Childhood is a time of colour, chaos, and boundless creativity. Which is kind of what design should be all about, surely?

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Childhood is a time of wide-eyed wonder. For children, there are no rules, no habits, and no conventions to adhere to. And while that may mean the occasional wall gets decorated with crayons, or car keys dropped into the lavatory to see if they float, on the whole children are a blank canvas – which makes designing for them a challenge.
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Because children have impulsive, unpredictable tendencies, they navigate and interact with content in a whole different way than the way us adults do. The American poet William Stafford aptly summed up their behaviour: “Kids: they dance before they learn there is anything that isn’t music.”
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And it’s true – instead of heading down a pre-determined route through a design, kids tend to play in the verges, or walk backwards, or simply dig a hole through the navigation. And, if they don’t get where they want to go fast, then – filled with boredom – they’re back to picking up crayons and creating their own art. Sometimes on the back of the cat.
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Interestingly, while designing for children is a challenge, the end result isn’t just for kids.
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Child-like design, navigation, and the creation of intriguing, colourful worlds can appeal to a deeper level in us adults, too. Prolific author Elizabeth Lawrence hits the nail on the head when she wrote: “There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colours are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.” Adults are too often adrift from this “enchanted place” – and maybe it’s up to designers to help them find it again.
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Unlike children, who inhabit a world of colour and chaos, adults have had a lifetime of society, with all its rules and challenges, to hammer this sense of wonder out of us. When we interact with media, we tread well-worn routes, click the same buttons, and demand the same, predictable results. We don’t allow ourselves the time to explore. We expect design to deliver. Anything else is kids stuff.
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But is that really so bad? As grown-up designers creating content for grown-up consumers, aren’t we guilty of removing the delight of exploration? How refreshing, perhaps, to create something that not only a four-year-old would find easy to use, but also charm, and draw in, a more adult audience?
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Because, when you cut to the chase, if you can create designs that help dredge up the sense of child that is within all of us, you’ll end up creating something that delights and captivates an audience that really differs from children in one way – they have credit cards.
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So, for a change, flick the channel of the studio TV from CNN to the Cartoon Network, and toss out your carefully co-ordinated pastel palettes. Primary is in, huge buttons that scream ‘click-me’ are the order of the day, and put bright graphics at the top of your agenda.
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You might end up with something that is an alarming cross between Noddy and the Care Bears – but you might create something that grown-ups, who are really children in bigger shoes, gravitate to in a world where everything else is a little too conventional.
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