User Research for UX App: Studying Child Cognition

Shayeri das
4 min readNov 23, 2018


In my earlier post, I mentioned how I aim to design an advanced learning experience for kids. Hence, I deep dived into conducting usability tests to figure out what kids want to see, touch, listen and and feel while interacting with a graphical user interface. I also learnt why considering embodied cognition is important to discern a child’s decision making process in an application.

An interesting constraint surfaced during my process of understanding child cognition is that 9% of kids rely on adult worry and thus designing an app for kids also involves targeting secondary audience, i.e. parents. When unable to take a critical decision, kids trust on reliable sources, i.e. adults to protect themselves from undesired results. However, it’s only a small fraction and thus a lower priority.

While kids of various age groups may differ in their action making process, the following points seem to be a desideratum for interactive app aimed for children:

  • Kids need instant effects after almost every action/gesture.
  • Storytelling/Modelling out an action helps kids to replicate the same to achieve desired results.
  • Kids take everything literally, and thus act emotionally, not rationally.
  • Kids need more encouragement since they lose patience easily.
  • Kids are process oriented and thus learn faster.

Now let’s check out age specific interface requirements as they vary more diversely.

Newborns(0–12 months):

Kids spend the first three months connecting and coordinating with the caregiver. Taste and hearing are fully developed while vision partially develops and thus they learn only to reflect to adult facial gestures. A broad smile or frowned eyebrows can help them categorise results. Newborns react to intense sensations like sudden noises, light etc and they prefer seeing faces rather than random graphical shapes/colours.

During 6–12 months, the data for predictive results of any experience is higher during this phase as kids have just developed rudimentary form of understanding of the surroundings and show a lot of primer reflex and enjoy seeing repeating enjoyable actions.

Toddlers(1–2 years)

Toddlers tend to interact more often with surroundings, in the form of grabbing, moving, pulling and pushing things. They begin experimenting with new things and learn on a trial and error basis. They begin exploring experiences which are amazing, bewildering, challenging, exhausting, amusing and fulfilling.

Thus educational toys and games with experimentation is the recommended design for this age range where goals are achieved through thoughtful solutions. Also, interfaces has to provide a bigger tapping area as well as large shapes and pictures with instant visuals and feedback. Text should be kept as minimal as possible.

Montessori(3–6 years)

By this age, kids develop understanding of actions like swipe, scroll and navigation. This is the most adorable age and time for imagination to run wild. Patience is the least during this period and there is possibility of multiple clicks at the same time. They speak clearly with a vocab of 250–300 words and start to distinguish between different types of content. If they click on featured ad games and in-app purchases accidentally, and things happen the way they want to, they will repeatedly navigate to that section. Thus, it is advisable to start using child locks and parental controls for payment options.

However, they focus on only one object and it’s associated actions at a time and can be used as a bait to achieve shorter outcomes through longer engagement. Also, too many distractions in the experience can cause them to lose patience and never repeat using the application.

Middle Childhood(7–12 years)

By this age, kids get tech savvy and can fully read instructional and content heavy applications. However due to the vast availability of apps, they avoide interfaces which require involvement of lot of grey matter. Applications need special focus on establishing credibility by providing help at all possible instances kids can falter rather than providing instructions. During this age, kids also start competing with adults in using apps, and notice a lot of adult interactions with an app. This phase is called the Development Zone of interaction where apps can start expecting predictive results for a specified action as in case of adults.

Lastly, considering a child’s safety on topmost priority, the content of an interactive application should be physically and mentally healthy for a child to inculcate.



Shayeri das

Design Thinker. Problem Solver. Middle School Maths Teacher and part time UX Designer