Posted June 23, 2014, By Justin Stobbs, Developer
I use my son at work.
I am a programmer. I am busy building an online puzzle game (desktop and tablet), for young children. The game is simple...the child chooses a difficulty level (easy, medium, hard), and is then presented with 4 or 8 puzzle pieces. While coding, I had a conversation with a colleague about how the puzzle pieces should be interacted with on desktop, versus on mobile. Does a child naturally single-click on a piece to pick it up, move it to where it should be, and then single-click again to release? Or should it work like on a tablet with a press-drag-release interaction? The target age-group are still developing their fine motor skills and dexterity, so the argument was made that it will be easier for the child to single-click to pick up a piece, and single click again to place it. Makes sense.
I decided to get my son (5), to play the puzzle game on desktop. Surprisingly, his first attempt was to click-drag and release. He didn't understand why the piece didn't move when he clicked, and why it was "stuck" to the mouse when he released. He clicked again, because he thought there was something wrong with the mouse. I then explained to him how the interaction worked, he grasped it, and finished the puzzle.
He didn't want to play again.
I tweaked the code, and implemented press-drag-release interaction for the desktop version. I got my son to play again, expecting him to interact int he way I explained to him last time. However, His first attempt was once again click-drag, which is how the game now behaved. No explanation needed, and nothing blocking him from playing. He finished the puzzle, and went on to spend a further 10 minutes building other puzzles in the game.
We've said it before, and we'll say it again. Knowing your audience is everything. And if you're not 100% certain, test it. Putting it in front of children will show you much more, in a much shorter time, than any amount of analytics. Of course having a base knowledge is how you get to testing stage, but once there, you want to be ironing out the finer details and creating a great user experience. The design and UX of a game for children should be simple and intuitive enough that there is no need for a help section. The aim is to produce something that they can play with some autonomy, without the frustrations of a back and forth tutorial with an adult.
Children want things to work. To respond when they click, and to do what they expect. So it's our job to know and discover just what that is.