Fourteenth – but not exactly

This week’s readings included an article by Debra Levin Gelman: Designing Web Registration Processes for Kids. Because I am planning to build a site for kids, I had great expectations. And especially because I was going to have a login part, which I did not include in my designs since I was not sure about how to code it, but this is marginal now. I was starting to read this article with the awe that it is really tailored to my interests, but soon I was disillusioned. Exactly when the author got to the second line. She opens with describing why it is difficult to create a login for kids six to eight-year-old. Here is the first argument: “You’re trying to create a digital experience for people who lack the cognitive capacity to understand abstraction.” She is just wrong. Children are capable of understanding abstraction. This is why in day school the teacher can teach them about how to spend money “wisely” by using beans instead of coins. Of course, they understand not every level of abstraction, which makes them not really different form any other age group. As adults have different cognitive levels, children’s vary as well.

The author uses the word abstraction several more times, and the more she uses it, the less I believe that she and I use this word for the same purposes. For example, she believes, that kids would unlikely register if one gives them abstract notions as arguments in favor of registering. “Since kids in this age group find it hard to understand and visualize abstract ideas, it’s important to communicate tangible benefits at the outset of the registration process.” Her argument is that if a Barbie figure or a Lego minifigure “tells” the kid user the benefits of registering, and shows them, how a stored game score, as an example of such benefits,  in the site looks, kids will be more likely to register. I think, also this way, storing game scores remains the same abstract notion, if it was at the beginning, which I doubt. However, the minifigure talking is much more gamy, friendly, and part of the game experience, hence it is more appealing than to look at a rectangle that asks for username and password. So, yes, Gelman is right that such visualisation helps bridging over hardships of understanding, but not abstraction. And there could be many other reasons why the seven-year-old in her example did not want to register and just play than the lack of understanding of the dubious benefit of storing game scores. One of them could have been that he just wanted to play a game.

At a certain point, we also learn that kids are more likely to remember passwords that they make up than those that are web site-generated. Her approach to the permissibility of kids “obvious” choices of usernames like “poopyhead” must come for a very unfortunate experience with a very special sort of kids. I do not intend to design my website having these kinds of kids in my mind…

But the generalizations – I consider them necessary to conceptualize audiences – do not stop there. According to the author, “Kids are pretty smart when it comes to web terminology.” Yet the example of a girl shows that she understands the word submit only if connected to homework and not when it appears on the screen. Another example tells about a boy who at the age of seven could not think that secret code might refer to password. At the same time, they ” don’t like being patronized or talked down to. For example, referring to other players or users as “friends” is presumptuous and a little demeaning.” So neither the “adult” web-words nor the infantile terms work. It is good to have a table that offers a good “vocabulary” to be used on kids sites. However, after reading these examples, I do not really see the point of it. After all, Gelman writes about kids six to eight-year-old as a group lacking the cognitive capacity to understand abstraction. To develop a vocabulary that meets that intellectual level instead of visually supporting the “adult” web vocabulary like being able to recognize the function of the submit button, apparently is not demeaning, at all. Such websites will keep their six to eight-year-old users at the same “fun” and limited cognitive level. More articles like Gelman’s can be written about how to design web sites for this type of audience.

Most importantly, however,”kids in this age group are still slightly egocentric, meaning they have trouble seeing things from other perspectives. As a result, words like “me,” “my,” and “mine” are confusing.” I think this is an unfortunate word choice, even if it is in Latin. And the illustration to this is the case of a six-year-old, who did not understand that he was supposed to fill in his name into the window where it said “my name.” In my mind it has nothing to do with egocentrism. Not with either much or little of it. It has to do with the parent, who allowed the kid to go online without any guidance and whom the author describes as people with “deep-seated fear of sharing personal information.” Maybe such parent would also learn to which websites his or her child visits and limit the web usage from the computer that the child uses.

I guess, it is a waste of bytes to further detail my disagreement with how kids are described here. Also, I had my non-expert common sense to look at web sites designed for kids when I started to think about mine. And it is unnecessary to say, I continue to look at them. The ideas Gelman lists here are great, interesting, useful. But I got them without reading her article, I could just go to these sites and study them. Nevertheless,  articles like this are important and helpful especially for someone who is about to design his or her first web site ever, and even if they provoke me to write posts that are not part of my assignments.



    • rrolfe
    • February 26th, 2012

    Great analysis! If you find an article about designing for kids that you do agree with, send it my way.

    • Thanks so much! Quite a time ago, I saved this article for myself: Children’s Websites: Usability Issues in Designing for Kids
      I found it useful, especially because it refrains from judgements and has a very straightforward approach. One of my favorite sentences that characterizes their approach: “Website design for kids is typically based purely on folklore about how kids supposedly behave — or, at best, on insights gleaned when designers observe their own children, who hardly represent average kids, typical Internet skills, or common knowledge about the Web.” I also liked that the author summarizes the researches on which he founds his suggestions. His table of comparison between children and adult users is very interesting. Even if there are issues that are not clearly framed, this article, combined with a research on already existing sites is a very good basis to start off. I think that anybody, who wishes to launch a new site, first does a market search in order to see if his or her future site will offer anything different that what is already out there. Thus he or she anyway will look through the already existing techniques of presenting navigation, login, etc.
      What I did not see in any article is the discussion of how to considerate the use of kids internet sites in schools and the need to comply with the expectations of school boards or any other official body.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: