Designing for Kids: Cognitive Considerations

From Nielson Norman Group:

Summary: Children’s cognitive skills are still developing, so their reasoning abilities are weaker than those of adults. To help them successfully use an interface, designs should display clear, specific instructions, leveraging kids’ mental models and prior knowledge.


To update our report on UX design for children , we recently conducted user testing with kids aged 3 to 12 using websites and applications on laptops and mobile devices. We ran individual sessions for the youngest (3–5) and oldest (9–11) age groups, and dyads for participants aged 6 to 8. We’ve written before about how to design for kids based on their physical development . An equally important consideration is the dramatic cognitive development that occurs between ages 3 and 12. By considering the cognitive capacity of different age groups, designers can make websites and apps usable and appealing to younger audiences.

Piaget’s Development Theory

According to the Jean Piaget, kids’ cognitive ability to reason, infer, and make connections is still developing . That development happens in different stages:

In both stages, other key cognitive capacities are also immature: the theory of mind (understanding the intentions and emotions of others), cognitive flexibility (processing conflicting information and switching perspectives), and executive function (planning and monitoring their own behaviors).

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