Affordances: evaluating apps for kids
Another aspect of interactivity that applies to both ebooks and other types of apps is affordance: the cues that make interactive elements discoverable and show children what the action possibilities are within the app. I perso
nally don’t mind if there are hidden “easter eggs” in an app that a child will only discover through random play, but the elements that are crucial for advancing the narrative of the story or moving forward through the app should be indicated in a way that a child can easily identify them.
It doesn’t have to be obtrusive. Affordances are handled subtly but beautifully in the Peekaboo Forest app. A small repeated motion on the otherwise still screen draws the child’s attention, and when they touch the moving object, an animal appears. It might be a waving tail, a moving leaf or a hint of flapping butterfly wing, but the movement within the Charley Harper illustrations is just enough to capture the attention of a child and draw the touch interaction that brings out the animal.
In the Barnyard Dance app, there are subtle arrows indicating which way to swipe to make the animals execute the various parts of the dance (click on picture to enlarge). In The Monster at the End of this Book app, touch points are highlighted in yellow. There are many ways to indicate interactive elements, and some are more obvious than others. When selecting and recommending an app or ebook, it’s important to think about whether those cues are simple and clear enough for the age and developmental level of the intended audience.