Can a 3 year old teach you about web usability?

Anyone that follows Amanda Murphy’s Xbox and SharePoint blog is probably seen many mentions and photos of “Arnold” her 3 year old nephew.

This story is about paying attention to habits and learning usability by seeing it in action. Recently I was sitting at a computer with Arnold watching him browse the Disney website which I might add he found using MSN Seach himself (at 3 that is scary isn’t it).

What I noticed was just how much kids rely on visuals to match things up. While browsing the site he actually made a comment about “No not that one, This one ..”.

What he was referring to was the navigation on the page, more specifically the icons that were next to the items.

There are areas that have text based navigation and others that have small icons next to them. The one with the small icons he was able to associate with, knowing what disney characters etc. look like.

Based on the small block icons that represented movies etc. he was actually able to get to what he wanted on his own.

The moral of the story is you can learn usability by observing habits, even from a 3 year old.

When used properly a small visual representation / icon of a link can certainly boost the usability of a website, rather than browsing through text to search for something to click on we can see it, associate with it and get to the information faster and easier.

It’s certainly something to think about. Take search engines for example. If searches for ‘kids websites’ displayed a small visual icon next to the results that they could see and associate with I’d put my bottom dollar on statistics showing that they would be much more likely to click that visual than click something that may be inappropriate.

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3 Responses

  1. David says:

    I think more specifically, this demonstrates what you can learn about usability for 3-year-olds. An important factor in any well-designed piece is the understanding of who your audience will be. Disney uses the particular design strategies you see on their site because that’s what kids find themost usable.

    Granted, visual cues such as icons are *generally* a good idea, but not always. This, among other techniques that make Disney’s site attractive and usable for its targeted age group, may not be so appropriate in other contexts. As any professional designer (of UI or otherwise) will tell you, the rules of design are not so pointed as “Always use icons with links on a web page”; they are more like “Know your user, and accomodate what is most important to them.” There is a distinction between the two. Often the lack of understanding as to the nature of that distinction proves costly to those who blindly adhere to canonical rules, instead of the principles from which they were ultimately defined.

  2. jeff says:

    “If searches for ‘kids websites’ displayed a small visual icon next to the results that they could see and associate with I’d put my bottom dollar on statistics showing that they would be much more likely to click that visual than click something that may be inappropriate.”

    Umm, yeah, one of the purposes of icons vs text is to create an equal user experience across nationalities. If I visit a website in German and don’t know how to get around, icons do wonders.

I would love to hear from you.

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