PRINCIPLES

OF DESIGNING FOR CHILDREN
WITH CHILDREN’S RIGHTS & ETHICS

Key Principles

1. Everyone can play
I need a product that does not discriminate against characteristics such as gender, age, ability, language, ethnicity and socio-economic status. My parents, teachers, experts and communities also care about your product or service so include them in the process. And keep in mind that I might use your product even if it’s not designed for me.
2. Give me control and offer support
Give me the tools I need to adapt your product or service to my needs. Consider where I am at in my development to both inspire me and nurture my growth. I need support to acquire new skills and encouragement to try self-driven challenges.
3. I have purpose so make my influence matter
Help me understand my place and value in the world. I need space to build and express a stronger sense of self. You can help me do this by involving me as a contributor (not just a consumer). I want to have experiences that are meaningful to me.
4. Offer me something safe
Ensure you provide me with a model for healthy behaviour. A marked path or ‘lifeguard’ can tell me why something is unsafe, and then prevent me from doing it to strengthen responsible digital literacy. Make sure you equip my guardians with an understanding of this as well. And don’t forget that my data should be handled with the utmost respect and care.
5. Create space for play (including a choice to chill)
When using your product or service, consider different moods, views and contexts of play . I am active, curious and creative but it is also okay to give me a break and offer me some breathing space. Foster interactive and passive time.
6. Encourage me to be active and play with others
My well-being, social life, play, creativity, self-expression and learning can be enhanced when I collaborate and share with others. Provide me with experiences to help me build relationships and social skills with my peers and community.
7. Give me room to explore and experiment
I need to experiment, take risks and learn from my mistakes. If/when there are mistakes, support me to fix them by myself. Encourage my curiosity but consider my capabilities based on age and development. Be mindful of the time I need to learn something new.
8. Use communication I can relate to
Consider all forms of communication and make it accessible to all. Visuals can help me to learn, explore, play, and imagine the future. But keep in mind that age, ability, culture and language also impact the way my friends and I will interact with your product or service.
9. Make it flexible for me
Consider my open and fixed types of play or learning in your design. This flexibility allows me to choose a personal path and keeps opportunities open for me. Expect me to use your product in unintended ways.
10. You don’t know me, so make sure you include me
You should spend time with me, my friends and my guardians before you design a product or service. We have good ideas that could help you. Also ensure that you talk with people who are experts on my needs.
Supporting well-being and healthy psychological and cognitive development
1. I want my child to be safe at any time.
How have you taken into account data privacy and safety issues?
Have you taken physical safety into account?

  • Provide safe environments, that both children and their parents can trust at any time.
  • Install age-appropriate mechanisms that prevent children from sharing information that might harm them now or later on.
  • Pay particular attention to these issues if designing a social media platform.
  • Provide a safe encryption mechanism, so the children’s data is safe at any time.
  • Consider the child’s body and how your product might impact on them physically
    at different developmental stages of their life.
2. I want your product to consider my child’s balanced life.
How have you designed for balanced consumption of your product?

  • Your product needs to be considered in terms of the child’s general well-being and needs in terms of diet, sleep, physical activity and education as well as sexual development.
  • Co-create throughout with parents and child developmental experts – involve them in the design process.
  • Respect the recommended and age-appropriate content and amount of time of usage.
  • Always consider the effects content and time of usage might have on the child – avoid mechanisms that lead to addiction or over-use.
3. Give my child quality content that fits their developmental stage.
How have you considered whether the content and quality is appropriate to the age
and development of the user?

  • Provide only age-appropriate content and design for appropriate speed and pause.
    Find out what your age group is like: what they like to do; how they perceive their reality;
    how they process visual and verbal information.
  • Pay attention to the next developmental level (learning motivation)
  • Make sure the content is not harmful. Take into account the tone of voice, e.g. in feedback messages, and in failing. Create positive competition.
4. Encourage my child to be active and play with others.
How does your product foster active usage and participatory play?

  • Inspire open-ended play that grows their creative confidence.
  • Encourage physical play, social play.
  • Stimulate reflection and active problem-solving – kickstarting their imagination.
5. Involve my child, their family, and experts in the making.
How has your product been designed using collaboration and co-creation methods?

  • The children are the real experts, and their perspective should drive design development.
  • Co-create throughout with kids, parents and experts – involve them in the design process.
  • Validate final product in test groups and with experts before launching it.
6. Strengthen my child’s sense and development of self.
How has your product been developed for children to explore and transform their sense of self?

  • Always design for diversity and inclusion.
  • Develop curiosity-stimulating role models – experiences that stimulates reflection.
  • Help the child better understand itself in relation to others, and make it natural for it to set its own limits, develop and transform, as it’s understanding of the world around it grows.
7. Consider that my child is unique and has different needs and capabilities.
How does your solution embrace diversity and ensure accessibility and consider limitations?

  • Consider children’s individual physical and cultural characteristics; functional abilities;
  • different genders; family structures; age differences.
  • Think about children with disabilities or accessibility problems; how would they use your product?
  • Don’t limit children in who they are, let them express themselves creatively.
8. I want this product to be non-exploitative, ethical and socially responsible.
Did you consider the impact and responsibility you may have as a designer on the child’s development stage?

  • Don’t exploit the child, or children’s behaviour, in any way.
  • Consider the child’s developmental stage; can your design have a positive impact?
  • Designing shouldn’t be just for sales. Be clear who benefits most from the product:
    your business, the parents, or the child and their peers?
  • Did you consider different, more appropriate, business models (e.g. open source)?
9. Remember, I am the parent. Involve me in the making and teach me about your product.
How have you designed the experience to include parents or responsible adults?

  • Educate the parents; help them understand what the product is about.
  • Make it clear if there is any risks regarding the child’s data security or privacy.
  • Give clear recommendations on age limits.
  • Consider that the content can affect the child’s emotional state in different levels.
    Is there any sensitive material or scenarios that may emotionally affect the child?
    How can parents protect or support their child when using the product?
10. I want the product to support my child’s health and well-being.
How does your product foster physical and mental well-being?

  • Consider the child’s different development stages: cognitive, neurological, well-being.
    Involve experts working with children, if needed.
  • Design your product to help the child have a healthy daily rhythm (such as eating, sleeping, waking up, having fresh air, doing physical activity etc.). Help the child be creative. Encourage the child to be physically active.
  • Consider the option to be part of a community. Have you designed the product to be used in the real world, as part of the family or group of friends?
Nurturing the child as a social being and a citizen
1. Purpose
Let me find my own way

Help children develop intrinsic motivation to engage in meaningful experiences. Let children define their own objectives, without necessarily constraining your design to entirely become goal-oriented.

External rewards can hinder children’s sense of purpose, while a personal, deep motivation can help them get the most out of what they experience. Whether you are designing a product or service or other artifact, make sure children understand its value and can make it their own. When an end user values a product they are more likely to engage with it and express positive feelings about it.

Children’s sense of purpose evolves as they grow older and may range from performing simple actions to accomplishing complex tasks.

2. Participation
I want to be part of something bigger!

Design for multiple levels of participation and engagement. Let the user choose how they want to participate and to what level.

Learning and development come from both observation and participation. A healthy community includes introverts and extroverts and should accommodate all. Kids have different levels of confidence and experience but all should be welcome and accommodated.

The meaning, function and requirements of a participatory experience change for different age ranges as children’s confidence, identity and awareness of privacy develop.

3. Agency
I want control!

Give the user the tools they need to adapt the product for their particular needs. Tell them how their choices may affect the product and inform them of the options available to them.

If you don’t force the users into a specific behaviour but allow them to explore and express in their own way they can grow with your design.

A product that tailors itself to the user increases engagement, retention and sense of ownership.

4. Access
I want to use your product!

Design with exploration and curiosity in mind. Facilitate a child’s desire to learn and discover.

Ensure the content is delivered in a format accessible to all potential users. That will help to maximise your potential user base.

Be mindful of the child’s surrounding context: for example functional varity, social economic environment, the type of media and platform they use for access.

Be transparent about the strategic and business choices on user data management and inclusion.

5. Responsibility
Let me experiment, take risks and learn from my mistakes.

Create an environment that expects responsibility and helps the users to form that community.

Allow your users the freedom to experiment, fail and understand the consequences. The older they are the less guidance they are likely to need.

An intuitive product fosters engagement.

6. Identity
I don’t know who I am yet, let me find myself in my own time. Let me hide myself or let me shine. Give me the tools to construct an identity that I am happy with.

Make sure your design respect children’s right to define their identity and encourages and supports them in doing so.

As they grow, children develop a more and more articulated understanding of themselves in relation to other people, family member, peers or other individuals within the same social context. Relating to role models and interacting with others can help children form their identity.

Allowing a user to form and change identity within a product fosters loyalty, familiarity and ownership.

7. Diversity
You don’t know me, but make sure you include me.

Create an inclusive product that does not discriminate against characteristics such as gender, age, functional variety, ethnicity, socio-economic status and race.

Don’t make assumptions about your user base, research the needs of the audience and ensure they can be accommodated, or risk excluding users. Accessibility could be the unique offer that lifts your product above the competition.

Diversity is a unique possibility to introduce children to new perspectives.

Be mindful about how the surrounding context is portrayed. Avoid stereotyping!

8. Safety
Don’t wrap me in cotton wool, but don’t let me get into too much trouble either! Tell me why something is unsafe, then prevent me from doing it.

Define and establish a safe environment for participation.

Consider all potential forms of participation: active participation vs. observation. Regarding data collection: ensure privacy is respected (COPPA and other legal requirements), and only collect information essential to product use. Provide age and role appropriate information about product use, and how information regarding product use will be used and stored.

Parents are increasingly concerned with safety issues, ensuring your product exceeds their expectations will differentiate you from competing products.

Encouraging self-expression, creativity, learning & play
1. Everyone can play
Include me and all my friends (with various ages and abilities). My parents, teachers, and communities also care about your product or service so include them too.
2. Offer me support
Consider my previous learning experience (knowledge and skills) to inspire me to explore further. Give me support to acquire new skills and encourage me to try self-driven challenges, trigger new connections and help me to try things outside my comfort zone.
3. Make my influence matter:
Involve me in the ‘game’ by encouraging me to contribute content (not just consume it). Give me space to express myself.
4. Offer me safe guidance
Ensure you provide me a marked path or ‘lifeguard’ to model healthy behaviour and encourage my responsible digital literacy.
5. Create space and choice to chill
During play and creative activities, it is okay to give me a break, offer me some breathing space without encouraging excessive use of your product or service.
6. Share and make it social
My play, creativity, self-expression and learning can be enhanced when I collaborate and share with others.
7. Give me room to explore (and enough responsibility)
I need time to learn and if/when there are mistakes, support me to fix them by myself.
8. Use communication I can relate to
Visuals can help me to learn, explore, play, and imagine the future. We are all from different cultures and speak different languages, so keep this in mind too.
9. Make it flexible for me
Consider my open and fixed types of play or learning in your design. This flexibility allows me to choose a personal path and keeps opportunities open for me.
Ensuring Safety and privacy
1. You are responsible of the safety of your product for me
Don’t assume anyone else will do it. Include the safety features into the product, they shouldn’t be external or provided by third party.
2. I might use your product even if it’s not designed for me
Always consider how your product will be used by children of different age groups. Also consider how you can disable predator use cases of your product.
3. Explain the privacy issues so that I can understand it and protect myself
Consider child development and diversity in order to provide appropriate content. Use appropriate language (accessibility, education) when communicating security and privacy instructions/knowledge.
4. Help me find good stuff and protect me from the bad
It should be easy to get to the content I’m looking for. Stop me from accidentally entering to inappropriate content, contacts etc.
5. I need help from adults
My parents or teachers don’t always know how to use my apps safely. They need information, too.
6. I have right to my privacy
As I grow more independent I need more privacy and sometimes I need protection from my parents guardians.
7. I need safe guardianship
My parents aren’t always around, if they’re not, protect me from potential harm.
8. Prepare for the possible worst case scenarios
Consider how the product could be misused and keep in mind that the development is ongoing project and you probably need to react ant change things.
9. It’s safer when me and other people behave in a positive manner
and I’d like your design to promote or reward positive behaviour.
10. I feel safer when I have easy access to help and guidance
when facing scary or threatening content or people. Eg. visible help button.
11. Help others help me
Help the community by contributing to the open source standards for user and child user protection. Others can more easily find the best practices and help protect children.
12. Respect my data
Do you really need all the data you are collecting? Is it possible for me to use your products anonymously. Me or my parents need to know where all the information of me is stored and who sees or uses it.
Now that you’re armed with principles, you’re ready to start your project’s design process using Designing for Children Guide’s Methods.
*"Talkoot is a Finnish expression for a gathering of friends and neighbours to accomplish a task. […] The task of the talkoot may be something that is a common concern for the good of the group or it may be to help someone with a task that exceeds his or her own capacity." (Wikipedia)