Technology is forever being used in new and exciting ways. That’s why it’s important that you consider all sorts of different target audiences in your design work. This includes children.

Programs and operating systems are increasingly being designed with kids in mind. For example, with the launch of the Windows 8 operating system for Windows phone came a new feature called Kid’s Corner. Once activated, it lets your children access apps, games, videos and music on your phone. Meanwhile, it restricts them from the important or unsafe features, such as your email or contacts. Furthermore, there are now a huge range of fun and educational apps for kids. As this market expands, it’s only natural that icon designers will be in higher and higher demand for software and apps for children. We look at a few good ways of making an icon suitable for children.

Age range

This may seem obvious, but it’s important to avoid the mistake of assuming an icon will be targeting all ages. As any parent knows, children’s cognitive abilities develop rapidly. A set of icons designed for 3-5 year olds will be radically different to something designed for 10-12 year olds. Any client should outline the specific age range their app is made for, so that you may design accordingly. Much younger children will feel uncomfortable and confused by text-based designs. Any icons for that age range should rely much more upon effective and simple imagery.

It’s thus important to look at the sorts of images children at different stages are accustomed to. This is so they can easily associate the icon with the features of the app in question. If it’s a mobile game, it might be worth designing the app around the iconography of that game. This might include designing an icon around a character sprite in the game. Alternatively, model the icon on real-life toys children of that age might play with, such as a football or a teddy bear. Older children may be more comfortable with icons that use text. It all depends on the target age range of the software itself. As always, strong communication with your client and visual association is very important.

Navigation and holistic design

If you’re designing a set of icons for a site or an app interface, it’s important that you make navigation as simple as possible. Children don’t tend to use the internet or apps for information – they use them for fun. Therefore, it would be a good move to bear in mind how these icons are going to be laid out. Many sites aimed at children use unconventional layouts for navigation. One example is the use of a ‘map’ of icons, rather than a straightforward list.

If this is the case, designing an icon meant for a conventional rectangular layout may be inappropriate. Think outside of the box – alternative primary shapes like circles may work better for icons in such systems. However you approach icon design for children, it’s important to make sure they fit within a wider system of easy access. It’s also why consistency is so vital to strong design work.

Simplicity

It might be tempting to use lots of vivid, bright colours to make your designs eye-catching. It is definitely true that children rely strongly on colours to understand the world around them from an early age. However, it’s important not to fall into the trap of over-complicating your design. If it is too ‘busy’, it will cease to serve as an effective ‘roadsign’ to young users – who of course rely on visual information much more than adults do. A clean, simple design that incorporates basic shapes and a primary colour scheme will go a long way. This of course links with the broad techniques discussed in the first two points and other posts. Minimalist techniques might come in very useful in this respect.

A design for all ages

Although the focus here is on icons for children, these are all techniques that can help vastly improve icon design work – regardless of audience. The key thing to do is to bear in mind a user’s cultural frames of reference as well as their level of comprehension. This is how you can really adapt your design work to different audiences. Remember, if you’re able to make an icon work for kids, you’ll be able to make an icon work for anybody.

Adam Parrish

Owner and creative director at Creative Freedom Ltd. Unbelievably cool icon design expert, husband, and father of two awesome girls. A proper decent chappy and thoroughly fab to work with. Ok, so I wrote my own bio…

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