you, but to kids, these simple design elements can make or break a site.
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Bright Colors and Pictures
Children are notorious for having short attention spans. The good thing is that kids are stimulated by many factors like bright colors and lots of graphics. Both of these elements make big impressions on young minds. Color combinations like teal and yellow may have no place on an adult website, but on a site like PBS Kids where they get to interact with characters from Curious George or Sesame Street, kids appreciate the off-beat combinations.
Kids also love pictures. If you take a look at some sites advertising toys website templates they leave room for more pictures than text. Children using sites built from these templates may not yet be able to read, or are just learning to, so interacting with text may be awkwardand should be used sparingly. Colorful designs and big pictures create a happy mood, and kids will remember and return to a site that makes them happy.
Easy to Navigate
You want to minimize scrolling because it's a very precise action geared more toward adults than kids. Oversimplifying navigation is the way to go. Map layouts, larger fonts, and icons that kids can just click and and go, are most effective. Using a picture-oriented navigation bar helps kids find what they're looking for quickly.
Sounds and Animation
In addition to oversimplifying navigation, integrating sound into the navigation, as well as other parts of the site, is an excellent auditory cue, and also helps kids associate certain elements with certain sounds. For example, some sites use a child's voice to explain an action when the mouse hovers over the icon. Eventually, the child will link the words with the actions, and be able to scroll through your site muchfaster.
Animating characters provides additional stimulus. One site that does this well isSeussville. Its whimsical music and animated animals, such as Horton and the Lorax, set the theme for the site, and deliver an exciting environment for kids to read learn.
Remember the Games
Just like many adults, or maybe even more so, kids love playing games. If you want to occupy a child's attention for more than a few minutes, games that entertain as well as educate, stimulate them, and keep them engaged. The key is to allow direct interaction. Sites like Disney Pixar's Cars site allows kids to customize their own cars. NASA Kids Club uses games to teach them about astronomy.
While you may not be designing a graphically intensive site like Disney or Dr. Seuss, assimilating certain design elements can make your kids site a fun treat.