Designing an App for paediatric patients

by Julie Mission – Make it Appen


So, you are thinking about developing an app for your paediatric patients. There are two major parts to developing the app – the design of the app and the coding of the app. In this article we will be focusing on the design aspect of the app.

Finding a good designer for an app can be hard, it can also be expensive. This is more so for an app that is both aimed at children and health Therefore you will want to enter into any conversation with an app designer with a bit of knowledge and previous research. Obviously, being a clinician who works with children you will come to the table with a wealth of knowledge, but there are a few things to take into consideration when building an app for children. I hope this article will add to your knowledge and combining the two will help to ensure you will be able to clearly explain the objectives to your designer, so you are both on the same page, resulting in the best possible outcome for those in your care.

Here are 10 things to consider:

1. Play

The first thing, which no doubt you are aware of, is that kids learn through play. So, when designing an app to impart information or to introduce a new habit or medical intervention, spend time to work out how this information can be imparted as a play activity or game. Children will learn by default by playing with it.

When it comes to building your app, observe how the children in your care play:

  • Do they enjoy sticking to the rules?
  • Do they like to be silly?
  • Do they take things seriously?
  • Do the girls play differently to the boys?
  • What about different age groups?
  • How do they interact with things in their environment?
  • What games do they like to play?


2. Feedback

Kids like feedback, the more the better. This is especially so in the digital space. Both auditory and visual feedback is important. If a child is deaf, rather than auditory feedback consider vibration. Conversely, if a child is blind, consider both auditory and vibration feedback.

The majority of children’s apps provide some sort of feedback for every interaction. Items should wiggle, sparkle or draw attention, somehow.


3. Micro-challenges

Kids love to be challenged in the form of micro challenges.  Adults unless playing a game, generally just want to finish a task, like pay a bill.  

Do not make the challenges too easy, kids will soon become bored.

It is okay to let a kid make a mistake.  Mistakes are a natural part of learning.  


4. Creativity

What happens in an app does not have to be what happens in the real world. In the app Toca Boca, kids can stack as many items on top of each other as they like, e.g. hats, ice-cream, etc., it does not matter what, they just love to have fun and make a mess.

It is also okay to let the child choose their own experience, let them be immersed, let them see what happens when they make one choice over another. Do not make the app entirely scripted, allowing the child to go down one path only. Give them the ability to be creative.


5. Safe guards

Kids tend to be trusting. They do not have the predicting behaviour of an adult; therefore, it is important to build safe guards into an app to protect the child. This can be as simple as ensuring if a child is an app they cannot exit the app to explore other parts of the smartphone or tablet.  Do not include the option to buy things within the app. Leave this for an adult app.


6. Age Range

Kids develop fast. An app that is suitable for a three-year-old is unlikely to be suitable for a six-year-old. A good rule of thumb is a two-year age range. Therefore, if the children you care for cover a wide age range, you may need to design different apps for different ages, even though they may be imparting the same information.

The children you are designing the app for may or may not be able to read. This also needs to be taken into consideration. Do not just rely on words, incorporate images or icons as much as possible. Just double check the children’s interpretation of the image or icon.

If you have information to impart to the parent of the child as well as the child, consider two different apps, as they will have vastly different needs.

Do not impose an adult perspective.


7. Consistency

Like adults, children expect consistency, do not include random and unnecessary elements. The kids will not find this cool. Kids love cool stuff, but there needs to be a purpose for it. The users of your app will expect the app to work in a certain way, surprises are not good unless they come in the form of an exploratory option or that of a ‘lagniappe’. A lagniappe is a pleasant surprise, something given as a bonus. Both adults and kids enjoy these small, unexpected interactions. For example, the Talking Carl app, if not interacted with for a few moments when it is open, Carl starts quietly singing to himself.


8. Purpose

Your app must have a purpose (and usually only one purpose), make the purpose clear from the get-go. Exploration is not enough, they will soon be bored with the app if you just let them explore with no purpose.


9. Digital Natives

Children of today are digital natives. They have grown up with technology, adults did not. So, even if you remember being a kid, their experience may be vastly different from yours.


10. Other stuff

  • Use colors
  • Keep the bottom of the screen clear, kids often accidently touch this part of the screen.


Julie Misson

Make it APPen

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