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Designing Websites For Kids: Trends And Best Practices

How would you like to design a beautiful, colorful, stimulating website that is captivating, memorable and allows you to let your creative juices flow without the need to worry too much about conventional usability and best practices? In today’s Web design market, it’s rare that such a project would present itself — unless you were asked to design a website for children!

Websites designed for children have been largely overlooked in Web design articles and roundups, but there are many beautiful and interesting design elements and layouts presented on children’s websites that are worthy of discussion and analysis. There are also a number of best practices that are exclusive to Web design for children’s sites — practices that should usually not be attempted on a typical website.

This article will showcase a number of popular commercial websites targeted towards children with an analysis of trends, elements and techniques used to help keep children interested and stimulated.

Design That Stimulates The Senses Link

Humans are mentally stimulated by a number of factors, and this is especially true with children. Successful children’s websites implement a number of elements and design principles that create an environment suited for a child’s personality and interests.

Bright, Vivid Colors Link

Bright colors will easily capture and hold a child’s attention for long periods of time. Although color choice is a primary factor in designing any type of website, this is especially true when designing a website for children since colors make a big impression on children’s young minds. Color choices and combinations that would likely be rejected or laughed at when designing a typical website may be welcomed on a website for children.

How many of the color combinations used in the screenshots below would succeed on a website aimed at an adult audience? Not many. So, when designing a site aimed at kids, use bright, vivid colors that will visually stimulate in an unforgettable way.



Herman’s Homepage

Herman's Homepage

Funbrain Playground3

Funbrain Playground4

A Happy Mood Link

Kids will remember and return to a website if their experience is a happy one. Elements can be incorporated into the design to ensure that a cheerful, positive mood is presented.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse5 creates a happy mood by making Mickey himself a visual focal point on the page. His happy face and body language help enhance this happy feeling, creating a welcome atmosphere.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse6

The Play-Doh7 website creates a happy mood using a beaming child as the focal point.


The Fifi and the Flowertots779 website has a large smiling Flowertot character in visual focus, creating a happy mood.

Fifi and the Flowertots10

Elements From Nature Link

Children are stimulated by recognizable elements that they can relate to. Because children’s experiences in life are limited, some of the things they are most familiar with are found in nature. Natural elements such as trees, water, snow, and animals are used in the websites shown below. In many cases, these elements are overemphasized through size or simplicity of design.

The Disney11 website alters its theme depending on what product is being promoted. In this screenshot, they use a Grand Canyon-like landscape to create a memorable visual experience.


Discovery Kids6713 uses an underwater theme.

Discovery Kids14

Club Penguin15 presents an arctic theme.

Club Penguin16

CBC Kids17 uses a seasonal theme based on simplistic, eye-catching graphics.

CBC Kids18

PopCap Games19 uses a grassy landscape in front of large rays of sun.

PopCap Games20

Larger-Than-Life Design Link

Large design elements have proved to be effective in all types of Web design, demonstrated by the fact that large typography, large buttons, and large call-to-action areas have become commonplace in modern design. Because children are naturally drawn to simple, obvious, and recognizable objects, websites designed for children will increase their effectiveness through the use of large design elements.

Animated Characters Link

Large, animated, speaking characters are a fascinating and captivating way to grab and hold a child’s attention. Many sites designed for children use this element effectively.



Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood23

Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood24

Disney Princess25

Disney Princess26

Thomas the Tank Engine9727

Thomas the Tank Engine28

Barney & Friends29

Barney & Friends30

Depth in Design Link

Children like to let their imaginations run wild in a world that looks and feels real. This kind of atmosphere can be created through depth in design elements. This might include extruded shapes, shadows, landscapes, beveled effects, shiny gradients, or floating objects. Often, many of these elements are present in cartoon-like displays, as shown below.

The Webkinz31 “Adoption Center” uses shadows, a life-like character, and other 3-dimensional elements to create a design that has depth.


Poisson Rouge33 creates a deep, realistic atmosphere using a window that looks outside at the sun, along with a number of other 3-dimensional elements.

Poisson Rouge34

Rainbow Magic35 creates depth in their design through a Flash-animated landscape scene that moves as the user hovers over different elements.

Rainbow Magic36

In any website design, navigation and call-to-action areas should be focal points. Children’s website designers can oversimplify these areas so that children can navigate easily. Text-based navigation on children’s websites would not be as effective as large buttons and graphics, because they would lack visual focus on a page.

Peppa Pig37 has a horizontal navigation bar that includes large icons and easy-to-read descriptions for each item.

Peppa Pig38

The Winnie The Pooh39 website incorporates their navigation bar into their “forest” theme, using large wooden graphical elements that won’t be overlooked by the user.

Winnie The Pooh40

Sesame Street6941 has an easy-to-locate horizontal navigation bar, along with large call-to-action areas.

Sesame Steet42

My Little Pony uses text-based navigation, creating a less-graphical experience, which allows focus on the content elements. This might be ideal in some situations, but on a children’s website a graphic-based navigation bar is more likely to be effective.

My Little Pony

User Interaction Link

Probably one of the most important ways for a children’s website to succeed is to include elements that allow a child to interact with the site in some way. Children don’t want to do intense reading or research; they want to play and be entertained.

On a typical website, certain design elements are viewed as distracting, unusable, and cumbersome. On a child’s website, those same elements are viewed as an effective means of attracting users.

Interaction Through Animation and Sound Link

Effects and experiences created with Adobe Flash are discouraged in typical modern Web design, but on children’s sites there is almost no other option. It’s true that JavaScript animation and effects have come a long way because of the many JavaScript libraries available, but the ease with which complex animations can be created with Flash makes this method the first choice for many commercial websites designed for kids.

The Pauly’s Playhouse43 site, like most of the websites featured in this article, is built entirely in Flash.

Pauly's Playhouse44

The Hot Wheels45 website includes an animated “car of the day” that zooms onto the screen when the page loads, creating visual interaction.

Hot Wheels46

Roary the Racing Car47 has a brief “flash intro” with a “skip” button. This is an old-school trend in typical Web design, but is an effective means of catering to a child-based audience. The intro animates through a road until the characters appear on the horizon. This helps the user feel as though they’re personally entering Roary’s animated world.

Roary the Racing Car48

The Yahoo! Kids49 navigation bar is created with Flash and makes sound effects and animates when its items are hovered over. This trend is very common on many of the sites featured in this article.

Yahoo! Kids50

Interaction Through Video Link

Television is known to captivate child audiences for hours, which is why “Saturday morning cartoons” have for decades been a lucrative part of the broadcast schedules for many TV Networks. Similarly, video on a child’s website adds a fun, interactive, and educational aspect to a site’s content.

Kids’ CBC – Video51

Kids' CBC - Video52

Yahoo! Kids Movie Guides53

Yahoo! Kids Movie Guides54

National Geographic Kids – Videos55

National Geographic Kids - Videos56

Interaction Through Games Link

What child does not enjoy playing games? One of the most effective ways to entertain, educate or otherwise occupy a child on a website is to include a “games” section. Almost all the websites researched for this article include games that educate, stimulate, and allow direct interaction, while also incorporating many of the design elements already discussed. Below are some examples.

CBeebies – Gordon the Garden Gnome57

CBeebies - Gordon the Garden Gnome58

Toy Story – Woody’s Big Escape59

Toy Story - Woody's Big Escape60

Disney Pixar’s World of Cars allows users to create, share, and race their own custom cars.

Disney Pixar - The World of Cars

Printable Elements Link

Kids like to have something tangible to take with them, to help them remember their experience. Printable pictures and colouring pages allow kids to have a keepsake of their experience, while giving website owners an opportunity to enhance and promote their brand outside of the computer screen. Below are some examples of printable colouring pages on kids’ websites.

Pingu Coloring Pages

Pingu Coloring Pages

Crayola Digi-Color61

Crayola Digi-Color62

Peppa Pig Colouring Pages63

Peppa Pig Colouring Pages64

Thomas and Friends Online Colouring

Thomas and Friends Online Colouring

Teletubbies – Print To Color65

Teletubbies - Print To Color66

Unconventional Methods Link

We’ve already discussed a number of elements that, in modern typical Web design, are now considered unconventional. Sound, animation, and large obtrusive graphics are often frowned upon in typical Web design. On children’s websites, these elements help the user experience. Other unconventional elements and design choices are discussed below.

Changing the Cursor Link

This is absolutely viewed as a bad practice in standard Web design, but can be a fun, effective way of adding a playful element to a kids’ website theme. This can be done using dynamic HTML, but is more often done via Flash.

The cursor on the Discovery Kids6713 website turns into a snapping bear trap graphic.

Discovery Kids68

The cursor on the Sesame Street6941 website is followed by a yellow star when it hovers over standard HTML elements, and turns into a yellow star surrounded by smaller animated stars when the cursor is moved over clickable Flash elements.

Sesame Street - Games70

Talking Navigation Link

Sometimes a navigation bar will produce sound effects, but in other cases, the navigation links will sound out what they represent in a cheerful voice.

The PBS KIDS711 navigation bar speaks using children’s voices, when the user hovers over it.

PBS KIDS Navigation Bar72

The CBeebies73 navigation bar uses a voice to sound out the destination of each navigation item.

CBeebies Navigation Bar74

The Bob the Builder75 navigation bar speaks to the user on mouseover.

Bob the Builder Navigation Bar76

The Fifi and the Flowertots779 features a speaking navigation bar.

Fifi and the Flowertots78

Breaking the Grid Link

While traditional modern Web design techniques have embraced the benefits and aesthetics of grid-based design, kids’ websites can break free from an overly structured layout to create a unique world that a child will enjoy experiencing.

This is not to suggest that using a grid as the basis of the design is wrong. It may be beneficial to start with a grid, then design elements outside the grid in a controlled manner. This flexibility in design and layout is demonstrated on a number of the sites already discussed, but is also evident in the navigation bars of the examples below.

The navigation bar on the Spongebob Squarepants79 website is slanted, going against convention in typical grid-based Web design.

Spongebob Squarepants80

The Hannah Montana81 website features navigation bar graphics that break the grid.

Hanna Montana82

The In the Night Garden83 website features a very unusual navigation bar design that bears little resemblance to that found in a conventionally-structured design.

In the Night Garden84

Below are some examples of websites that utilize a more rigid, grid-based format, and as a result are not as unique, memorable, or captivating as some of those already considered in this article.

Kids WB85 is rigid, and not as memorable.

Kids WB86

The Crayola87 website is somewhat old-school with its grid format and vertical navigation.


Neopets89 is also designed on a more structured grid.


Granted, in some cases a stronger grid-based design would be necessary if the audience was an older child audience, as is the case with SI Kids91, shown below.

SI Kids92

Taking Responsibility Link

If you are attempting to reach the minds and hearts of young, impressionable people through an online experience, you are entrusted with a weighty responsibility. Children are mentally fragile, and easily affected by what they see, hear, and touch. There are certain factors that need to be addressed on every children’s website, to ensure no harm is being brought to the children.

Promoting Education Link

Games and other interactive elements should be created not just to promote your company’s brand and identity, but to help educate and train young minds in a beneficial and positive way. Promoting education through games and activities will show that your company cares about the user and how their online experience might affect them in the future.

Online Learning Games from Fisher Price93 include games that vary according to age group.

Online Learning Games from Fisher Price94

Funbrain95 promotes itself as “The Internet’s #1 Education Site for K-8 Kids and Teachers.”


Information for Parents Link

Parents will be keeping a close eye on their children’s internet habits. Many children’s sites are aware of this, so they include information that is geared towards parents. Sometimes this is in the form of a tip, as is the case with the Sesame Street games website, or simply a navigation item that points to a parent’s section.

Sesame Street Games includes a “Parent Tip” box.

Sesame Street Games

BEN 10 has a “Parent Stuff” link in their primary navigation bar.

BEN 10

Thomas the Tank Engine9727 includes a “parents” link.

Thomas the Tank Engine98

Usability Testing Link

Finally, one of the best ways to help build a successful online experience for children is through watching children navigate and interact with your site’s games and other unique features. Not all companies will have the budget for extensive testing, but almost all will have the ability to do at least a minimal amount of testing — even if it’s with just one child. This will allow you to see the site through a child’s eyes and make any necessary modifications, the same as would be done in any usability tests.

Companies like Disney, Sesame Street, and PBS, of course, have been studying the behaviour of children for years, so many of the examples showcased above could be utilized to form the basis for a successful children’s website, even if no usability testing is done.

Conclusion Link

Here is a summary of both conventional and unconventional best practices for designing a website for kids:

Conventional Best Practices Link

  • Create elements that are large and visually memorable
  • Use bright, vivid colors that stimulate the senses
  • Incorporate elements from nature
  • Create depth in the design
  • Add navigational elements that are large and easy to find
  • Use video
  • Include printable elements
  • Break the grid
  • Make modifications based on usability testing

Unconventional Best Practices Link

  • Create a happy, playful mood
  • Use animated characters
  • Use graphic-heavy navigation bars
  • Use Flash animation abundantly
  • Embed motions and sounds that trigger on page load
  • Include a “games” section
  • Change the cursor to contribute to the theme
  • Add voices to navigation rollovers
  • Be accountable to both children and parents

A Web designer who has worked on a children’s website would likely say that it was one of the most fun and interesting projects they’ve had the privilege of working on. If you ever have the opportunity to create a user experience that is geared towards children, be sure to follow some of the proven methods demonstrated on many of the sites discussed here, and your website will have a good chance to be a big hit with children.

Footnotes Link

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Louis Lazaris is a freelance web developer and author based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs about front-end code on Impressive Webs and curates Web Tools Weekly, a weekly newsletter for front-end developers.

  1. 1

    Very interesting article! Never really thought about it up to now :)

  2. 2

    Lovely post…just the thing I was looking for a while. thanks!

  3. 3

    Extremely useful – I’m actually in the middle of designing/building a children’s website right now.

  4. 4

    not sure we are giving credit to the kids out there. Out of all the examples above none seemed to doing anything exciting, and they all looked very similar, i.e. cartoon, vector based. Nothing has a natural feel to it. Is this what they want our what they get given.

  5. 5

    p.s. looks like a lot of cynical marketing to buy cheap tat.

  6. 6

    I would like to see how a child can actually “use” those websites. My son is struggled with the Dora toy with 7 buttons, so I doubt about fantasmagorics interactions.

  7. 7

    websites for kids are THE place to use Flash!

  8. 8

    Here is a good kids/parents site and it’s just simple CSS.

  9. 9

    Wow !
    Thats very colorful and playful.
    Nice collection!!!

  10. 10

    Design Informer

    November 27, 2009 12:07 pm

    Very nice article!

    I like this type of post. It’s kind of like a list and showcase, but you make it very detailed and you actually add some “meat” to the post. Keep up the great work!

  11. 11

    Me and my son (8yo) loved this article. From watching him use the web I would say that this article is on point.

  12. 12

    Remembering myself when I was a child, I’m pretty sure big characters and games (Disney Pixar’s world, Thomas and friends online coloring and Crayola digi-color) would work for me ;) Some of these are as cluttered and silly as the cartoons or characters they present. I’m going to leave the right to judge to the kids though ;)

  13. 13

    John (Human3rror)

    November 27, 2009 5:29 pm

    wow, this is great! thanks for it.

  14. 14

    Surely kids find splash pages, slow loading flash elements and confusing navigation as frustrating as the rest of us.

    • 15

      Agreed, my boy was a bit frustrated waiting for the Sesame St flash to load he banged on my Mac and broke the hard drive!!!

      • 16

        Yeah, I wonder if there’s been any usability testing comparing cluttered designs with simpler ones — or, for that matter, comparing bright designs to muted one. Children aren’t magically different; they’re just small people. I wouldn’t be surprised if these design memes were misguidedly inherited from 90s toy design.

        • 17

          I am a graduate student working on an MFA in graphic design and I have actually conducted a usability study with children testing and comparing portions of the website,, which uses a complex design with a high number of clicks to access content, with a much simpler website I designed myself.
          I had a small participant group (12 children between the 2nd and 5th grade). I found that in general the participants navigated the simpler site with ease and got to the content in significantly less time than what it took them to navigate and access content on the more complex site.
          However, another finding showed that children (at least in this group) did not necessarily correlate ease of use to overall site preference. While over 80% of the participants performed the task objective on the simpler website in less time, 60% still indicated a preference for the more complex site.
          Because this group was small, more research is clearly needed for conclusive results, however, the logical conclusion I came up with was that much like adults, for children, ease of use is not necessarily related to overall preference. The study took into account other variables such as visual appearance, enjoyment of use, understanding of icons and words, and also user’s cognitive models.
          Another interesting thing I found was that the older children 4th/5th grade seemed to prefer to more complex site because they felt the more simplistic site looked “babyish”. This becomes an issue when trying to design for a large target audience such as k-8. As far as I can tell it is almost impossible to design for a kindergartner and an 8th grader at the same time. One notable exception may be certain Disney cartoons such as “Up” which appeal to people of all ages, including adults.
          Usability expert Jacob Nielsen has also done a major study with children and usability which can be accessed here:

          There is some excellent research based information in this article, and one of the major points Nielsen makes is that kids don’t like confusing navigation and information architecture any more than adults.
          To me the trickiest part of designing for kids is finding the balance between unique, exciting, complex, animated layouts and ease of use.

        • 18

          I am a graduate student working on a MFA in graphic design and have conducted a usability study comparing an existing website with complex layout and navigation requiring many clicks to access content to a simpler website I designed myself.
          I worked with 12 participants in grades 2-5 having them perform the same objective on each site. One interesting finding indicated that ease of use does not necessarily correlate to overall user preference. Over 80% of the participants completed the tasks in less time on the simpler site, however, 60% still had an overall preference towards the more complex site.
          Other factors were taken into consideration such as visual appeal, enjoyment of use, previous exposure, comprehension of icons and words and the user’s cognitive model.
          Several of the older students 4th/5th grade preferred the more complex site because they felt the simpler site was “babyish”.
          Because I was working with a small sample size more research is clearly needed to obtain conclusive results, however, from the study I would predict that children are much like adults in the sense that usability is not necessarily why they prefer one site or device to another, but the social/ emotional connotation associated with the site or device may take precedence. Also, the study points to the idea that perhaps designing for wide age ranges of children is ineffective, for example designing for k-8 means that a site must have content that appeals both to kindergartners and 8th graders.
          Usability expert Jakob Nielsen has also done a usability study with a larger group of children which can be accessed at:

          While the study was done in 2002 there are some excellent, foundational principles for designing for kids which are based on research and I believe still pertinent today.

          • 19

            Thanks for posting this – very helpful. Hope you completed your course with great results since this post too.

  15. 20

    I find these websites ugly, cheap, gimmicky and inherently manipulative.
    Unlike adults kids can’t differentiate commercial gimmickry.

    “Health advocacy group find excessive lead levels in toys with Barbie, Disney name.”

    Nice. Hey you should do a web roundup on Cigarette related websites.

    • 21

      Clearly the close-minded opinion of someone who was never a child and/or does not have any children.

      This may be news to you but, children are not interested in minimalist / business-style / modern designs.

      • 22

        I have two young kids. This is why it is important to me.
        These websites have zero content.

        I don’t think parents should let their kids be exposed to interactive advertisements. Its bad for their brains.

  16. 23

    “The Fifi and the Flowertots website has a large smiling Flowertot character in visual focus, creating a happy mood.” Dude! That is actually Fifi! I am not british but I know who she is.

    Some of those sites are old and in fact gimmicky. Some are actually very popular among kids, I’ve worked on Fifi myself some years ago and it is quite old design, we wouldn’t change it because I think it works for this target audience pretty well.

    Some examples are just horrid and seem to be here only to make this article longer (Pauly’s Playhouse). I know that you wanted to present whole range of sites, but would be good if you have supported it with some actual results. Some of those sites may have 1 visit a day and some 1 million.

    Kinds can spot commercial lie, indeed, but not so much through design as through content and tone of voice. Younger kids are attracted to colours an “busy-ness” of the site. Growing older they start selecting or rather focusing on content more then on just having fun.

    • 24

      Actually, before researching this article, I had no idea who Fifi was. But technically, I wasn’t really wrong, was I? Isn’t she considered “a flowertot character”? It’s not like I can find her on Wikipedia do discover her true nature! ;)

      And yes, there are some very diverse examples. The problem is, many of the popular and really nice and unique sites all belong to the same companies (Disney, PBS, etc). so I tried to do my best to have a wide range of choices shown. But I did focus a lot on commercially-known stuff.

  17. 25

    Wow these are such lazy examples. Please take the time to find good designs to reference to.

    • 26

      I have to add to this.

      I feel like most of this post is just padded out to make it seem longer with little real insight given into the examples provided. Just by pointing out that there’s a yellow flower in the corner of the screen that’s obviously a bright colour does not make this a good post on the aesthetics of designing kids websites — it just makes it seem like you spent 5 minutes googling and pasted in what you could find.

      I would much rather have had the article written by someone who currently works behind a Kids website. Where are your references to Nick Junior or Noggin? Both of those sites are hugely popular, yet you’ve gone for the ones who go for the conventional – here’s some animated flash with pretty colours options.

      Having kids, I’ll tell you what kids like in the design of a website: They want it to be very very easy to navigate so large or medium sized buttons that are easily accessible are a must. Next, you need to ensure that you target kids of many ages – kids will want to be able to find the things they are looking for using pictures, so in the case of Nick Jr, pictures of Dora the Explorer or Miley Cyrus make it much easier to find what you’re looking for. Bright colours certainly do make websites more appealing, but what’s more appealing is when kids are able to easily use the sites without having obstrusive advertising (BIG no no for the parents who’s money you’re trying to get), no pop-ups, nothing that will require more than a few short clicks to access it. Kids don’t fully grasp the concept of a browser history so if you want them to be able to easily get back to where they were before, you’ll want to include obvious arrows and icons in your design so that they know where to go.

      As a Web developer with 11 years of experience, I really wish more effort had been put into writing this up.

      • 27


        I did consider Nick jr. but I didn’t see anything worth using that was applicable to the points I was making. I also think their site is very rigid-looking and not as unique.

        And, although it would have been nice to have someone who has worked extensively on kids’ sites, some of the main points of the article were loosely based on an article I read in dotnet magazine about designing sites for kids, so the things that I mentioned were not without solid basis.

        But thank you for your thoughts, you made some good points about usability for children.

      • 28

        Thanks, Louis. I apologize if my comments seemed a little over-critical. This is a very useful article and I’m glad that the topic was addressed.

      • 29

        Hey Addy, don’t apologise, you made great points, but it’s not really the article you should be criticising, it’s the websites. The material that Louis has to drawn on is, frankly, 5 years behind the curve.

        I’ve been designing children’s websites for Disney, BBC and Toy companies for about 7 years and I’m completely flabberghasted by the poor quality of design that goes on in the sector.

        I think for years, agencies must have thought that since their user base were unable to articulate the problems with the interface, that they could get away with throwing some acidic colours and rudimentary animation on any old web page and calling it educational.

        In fact, children are much less tolerant of interface clutter. If the average internet user’s attention span can be measured in seconds, then you’re buggered if a child cannot get to what they want within 1 click. And what they want is not a drawing app with a million options or a reskinned platform game or a crappy printout.

        Unfortunately they want video, and lots of it. The fantastic possibilities of interaction do not register on the imaginations of young people- or old people for that matter!

  18. 30

    Edison A. Leon

    November 27, 2009 7:09 pm

    Thanks, very useful article, and for everyone else addding good tips though I have not done a children web site, neither i was thinking to do one (until now) and actually not sure I’m ready for these critics.

  19. 31

    Jordan Koschei

    November 27, 2009 9:10 pm

    I never considered that usability principles could change based on audience, but in hindsight, that seems pretty obvious.

    And just because the sites look simpler, we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that they’re easier to develop. I imagine a ton of child psychology goes into making an effective kids’ website.

  20. 32

    very nice article. The detail explanations are very good. I love reading every lines. Thanks a lot


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