Radio Johnny: Debra Gelman on Designing Digital Experiences for Children

On Radio Johnny we talk to interesting people in our field to get their thoughts and insights on the field. View all our shows.

Listen to this show

Show time: 28 minutes 40 seconds

Download as m4a | Download as mp3 | Subscribe

Today on Radio Johnny, Jeff Parks talks with Debra Gelman, User Experience Lead at Comcast Interactive. Debra shares key guidelines for designing for children; how these experiences can assist all designers in creating more effective online experiences for adults; as well as ways to create engaging social media interactions for children.


The area I’m really interested in and focused on are kids ages 7-11. These kids are in what Piaget called the concrete operational phase…because at this stage kids are beginning to understand the explicit, the concrete, but they’re still struggling with abstract concepts. They are looking for proof in their digital interactions!

When designing for kids, it’s a good idea to not always throw new, fresh content at them…Adults like that freshness…but for kids it throws them! If you’re designing for kids, make incremental changes.

Something I try to do in developing experiences for kids is to create something that they can hold onto, as part of the story, separate from the online experience. Whether it’s a principal certificate; whether it’s a membership card; anything fun that they can just quickly…have as a tangible concrete reminder of the experience is key because that’s all part of the story.


Debra shares important differences when designing for children, compared to that of adults from a better understanding of world-renowned Child Psychologist, Jean Piaget and the four stages of cognitive development.

Debra also notes three essential elements when attempting to design for children including those of familiarity, tangibility, and time sensitivity. She goes on to note that we can learn a great deal about designing for children and how such an understanding can help us design better for adults.

Show Notes

Jean Piaget – Four Stages of Cognitive Development:
Jean Piaget – Concrete Operational Stage of Cognitive Development
Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act – COPPA
Children’s Advertising Review Unit – CARU
Designing for Children – Designing Usable Sites for Children and Teens
Data about children on the Internet

Popular Sites for Kids 7 – 11

Science Education – Discovery Kids
General Education – FunBrain
Financial Literacy – Planet Orange
Games and Videos – Nickelodeon
Games and Videos – Cartoon Network
Virtual World – Club Penguin
Virtual World – Webkinz

Books by Morgan Kaufmann on Designing for Children

* Mobile Technology for Children
* Evaluating Children’s Interactive Products
* Coming in April 2011 “Understanding Kids: Designing Interactive Media for Children” by Mark Schlichting.


Thank you very much to our sponsors. If you would like to promote your organization on future episodes, please drop us a line!

Jeff Parks

Jeff is the co-founder of DIGIA UX Inc. and actively collaborates with industry professionals from around the world through his involvement with Boxes and Arrows and Johnny Holland. Jeff is also leading workshops on Information Architecture and User Experience Design over at Follow the UX Leader, in addition to volunteering his time as a Mentor and Member of the Board of Directors for the Information Architecture Institute.

8 comments on this article

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention » Radio Johnny: Debra Gelman on Designing Digital Experiences for Children Johnny Holland – It's all about interaction » Blog Archive --

  2. A very informative podcast Debra.
    I appreciate the effort you make in regards to explaining how and why children learn and interact with their digital environment. The sites that I designed were for children ages 3-5. It was a real eye opener while receiving feedback from these kids who couldn’t always articulate what they were trying to say properly.
    The biggest solution to invoke interactivity with the site was to place pictograms as navigation instruments instead of icons and wording.
    Your focus on kids ages 7-11 has also been educational and will remain in my knowledge library should the needs arise to design for this demographic.

  3. Pingback: Wow, Cool! Designing Digital Experiences for Kids « chaotic currents

  4. Deb on

    Thanks, Brett! Kids 3-5 bring a whole separate set of opportunities and challenges, but fortunately, most of these little ones use the computer with a parent or older sibling, so the interactions are somewhat influenced. Pictograms are a great way to communicate concepts, for kids as well as adults.

    My Twitter handle is @dgelman if anyone has questions or wishes to connect.

  5. Fascinating talk, with lots of excellent thoughts. I would like to correct one statement, however. Webkinz is the invention of GANZ, not gund as stated in the interview.

  6. Deb on

    Correction – Webkinz was created by GANZ, not Gund, as I state in the interview. Thanks to Susan McVeigh from GANZ for clarifying.


  7. Pingback: » Radio Johnny: Gerry Gaffney on UX Hong Kong Johnny Holland – It's all about interaction » Blog Archive

  8. Pingback: Weekly Roundup – UX focus | Bubulu Labs