The simplicity of design for children

Jan 22, 2013

Where did we go wrong with icons?

This evening I stood on the train (sitting would have been impossible due to the wonders of Dutch rail, and how they cope when it snows!), and decided to catch up on what new things were going on in the world. This soon switched to Twitter, and then Facebook…

Looking down, I saw the below image from the Nintje website.

Nijntje website landing page - brightly coloured, and with cartoon graphics.
Nijntje homepage - a Dutch childrens character

Why Nijntje is a friend on Facebook is a different story, but when I saw the image it struck me at how instantly understandable this image was, and how clear the icons were (to me), without actually labelling them.

Have a go… what do you think the above icons mean? What would you expect to happen if you clicked on them?

Without giving you the instant answers, I’d also like to show you this icon below.

iOS icon

Now what do you think this icon does? For those people who use Apple products, then it may already be well-known… but what about people who don’t use these products. I have seen this used online, but the context hasn’t always been the same.

What do the icons on the Nijntje site mean?

  • Home - This house icon will take you to the home page of the site
  • Music / Sound - The drums will take you to an area where you can make your own music
  • Draw - The pencils will take you to an area where you can colour in drawings
  • Video - The image of Nijntje in a television set takes you to a place where you can watch video
  • Play - The toys take you to an area where you can play games
  • Read - The icon of Nijntje with a book open, takes you to a place where you can read books or be told stories

Without being a visitor to the site I managed to get a 6/6 score. How did you do?

What does the other icon mean?

On my iPhone, this icon is used to change the language of the keyboard. I click on this to change the spell checker from English to Dutch for example.

Is this a clear, intuitive icon, and does it work without explanation? I would suggest not. To an untrained eye it could perhaps suggest that it was something to do with a map. For iOS devices it is used when you are inputting text, so it appears when the onscreen keyboard is present. But does this mean that it should become a default for changing input language? What if this was taking out of the context of the device, and placed on a screen to try and convey this meaning?

When it comes to icons I feel that we have a lot to learn from the people who design with children in mind.

Update:

I posted a link to this post on Facebook, and the crazily talented Ted Wiggin posted this image below. What a brilliant way to show that you can still take these icons and put them elsewhere, and yet they are still understandable in this new area! The only one that I’d be unsure of would be the pencils, does this now suggest a text editor, a code editor, more than a tool like Photoshop?

Nijtje icons used on a Mac desktop
Nijntje icons used on a Mac to replace the default icon set