Think Like A Kid: A Superpower For Designing For Children

Nathan Damtew
5 min readJul 6, 2021
That’s Supposed To Be Me Thinking Like A Kids Wearing Cape!

We often find ourselves saying “Those were the days!” when we see a kid being, well, a KID. It shows how much we missed being one and how far we have come as adults. At some point in our lives, we’ve all grown up and stopped being kids, some of us a bit earlier than others. It depends on how often we used to get told to “Stop Acting Like A Kid’’ when we were actually one. Eventually, we all put down our favorite toys, stopped going to the playgrounds, and stopped playing as much as we used to so we can start facing “reality”. When I think about it now, I ask myself if it was worth it. I miss the days when my only concern was whether or not I had properly put my shoes on.

As we grow up, I feel like we let go a little more than we should. While I’m not suggesting we run around acting like kids all the time, throwing stuff around and breaking them, or drawing on the wall when we’re bored, there’s a lot of unleashed superpowers in thinking like a child we can utilize. One of them being when designing a product for kids.

With numerous apps being designed for kids, you may have even thought of designing one yourself. “How hard could designing for kids be?” you might ask. Well, you know what they say, “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Besides kids’ app colorful appearance, playful soundtracks and pleasant storylines, designing a product for kids is some serious business.

So why is designing for kids so difficult? The main reason is simple: designers aren’t kids, we aren’t kids. Well, we used to be, but along the way, we forgot what it was like to be a child. We’re adults, with adult responsibilities, adult life experiences, and adult technology preferences. We don’t know what kids these days want, like, expect or think.

I didn’t start as a professional children’s product designer, but with each version of our app released, I’ve been taught numerous valuable lessons. However, there is one noteworthy lesson: kids are not just our target users. They are imaginative, complex beings with thoughts and dreams bigger than Godzilla, and a broad range of emotions. The only way to design something meaningful for them is to first become them, where “adult logic” doesn’t have a seat at the table.

The ability to design a successful product for kids lies in understanding what differences we possess and similarities we share. As I have mentioned earlier, kids are complex beings, their minds work differently, but they have their own ways of coping with the world, which they do quite well.

For adults, it can be hard to forget about our responsibilities and let our imaginations fly. From a grown-up point of view, watching kids play or talking with them can be a little bit weird, sometimes they might even leave you with random thoughts, like which Minion is smarter. Seriously, who is smarter, KEVIN or DAVE? With their unlimited imagination, it’s easier for them to zone out into their own world any time of the day, transforming dull realities into magical moments. Just give a kid a scrap of cardboard and watch what they come up with and you’ll know exactly what I mean.

“When Life Gives You a Cardboard, Make a Castle and a Rocket Ship Out Of It.”

-Ababa Tesfaye . . . Never said that

When children are engaged in free play, they are bringing their imagination and placing it into the real world. Play then becomes the bridge between their imagination and reality.

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It’s quite important to use these kinds of traditional play as an inspiration when building digital products for kids to build better experiences. Although it’s invaluable to involve users in design processes, it’s inevitable when the users you’re building for are kids. It is a fun exercise for understanding how children see the world. It can sometimes get brutal though, since kids are too honest. They’ll tell you if they don’t like your new shirt, if your hairstyle looks scary, or if that game you are building is “TOO BORINGGGG” [with their annoying little voices]. They have no filters and are extremely bold, but that’s exactly the kind of feedback you need when building a product for kids.

Even when you’re not working with them, it pays off to be unfiltered and bold as it gets while working with your team. Of course, not to the point of offending or annoying each other but to the point where you can shout out your craziest idea without the fear of looking stupid. Kids do that very often, no worries given.

Thinking like a kid is fun on its own but when you have a whole team to do it with you, that’s another level of superpower you just unlocked. Basically you’re like the Avengers, but for designers. Throw logic out the window and let your imagination run wild. It not only helped us design incredible experiences, but it also allowed us to pretend to be children again and enjoy whatever we were creating for them. So when we are talking about our animations, colorful avatars, and AR experiences, we get to play with what we’re making and that’s a lot of fun.

As adults we have learned to be realistic and it’s essential that we avoid this projection while designing for kids. Designs that can frustrate adults give kids the challenge, determination, and eagerness to explore further. Kids are used to challenges and learning new things, that’s part of being a kid. They don’t express frustration quicker as compared to us grown-ups. If you are someone who spends time with kids, you probably have noticed kids learn much faster than adults and outgrow activities in little time. But while we’re building the product to challenge them and teach them new things, we must always keep in mind that we’re still building for kids and that’s when your superpower TO THINK LIKE A KID plays a huge role.

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Nathan Damtew

I don't usually write, but when I do I try to keep it entertaining, to the point & knowledgeable. I’m a techie, a leader, and a friend. Lemme buy you a coffee☕️