Resources for Building Websites for Children
After our recent CLA presentation on Tech Competencies, we got a question asking for resources on web pages for children’s services.
This is a topic that is near and dear to my heart, and though we didn’t get to spend much time on it in our conference session, we thought it would be a good idea to share some resources here. I wish there was a site that I could point to and say “This is perfect. Do exactly this.” The truth is, designing library websites for kids is challenging. Children of different ages have different skills and different needs, and you also have to think about the parents or caregivers and what they are trying to achieve. Needs also vary by community (think about economic factors, education levels, access to technology in the home, etc.). Decisions need to be filtered through those important considerations.
I would start with usability factors. It doesn’t matter how great your site looks and how “kid-friendly” the graphics are if the site is unusable and people can’t find what they are looking for. Good design for websites will ALWAYS go beyond look and feel and will consider usability a foundational element in the design.
The best way to tell if your site is usable is to watch people actually try to use it. When I did a usability testing project for my former place of work, I found Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think was a really great source for DIY usability testing tips. I also relied a lot on the work of Jakob Nielsen. One of the books I used was Prioritizing Web Usability, but there are also a lot of helpful articles on his site including this one specifically on usability issues for kids aged 3-12. For more general information, the research-based usability guidelines at usability.gov are very helpful, and there is a lot of other useful information on that site as well. You don’t have to test with very many people before the problems with your site become VERY apparent.
Most libraries don’t have the resources or the desire to create and maintain separate kids pages for several different age or developmental levels, so there will inevitably be trade-offs. I’ve seen different strategies for dealing with this. For example, the Topeka and Shawnee County kids page has graphical images for various games and activities to draw kids’ attention, and then a “grown-ups go here” option for adults to access more text-based content.
Here are a few more examples of library kids’ sites with some different approaches and different levels of sophistication in the design. Some really try to design the interface for kids, some assume the parents will be in the driver’s seat, some are a mix:
It’s difficult to really judge the success of each one without knowing the particular community and target audience in more detail, but these examples should give you some idea of a range of options.
For me, the guiding principle for library websites is to put the content people want and use most front and center, and streamline everything else as much as possible. If I was designing a kids page from scratch right now, I’d lean towards a hybrid design (good for both kids and parents), with items of primary interest to kids made clear and accessible in an appealing visual layout that’s easily clickable. I’d try to keep the home page and any kid-targeted pages scroll-free, and the navigation clear and simple.
Whether you’re a seasoned web professional or a newbie just trying to figure out how to use your website to better market your services, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are plenty of good resources on design and usability that will help you make better choices and improve the site experience for your users.