Visual principles when designing for children
Author: Natalia de Frutos Ramos - Senior Game Artist
Children are some of the most demanding users; everything needs to be simplified, immediate, and eye-catching.
There are many reasons for them to get frustrated: if children need to wait for a long time in the game, they quit it; if they don’t understand the gameplay, they quit it; if they can’t interact properly with the in-game assets, they quit it. These challenges can be met with the following: attractive elements and effects to draw attention; simplified and direct instructions; and appropriate sizes, colors and contrasts to maximize usability.
It’s essential to strengthen some parts of the game with stimulating and rewarding experiences, especially in moments with no interaction. These are good moments to include animations, particles, or other stimulating elements that make the waiting more enjoyable.
In addition, their sense of aesthetics doesn’t work the same as adults'. They usually require a wider range of stimuli to find a product attractive; in other words, a game needs to trigger a positive emotion in children. When children see a visual asset for a second time, they will recognize it more easily if it was matched with sound effects or motion in the past, so all these dimensions are equally relevant.
As far as instructions are concerned, visual, clear, and straightforward indications allow for a deep understanding of the game. Animation can also be an excellent resource here: not only for children but also adults benefit from more visual instructions. Particularly in the age of immediacy, users prefer less wordiness.
The color palette and contrasts need to be adapted to each age range. For instance, a color palette for babies can be more simple and include less bright tones for calmness, whereas one for preschoolers would rely on primary colors to give a sense of energy and increase stimulation.
The code we use to convey a message through color is key, particularly how we highlight different elements to encourage interaction. Contrast for interactive assets needs to be clear so as not to leave any doubt about touchable and not. Additionally, sizes and composition in the layout play an important role in compensating for children's developing psychomotricity. When it comes to the location of interactive assets, it is advisable to stay away from the edges of the screen, so children won't inadvertently open unwanted menus or, what's worse, close the game.
Also, shapes and amounts of detail need to be adapted to children's visual language alongside different visual codes. Hard and rounded corners won't be perceived the same – for example, a fluffy appearance is likely to remind children of their toys and other objects that trigger a positive feeling.
Last but not least, diversity and inclusion should also be part of the visuals. As artists, we have a responsibility to these values. The more diversity we include in characters and context, the more we contribute to their personal and cultural development.