Before the digital revolution, advertising creatives and designers had to master narrowly focused knowledge and skill sets to optimize the consumer's engagement with a brand messages. Today, it is essential to understand consumer engagement with each discrete medium and how the interaction among those media influences brand message delivery. As the technology has advanced, so too has a respectable body of academic research on children's interface with media design for print, audio, video, Web site and mobile platforms.
The youth marketplace can learn a great deal by studying this research. A thorough review reveals "best practice" design strategies, often organized as the "7 Elements of Media Design." At Stars for Kidz, we have adapted the theory and practice of the 7 Elements research to focus on youth marketing by overlaying our knowledge of child development (i.e., physical, cognitive/learning and psychosocial) with the 7 Elements. The result is a rich and textured understanding of how children ages 6-12 are best engaged in multimedia platforms. Some of the key "best practices" are provided here, as recommendations for improving 6-12-year olds' engagement with multimedia platforms.
The 7 Elements of Media Design for Engagement of 6- To-12-Year-Olds
1. Content needs to be relevant and familiar to the target child.
- Use characters that are recognizable to this age group.
- Link new information to prior knowledge that children in the target age range are likely to have.
- Provide children with access to all the information they will need to reach meaningful conclusions. This may require providing links to further information, if the child wants or needs it.
2. Mode of Presentation considers the overall organization of visuals, sound and text.
- Individual children interface differently with different media; to reach as many as possible, provide options for visual learners (text and graphics over voice) and for auditory learners (voice under text.)
- In planning your media message, consider the range of reading levels targeted and consider the length of "chunks" of text; tested for readability.
- Make interactive media intuitive to navigate and conduct usability research.
3. Language provides kids with the critical linkage to meaning and understanding.
- Write in language that is lively, readable, fun, current, interesting, relevant, age- and gender-appropriate, logical, welcoming, positive and challenging.
- Children 6-12 have wide variance in their reading ability. Some can read only short paragraphs, while others can manage more text. Some need simple sentence structure, while others can read more complexly constructed sentences. Consider these differences within the 6- to-12-year range when constructing text for media messages.
- Children ages 6-7 or 8 think more concretely, and relate best to language that is relatively literal. Children age 8 or 9-12 transition to more abstract thinking, and they understand the ironies and nuances of language. Use your awareness of these distinctions in the design and execution of media messages.
- Reference age/graded children's literature as a language template for media messages. Observe vocabulary, sentence and paragraph construction and style as models for your own messages.
4. Graphics and Animation boost engagement, and can be used effectively to reinforce your message.
- Be sure that animation does not overshadow core information and intent.
- Have animated characters use non-verbal cues--posture, gesture, facial expression, action, tone of voice--to deliver or reinforce the message.
- Use characters whose appeal is age-appropriate; test for appeal.
5. Layout, Proximity and Spacing are critical to a child's understanding.
- Design the page to be scanned from left to right, with the content of most importance in the most prominent positions.
- Use font sizes large enough for young eyes (again, using children's books as reference.)
- Provide only what is needed, avoiding visual or sound clutter, too much of which can be distracting to engagement.
- Provide enough "white space" on which young eyes to rest.
- Design text with adequate contrast between foreground and background in mind. Test for overall appeal.
6. Culture and Context recognizes the strong influence of pop culture, geographic and regional factors, and demographic attributes such as ethnicity, religion, gender, socioeconomics and more.
- Use pop-culture icons only if they have relevance to the message.
- Use social settings and environments only if they are familiar to target-age children.
- Depict a rich, culturally diverse population. Provide appeal for both boys and girls, unless targeting one or the other specifically.
7. Special Effects and Production, like special Web controls (Active X), directions, sound and movement, require children to have specific skills in order to access the information.
- Be sure that special effects requirements are age-appropriate to prevent frustration and disengagement.
- Use attention-getting media attributes (color, sound, movement) in ways that are relevant to your message, not gratuitous.
- Use special effects that are age-appropriate by using children's most popular games as reference.
- Test to be sure that special effects do not distract from the message.