Kids are a tough audience. But many companies offering “family-friendly” products – toys, games, food, books, movies — need to reach children and win their approval.
Creating a kid-friendly website requires a design team to be imaginative in many ways:
COLORS. Kids like vivid colors, which makes sense – why live in a dull world of pastels when you can be dazzled by bright blazing blue or royal raging red?
SIGHT & SOUND. Pictures are worth more than a thousand words when a child’s vocabulary is less than 1,000 words. And the picture is worth even more when it’s in motion. Kids love fantastic, funny animation — and designers love the challenge of giving it to them. Kids also love wacky sound effects. Don’t we all? Our Vlasic pickle website demonstrates “the power of crunch” with “the loudest pickle on earth.” The Internet is not a library, so why read in silence? Use music, VO and SFX!
TEXT. Even if you are trying to reach a relatively small age group – say, 5-8 years old – there is still a big difference in vocabulary for a 5 year old and an 8 year old. The writer’s challenge is to use simple words in clever ways, appealing to people of all ages. It’s not much different than the challenge facing a screenwriter to come up with simple but snappy dialogue for a mainstream movie. “Go ahead, make my day.” “I’ll be back.” “Show me the money.” “I’m the king of the world.” “I see dead people.” “You talkin’ to me?” The mistake some people make in writing for children is that, worried about vocabulary, they dumb-down their own imagination. When you write for children, just try to entertain your inner kid. That will get you started in the right direction.
INTERACTIVE. Kids are more than computer-savvy; they are computer-spoiled. They explore a site with the expectation that it’s a two-way street. They click on words and pictures that interest them, hoping that more information and images will pop. A great kids’ site is like a treasure map – it holds the promise of treasure for those who seek it, but it gives the curious the satisfaction that they discovered and dug it up themselves.
GAMES. Life is fun and games, right? Well, it should be at a kids’ website. For the Van de Kamp’s frozen seafood website, we created 4 games – fishing for nuggets, stacking falling sea snacks, placing the 50 states on a US map, and a memory game. At the Mrs. Butterworth website, we featured Mrs. B’s Puzzle and Color Your Own Art because games make a site as sticky as syrup.
STRATEGIC ALLIANCES. An online Mrs. Butterworth writing contest was cosponsored by Scholastic Books. The prizes included Scholastic books, savings bonds, and seeing a winning story featured and celebrated online. Having the support of an organization like Scholastic Books, or perhaps a well-known charity, helps convey your genuine, public commitment to doing something worthwhile for children.
RESPONSIBILITY. Kids may be computer-sophisticated, but they are still children. They may not seem as “impressionable” as earlier generations that didn’t grow up with online movies and interactivity, but they aren’t cynics. And site designers shouldn’t be cynical about winning their approval. Any “infotainment” aimed at children should appeal to their better instincts. If you’re not sure whether something is suitable for children, test it first on some parents. When in doubt, leave it out.
HAVE FUN. Whether you are creating games and contests, or adding music and animation, go with the flow of your imagination. This is serious business, but don’t take it seriously. It’s recess. Enjoy.
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