Our friends over at Oven Bits, an app design agency, have agreed to share some of their design expertise with our BuzzShift blog readers. Below is a post by Oven Bits designer Micah Davis. Be sure to check out their blog for upcoming posts from the BuzzShift team.

Kids today are using technology from a very young age. A parent’s smartphone or tablet often doubles as a toy, teaching tool, or digital babysitter for their children.

Designing kid-friendly apps is a much different experience than designing for adults, though. It involves more than just using bright colors and drawing cheerful cartoon characters.

After a recent foray into creating kid-focused apps, I thought I should share some observations and lessons learned. To keep it simple, below are my top three design tips for creating apps for kids.

1.  Design with kids every step of the way.

Children have an innate lack of filter for their mouths. They unabashedly say what they think and feel, without regard for watering-down honesty.

This pure, unbiased feedback can be a refreshing feedback loop for designers. While building the Bible App for Kids at Oven Bits, the design and development team made an early commitment to put mockups and early builds in front of real kids as frequent as possible. These in-person playtests yielded product feedback with the likes of…

This unbiased, and sometimes comical, feedback was invaluable to designing intuitive user experiences, loveable illustrations and delightful animation sequences. After 6 months on the project, team members had observed the behaviors, gestures and facial expressions of over 80 kids from 8 test sessions.

Beyond kids’ apps, every project’s visuals and functionality can benefit from customer testing along the way. It just so happens that those little guys and gals have a knack for directly communicating their experiences.

2.  Design for future-friendly, multi-device resolutions.

Thanks to the Apples, Samsungs and Googles of the world, designers are faced with an increasing challenge to concept experiences across a range of device resolutions, pixel densities and orientations.

Starting with a focused MVP (minimum viable product) set of design principles is awesome. Marrying that approach with a forward-thinking plan for design flexibility will save boatloads of hours, dollars and resources down the road.

Too many children’s apps seem to have been created for a tablet and then later shoehorned into a mobile device’s screen dimensions. The result is often a mix of illegible text, conflicting touch targets, poor scene composition or littered gameplay.

A few days or week of time spent early on for planning, testing and wrangling design concepts into different device renderings will expose limitations, development specs and design boundaries. Knowing these sooner-rather-than-later is extremely helpful.

3.  Design interfaces that can scale beyond English.

Despite the global economy boom over the last few decades, interfaces and imagery seem to be largely stuck in an old school, one dimensional language world. English is one of the most concise languages on the planet. It’s important to think about how text strings, labels, buttons, content containers and other UI elements can scale in size.

Many children’s books and games rely heavily on imagery as the root of the subject matter. The  illustrations, graphics, story sketches, gameplay and interfaces are all sunk costs for the project. Beyond cultural considerations (which are important), these facets of a project can easily scale if designed with multiple languages in mind. If not, they can prove to be too costly of an added set of work to later extend into a new market.

Traditionally, designers play a significant role in the early phases of a project. This positioning can influence any website or app’s product roadmap well beyond pixels. If you’ve tackled a kids’ project from these standpoints, others or just have a question, I’d love to both hear about them and dialog it together in the comments below. (or shoot me an email at micah.davis@ovenbits.com)