The input form is an essential element of almost any website or application these days. Input is a core method of interaction, and in many cases it represents the hard conversion point between success and failure. With the amount time and effort we put into bringing users to our sign-up and contact forms, it’s surprising that we tend not to spend a proportional amount of time on the forms themselves.

A number of techniques and elements can be used in Web forms to turn them from abject failures into successful conversion points. In this article, we’ll present some interesting examples and useful guidelines for Web form design.

A Dash Of Quirkiness

Part of Web design is about communicating personality and being relatable, because people enjoy dealing with other people. One quality that almost always helps is a bit of quirkiness and fun. A small dose of friendliness and personality will make the input process a bit more enjoyable and human.

Jarad Johnson

Jarad Johnson‘s contact form has a flavor of good ol’ post card. The visual appearance of the form makes it stand out from the usual generic forms found elsewhere. A very nice touch to an often forgotten element of Web designs. By the way, the Postage for the email postal service was already paid. Good to know. Very well done.

11jarad in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Red Tiki

Red Tiki‘s quirkiness is tied to the company’s brand and identity, but is powerful here nonetheless. From the frame motif to the wooden character peeking out, this form feels fun and approachable. Little colloquial phrases like “This lovely form” and “We’re always keen to lend an ear” are fantastic ways to make the company more relatable. The form is bursting with personality and flare, which helps the user complete the form and click the “Submit” button.

3red in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


Applicom‘s form is a great example of how to be clean and professional without being sterile. Styling the form like a letter — with a stamp, subtle paper texture, striped edge and handwritten addressee name — may seem cliche, but it demonstrates a certain level of personality and care. Language such as the “Do: Be fine, use your real address. Don’t: Be negative, spam” may seem trivial, but it’s important. At the end of the day, it makes users feel like they are dealing with people who aren’t afraid to speak to them. Craftsmanship always indicates care and professionalism. People like that.

5applic in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Sophie Hardach

Sophie Hardach‘s form is another example of a post card idea implemented in a contact form. The input fields are a bit clearer than one would think, yet the “Submit”-button is a bit more difficult to find. In order to send the message, a stamp in the right upper corner needs to be dragged to the Stamp area of the form. In fact, the form is not only very original, but also accessible. Excellent work.

20sophie in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Two Paperdolls

Two Paperdolls has probably the busiest contact form of all the forms featured in this article. However, the form fits wonderfully to the overall design of the page which is a “We Are Hiring” page for designers with strong focus on typography. Notice the clean real-time validation for the form: the error indicator is diplayed in the right upper corner of each input field. Too bad that the navigation through form fields doesn’t work properly with “Tab”.

10twopaper in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


Kontain uses a different kind of a date picker for letting users pick the date for the form. The designers have arranged the dates in four rows rather than displaying them all vertically. A nice idea for reducing the horizontal scrolling for the users.

16-1kontain in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


Wopata‘s slider for the timeframe in their contact form is much different from the generic sliders, select-menus and radio buttons. This is a proof that filling in Web forms can be fun.

17wopata in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


The language used on Fi is more friendly than formal. The inviting nature is reinforced by the short colloquialism for each form field that illustrates why the information is being requested. The language of labels should give off a little charm, without being insincere or overbearing. Isn’t everyone more engaged in a conversation if the other person is pleasant and approachable?

2fi in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


egopop has a very simple, perhaps oversimplified contact form which however has a nice touch. The weird character on the right side plays wonderfully together with the other characters on the site and makes the contact form less boring than it would be otherwise. The contact form opens in a lightbox.

6egopop in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Idyllic Creative

Some forms are boring, while some are beautiful. Idyllic Creative‘s contact form is remarkably simple yet beautiful. Another example of a design agency which integrated a character from their work in their contact form.

8idyl in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Tinkering Monkey

Tinkering Monkey‘s character on their contact page is another interesting example of how the contact form page can be made a bit less boring. Notice the FAQ area on the right side of the contact form. An excellent idea for helping customers quickly find answers to their questions once they feel lost and can’t find a solution to their problem.

25tinkering in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


Ditio‘s designers have decided to combine their sign up form and a contact form in a hidden sidebar box, very much like it’s often done with the fixed “Give feedback” buttons on the left or right side. Once a trigger button “Inschrijven” is clicked, users can sign-up for their account and even upload a CV. Notice that there is no textarea available for lengthy details.

3ditio in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Treehouse Editing

Treehouse Editing‘s contact form is another example of a quirky design with a clean and lean layout. When the user navigates to the page, the background changes to a spring theme, which is itself associated with making contact, thus encouraging them to fill out and send off the form. Notice that all that is necessary for initial contact fits into a couple of fields; further information can be collected in subsequent correspondence. Ask yourself whether a minimal layout would do the trick on your website as well.

4treehouse in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Amazee Labs

Amazee Labs doesn’t have to do much to make its form usable and inviting. The form has only a few quirks, namely the texture, the “Hi there, let’s get in touch!” line, and the “Send It!” button. It may not seem like much, but the casual language, careful color choice and overall texture help Amazee Labs instantly feel like a friendly and easygoing bunch.

6amazi in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Wing Cheng

The motif of Wing Cheng‘s website is an open sketchbook, with most of the sections designed as sketches and thumbnail drawings. The contact form maintains this personality and coherency by following the motif. The form is simple and appropriate. The thought diagram with the email address adds visual interest. Maintaining the hand-drawn style is what brings out the quirkiness. Imagine how jarring and uninviting this form would be if it was a default HTML field set stuck on top of a beautiful paper texture.

7wing in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Break It Down

No one likes a humongous unending list, especially a list of elements to fill in or interact with. Just as a giant paragraph of text is daunting to the user, so is a giant block of empty fields. To coax the user to the finish line, the designer should make them feel like they are completing steps, or bite-sized chunks. Take a giant web project: trying to wrap your head around it all at once is almost impossible. But if you break it down into goals, and then stages, and then sets of tasks, it becomes much more manageable. This is what we want in a Web form, especially if you’re asking for a sizeable amount of information. Keep in mind that you can organize a form simply by sectioning off parts of it or by arranging the content into columns.


CollisonLabs‘s contact form might appear to be a bit too complicated at the first glance, but it’s quite straightforward. The left side of the contact page contains alternative contact information as well as a map which is designed with the overall design of the website in mind. On the right side, each input field is clearly represented and highlighted when the user fills out the form. Nice, clean work.

14collision in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Visual Republic

Visual Republic‘s choice of design for input field labels is similar to the solution by guys over the CollisonLabs. Giving the field label a solid background with an arrow to indicate where the text would need to be typed is a nice technique that could be used more often.

26visualrepublic in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

CSS Tricks

CSS Tricks‘s comment area is a great example of a well-organized, helpful and clean comments area. Notice how the “star” image in the text area fades away as the user types in some text in the form.

22csstricks in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Barley’s Greenville

Barley’s Greenville‘s form for beer rating is an interesting example of how multiple sections can be combined to make the form intuitive and easy to use. Notice the arrow-like symbol between the first and the second section as well as various shades of the brown color within the form.

23barley in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Blue Sky Resumes

Blue Sky Resumes uses sections to make its extremely long form much more manageable. Standard headings and horizontal rules are used to divide sections. The designer was also careful to visually distinguish the different sections so that the form doesn’t look like a long list of fields.

 in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Validate Clearly

Users will not spend extra time making sure they have given you all of the information you need. Many designers believe that form validation detracts from the user experience, but its effects are adverse only when done poorly. When validation is simple and clear, it merely offers alerts and guidance to the user.

Make sure that you clearly mark the problem and tell the user exactly what is wrong. The fastest way to kill the user experience is with generic error alerts that mean nothing to the user. People are more than happy to quickly fix an issue if it is pointed out to them plainly.

Moody International

Moody International provides an excellent example for a contact form that nicely combines different types of contact information in one place. On the left, you’ll find a postal address along with a map, a phone number as well as the company’s email address. The right side is dedicated for more detailed inquiries and consulation requests. The form’s labels disappear once the user has provided their data. Unfortunately, the form doesn’t have an instant real-time validation and uses JavaScript pop-ups to inform the users about their input mistakes. Besides, the map on the left side could be integrated a bit better by using zoom controls as well as search functionality provided by Google Maps.

1moody in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

El Passion

El Passion is another example of a contact form that combines various types of contact information in a very compact and meaningful way. Real-time validation in use. The map on the left side could be zoomable, though.

5elpassion in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Orlando Advertising

Orlando Advertising‘s form beautifully integrates its branding colors in a clean and attractive Web form. The red borders might be misunderstood and could be used to visually highlight errors in the form, but instead validation errors are displayed once the “Submit” button is clicked.

28soap in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


There are usually two essential elements to effective form validation: identifying the specific problem, and clearly marking how and where to fix it. Reinvigorate uses an alert icon and a loud red outline to indicate the problem, and then it uses the side column to tell the user what’s wrong with the information. Moreover, the user gets a visual indication when the information is corrected. Being clear about the problem and not leaving the user in the dark make for a smooth experience.

Reinvigorate in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


GitHub‘s sign up form is as simple as its overall design, yet its beauty lies not in aesthetics, but in its functionality. When you enter your credit card details, GitHub automatically recognizes the credit card provider and visually highlights it in the form, thus providing instant feedback to the user. A wonderful example of invisible design.

15-1-github1 in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

15-2-github2 in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Blue Sky Resumes (revisited)

I would like to point out another great part of Blue Sky Resumes‘ form. The error alert is clear and specific. By specifically telling the user that their name is missing, the user is spared confusion and is able to find their bearings quickly. To reinforce this message, the name field is clearly highlighted and marked as required.

 in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


A form is an interactive part of a website or application. In general, people want to interact with elements that feel alive and that follow convention. Many forms have a slight indent, creating a slight 3-D effect, whereas other forms simply show a box outline to delineate form fields. The key to any interaction is expectation and feedback. Make sure your forms react to user input, mainly by specifying the focus and hover states of input elements.

Grooveshark VIP

On Grooveshark, its styling of the focus and active element makes it clear which field is being interacted with. Besides, erors are displayed in a nice, helpful way while error messages are displayed at the top of the “window” using Ajax.

12grooveshark in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

The design helps the user to maintain focus and to breeze through the form. It even makes it kind of fun, because the user wants to see a response when they click on or interact with an element.


Unlocking‘s checkout form is a nice example of how simple design can work very well with appropriate level of responsiveness. The input fields look nice, the hover state is very clear and the hints on the right side are helpful and unobtrusive. The contact form shows a subtle blue background when the user focuses on a field.

The form uses an additional color to highlight fields. As long as the interaction creates a noticeable effect, the form will be more usable.

The highlighting is not as bold as on some other sites featured above, but still effective and interactive and perhaps even more usable.

18unlocking in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Jason Long

Jason Long‘s form silently sits on the page, doing nothing, unless… well, unless you send it out. Jason uses an animated contact form which flips and changes as the message is being sent. An interesting, memorable tweak that makes the user experience just a tiny bit more interesting.

38-1-black in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

38-2-black in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

38-3-black in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

The Finish Line

An effective Web form should get the user to cross the finish line. It might be a “Submit” button, an order confirmation button or a sign-up button. At the end of the day, the designer wants the user to hit that conversion point and be reasonably happy with their decision.

Make sure that the way of submitting the form is bold and specific. Where possible, use language like “Send email” or “Finish signing up,” so that the user understands exactly what the button will do.


On Squarespace, the designer has gone as far as to label the button “Finish & Create Site” and has also made note of its function just below. This page is especially effective because of the contrast: the layout is completely monochromatic, so making the button green puts more focus on completing the process.

1sqr in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


BLITZ has come up with an interesting solution for their contact form. A content block appears in a lightbox and presents three different types of contact forms: inquiry about business, jus saying “Hi” and CV submission. The forms have a similar appearance but have a different structure. In all cases, the user has a checkbox for email updates at the bottom as well as postal address under the form. One confusing bit is that the form fields get a red border when you type in your data. Some users might confuse it with error notifications.

12blitz in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Custom Bags HQ

Custom Bags HQ has tried to combine various content blocks within one context. The “Contact” link in the upper navigation leads to a page which contains both the contact form and the “About us” information. In our opinion, “About us” doesn’t really detract from the user experience, but it doesn’t enhance it either. The link doesn’t feel right here, at least at the first glance. Interesting idea: the form contains a checkbox asking users if they are interesting in receiving an email newsletter. A smart handle to keep customers close to you and keep them informed about your updates and news in the future.

7custombag in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Clear Labels

Any interaction that we encourage must be as non-threatening as possible. After all, we are asking for personal information of the user. They are under no obligation to provide it. The first step to avoiding frustration and confusion is to use plain and simple language. Make it to the point and not flowery.

Foundation Six

Foundation Six‘s labeling is effective because it streamlines the process and simplifies commitment for the user. The company boils each category of information down to one word. The “Submit” button is also clear and straightforward. There is no confusion in the user’s mind. Another strength here is the balance between multiple choice and fill in the blank (which we’ll get to below).

Foundationsix 01 in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


Bärnt&Ärnst‘s designers follow their minimalistic approach to design and provide all contact information such as postal address, phone numbers, email as well as a short form for user’s convenience. Often you really don’t need to require more information than that for the initial email.

2born in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Zoltan Hosszu

Zoltan Hosszu‘s contact page illustrates how icons can be used effectively to indicate the purpose of input fields. The form itself is very simple and quite unspectacular, but icons as well as some subtle textures make it a bit more distinctive and interesting.

33zoltan in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Stuck Axiom

The labels in Stuck Axiom‘s “New business” contact form are short and concise. The simple language and clear labeling make the form non-threatening and easy for the user to fill out. Contrasting with the gray of the form fields, the “Submit” button is set off and accented in red, making it clear where to click.

8struck in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Solid Giant

With clear labeling, not too many check box options and predefined budget ranges, Solid Giant can get back to a potential client with a precise offer. The “Submit” button is clear and straightforward, marking the end of an intuitive path through the form. All elements are described carefully, and there is no room for the user to misinterpret what information to enter where.

9solid in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Joey Rabbitt

Joey Rabbitt isn’t a fan of lengty emails. The message of the textarea can contain at most 500 characters. However, if the user would like to email Joey directly, he can use an email on the right side of the page. Joey also showcases the networks he is a member of as well as his current location. Notice how beautifully the content is designed by using icons and various colors of grey throughout the page.

4joey in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Multiple Choice Vs. Fill In The Blank

Selecting items from a list is naturally easier than filling in a blank. A blank sometimes raises more questions than it answers, especially if the labeling is not clear or there are too many empty fields. The user may be confused by the format, the type of information being requested or how exactly to answer a question. In general, a choice is better than a blank, especially with information that could be confusing, such as scope, budget, project type, etc. This is why most order forms do not require you to fill out every piece of information.


Pieoneers uses the fill-in-the-blank format in the left column for generic information, with established conventions for format and type. On the right, more complicated questions are in the form of drop-down boxes, letting you choose between broad options, so that there is no confusion or hesitation.

10pie in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

Information Highwayman

Information Highwayman cleverly combines multiple choice and fill in the blank. The empty fields are for simple bits of information specific to the user: name, email address, comment. These are all non-threatening and could not be formatted as multiple choice. Questions related to services sought and budget tend to be more complicated. Giving user some options here simplifies the process of explaining what you’re asking for.

Information-highwayman in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design

When Things Go Wrong: Facio Design

Facio Design‘s contact form is probably the most difficult contact form featured in this article, and rightly so. The choice of typeface and the font size is suboptimal as it is very difficult to read, especially on Windows. The designers have tried to mimic the appearance of a letter, but it doesn’t quite work here. A very simple, basic form would work better here. A nice example of how aesthetics can fail the functionality of the form.

37facio in Useful Ideas And Guidelines For Good Web Form Design


This overview covers a few simple best practices that you can apply to Web forms. Just remember to spend the extra time on your next website; many of these approaches are not hard to implement and will lead to much higher conversion rates, but they are often overlooked. We spend so much time getting people to the door that we forget to make the door as inviting and useful as the path to it.

Many designers come to me for usability testing consulting services. One of the reasons they reach out is because they assume usability testing must be a complex, scientific process. As a result, they’d prefer to have an outside company conduct their usability tests.

Then I tell them I rarely run usability tests anymore! Why? Well, in my experience the best way to do usability studies is to do it yourself. So I spend a lot of time helping teams do learn how to do it themselves, not doing it for them. By conducting their own quick and dirty usability studies, design teams can get feedback faster, easier, and more affordably than hiring an outside professional.

Usability Testing Is Not a Complicated Process

The first thing I tell designers is that it’s a mistake to think that usability testing has to be complicated. It’s a technique anyone can learn with a little training and a lot of practice. Usability testing isn’t rocket science, but it does need to be integrated into a design team’s overall process in order to work.

I’ve found that the most successful teams learn to conduct their own informal testing whenever they can without waiting for the usability team’s availability. In the most successful projects, the team has a design idea, they quickly sketch it and create a prototype, and then test it as quickly as possible.

When I work with design teams who have never conducted a study, I teach them the basics of usability testing, have them observe me facilitate one or two sessions, and then they try it on their own with my guidance. After a few of these sessions, these usability “newbies” are usually ready to run their own testing sessions.

Usability Professionals Act as the Coaches

So what’s the role of the usability professional? In most mid-to-large-sized corporations, there are too many design projects for one person—sometimes even an entire usability team—to run all of the usability studies the design teams need.

As a result, the usability professional is most successful as a Coach who educates and advises the organization on which projects to focus on, how to plan and run their studies, and how to analyze the results. They can better serve design teams by sharing best practices for conducting usability tests, interviews, field studies, diary studies, and other research techniques.

How Can Design Teams Start Testing On Their Own?

If you’ve never conducted a test, start right away. Try a test next week; it’s not as complicated as it may seem. At its core, a usability test involves putting a person in front of your product and watching what they do. Your goal is not to implement the scientific method as you elaborately lay out a treatise on the usability of your product – just to observe how well users can accomplish their desired tasks with it.

Time and time again I’ve seen immediate results from such an approach. Learning how to run internal usability tests will not only save a company money, but will instill a “design for usability” mentality into your design team and, hopefully, the organization as a whole.

So instead of hiring an outside professional to do usability testing for you, try to find one who will act as your coach and guide instead. In no time you’ll be up and running with a regular testing plan that will benefit you far longer than the immediate project. Your design team will be more self-sufficient as a result.

Designing websites and related media for kids presents plenty of opportunities for Web designers. Openings are available at many businesses and schools, as well as through parents and kids themselves, giving designers many ways to find work on electronic and print projects that appeal to kids. The types of work range from interface designs for video games to websites for birthday parties.

There was a time when kids’ websites were brash and busy, packed with colors and cartoon typography. Fortunately, the scale of the children’s market across most product ranges has resulted in rapid innovation in recent years. Most websites aimed at children (or children and adults) now follow principles that take some account of kids’ perspectives on Web design.

Dna-kids-homepage in Best Practices For Designing Websites For Kids

Both young kids and teenagers appear to like many of the same design traits that adults like, including clarity and high-quality content. At the same time, kids seem to enjoy a wider range of interactive features and greater novelty. This article explores child- and teen-friendly Web design guidelines and looks at the steps designers should consider before getting involved in work that will be marketed to kids and their parents or caregivers.

Hopefully, Web designers will be able to use these guidelines to attract more business from clients who deliver Web services to children, by demonstrating an awareness of the needs of this special age group.

Show Respect

Children become sophisticated consumers from a surprisingly early age. They are sensitive to age-targeting and bias in website design, so it’s important not to talk down to them.

A designer’s best defence against patronizing youngsters is to get some kids to comment on the design in the planning stage, because there’s a difference between remembering what it was like to be a kid and being a kid. This distinction operates on a number of levels in a design, ranging from the stylistic preferences discussed on Jacob Nielson’s usability website to the emerging behaviors brought on by widespread generational changes to Internet use.

Lego’s shopping website shows considerable respect for kids and parents alike. Products are arranged in clear categories, the overall styling is clean and consistent, and visitors can zoom in on products to see exactly what they will be buying. Kids can browse and navigate freely, while focusing on the product rather than being distracted by intrusive advertising and gimmicks. When they find the product they want, the child can easily draw their parent’s attention to the splendid item they’re about to pay for.

Lego-world in Best Practices For Designing Websites For Kids

Stick To Plain Talk

Research-based guidelines by state that adults like plain speaking as much as kids. Consequently, there is little to be gained from excluding kids from any website by making the language, layout, navigation or typography any more complex than is necessary. At the most basic level, over-elaborate language and dense text risk turning a website into a picture gallery, because the text, the wider message and the sale are lost when a child disengages from most of the content. The approach is simply not necessary because more able or sophisticated readers are happy to read concise language and seek further details as required.

Mr. Men is a website aimed at pre-schoolers and their parents. The straightforward design, with its white space, bright colors, concise text and blocky buttons, draws visitors in. The big buttons filter visitors to age-relevant sections of the website. The website features images of all of the characters, activities for pre-schoolers and shopping options. The shopping is outsourced to stores such as Amazon; as a result, Amazon gets most of the cash, but the owner needs to do very little to maintain the website.

Little-miss-sunshine22 in Best Practices For Designing Websites For Kids

The Mr. Men design may not be flashy or highly interactive, but it stays on task and bridges the gap between two generations very effectively.

Gain Trust

Parents and children look for safe, reputable, secure websites where content is actively moderated and support is on hand. Parents in particular will appreciate a certain amount of hand-holding in the form of accessible tutorials and walkthroughs. One of the most successful websites in recent years to build trust also happens to be one of the most controversial.

The various Sims games and websites (such as the Sims 3 website displayed below) cover a wide range of teenage and adult themes. The characters of players can get blind drunk, stay up all night, have kids way too early and do a good deal more. Electronic Arts gets around parental concerns by using its website to convince parents to trust the company. It does so with a well-rounded and integrated set of support services. The clear interface, familiar features from the games, forums, contact details, concise documentation and abundance of video tutorials all contribute to portraying the games as safe, consequence-free sandbox worlds. From there, it’s not a stretch for many parents to think that letting their kids look after a couple of virtual toddlers is not such a bad idea.

Sims3-homepage in Best Practices For Designing Websites For Kids

One critical part of the hand-holding process for any website is the sign-up process, which Debra Gelman discusses in detail over on A List Apart. The article is recommended reading, because sign-ups are critical to the success of most websites and should be trustworthy and convenient to use.

Web designers might also wish to read through the Byron Report, which investigates the concerns of UK adults regarding children’s websites. The report’s attention on the opinions of adults seems worthy, given that they are the ones completing sales and paying for purchases.


According to Jacob Nielsen’s research on teenagers, interactive website features (such as forums, mini-games, polls, ranking systems, competitions and 3-D interfaces) are valued by kids if they build a sense of community and foster participation. Bolting such features on will not likely prove effective, because kids will soon see the gaps and re-evaluate the website, despite any initial interest.

Stardoll integrates a range of interactive features and community support very well, offering a glitzy, glamorous look at fashion for tween and teenage girls. Any number of other websites allow you to dress up avatars and chat about your creations online with friends; Stardoll stands out by offering plenty of options for styling avatars and for its friendly and well-integrated community. The interactive community gives it a leg up on websites that offer only interactivity or only a static community.

Stardoll-homepage in Best Practices For Designing Websites For Kids

A recent report (PDF) from PlayScience proposes that the blend of interactive content and community features found on websites such as Stardoll is particularly effective on websites aimed at girls. The research depicts boys as being more focused on games, while girls switch between many different social and interactive activities.

Reward Loyalty

Kids consider their virtual goods and reputation as meaningful possessions, which is the reason they spend money on advancements, awards, objects and other persistent virtual items. With global sales of virtual goods already running at $7 billion annually, many online businesses would likely benefit from design features that attract and retain customers and that promote repeat purchases.

At present there tends to be a divide between website-specific award and ranking schemes on the one hand and aggregated personal content on social networks on the other. A kid’s badges, high scores, avatars and items are generally specific to a website, while their photos, chats, links and music live on a social networking platform.

Websites looking to capture that all-important loyalty that leads to subscriptions and sales of virtual goods might want to take account of how to build and sustain loyalty. If the economics of the website call for a proprietary approach, then beefing up the internal model is probably necessary. If fuller integration is commercially viable, then standalone systems like CubePoints demonstrate the type of coherent schemes that could be put in place. For example, even a standard WordPress subscription website can bring together a reward scheme and social networking functionality with the quick addition of a CubePoints plug-in and a forum plug-in.

Cubepoints-homepage in Best Practices For Designing Websites For Kids

Offer Choice

There are many ways to present kids with choices through thoughtful design. Just a few options are consultative polls, competitions, push-button style makeovers and a lot of custom avatars. Typically, these basic elements should gel with the overall style and, particularly, with any other interactivity on the website.

In addition, Web designers might consider it a priority to offer their own in-house or site-specific choices. Opening up choice in this way involves looking at users’ workflow and the motivations underlying their use of the website. The following are a few ways to create more choice:

  • Allowing visitors to adjust the pace and frequency of interaction,
  • Offering flexible or open-ended environments,
  • Varying the range of activities offered,
  • Helping visitors construct and extend their own goals,
  • Offering multiple levels of hand-holding,
  • Enabling the construction and deconstruction of sections of the user’s experience.

Among such options, the greatest choice comes with co-design, where kids go beyond decorating avatars and completing polls and start to independently shape their own gameplay.

FreeRealms is perhaps the most effective co-design website around now. Players learn the interface, play mini-games, advance through levels and collect possessions. Then, quite suddenly, they are running wizard schools, setting up modest online ventures and investing in real estate. This happens without any instruction or guidance from the game, but rather from within the safety of a moderated and fully logged Web environment. For all intents and purposes, the website operates much like Second Life, without the live ammunition.

Freerealms-homepage in Best Practices For Designing Websites For Kids

Aim For High Impact

For some, high-impact Web design equates with 3-D graphics and both feet jammed on the accelerator. This presents a problem, because few things will make the user’s progress through a website go slower than lavish 3-D content. Certain types of gaming websites are suited to in-your-face 3-D experiences, but there are a lot of ways to achieve high impact.

Comic websites (such as those by Marvel and DC Comics) are particularly good at using existing content to bolster subscription services, mainly by recycling characters and artwork from their extensive libraries. Visitors have pretty much instant access to many high-impact static images and the means to build their own mini-comics and heroic characters in 2-D. There’s no need for much 3-D in these circumstances, because the websites are mainly about enjoying the comic book format. Video games and movies linked to recognized comic brands are already licensed to alternative distribution channels.

Marvel-homepage in Best Practices For Designing Websites For Kids

Be Child-Centered

Education Arcade’s report (PDF) discusses attempts to combine video game entertainment and education (or “edutainment”) several years ago. These efforts show the dangers of passing off learning activities as fun by sugar-coating them with mini-games. Some game websites, including Sony’s FreeRealms, have succeeded in offering independent learning within a decidedly gaming world. For now, delivering formal learning through genuinely entertaining websites remains a relatively expensive proposition.

However, Sims 3 and Free Realms are examples of highly flexible but not hugely expensive resources that support a wide range of curriculum priorities. For those who need more convincing, the relatively new start-up MangaHigh is an encouraging effort to combine purposeful number-crunching alongside genuinely entertaining design and gameplay.

The dividing line can be uncertain and contextual, but as soon as kids sense that an activity or interaction prioritizes a lesson ahead of engagement and motivation, they seem to switch off.

Mangahigh-homepage in Best Practices For Designing Websites For Kids


Ordinarily, now would be the time to highlight a couple of points as key considerations. But it might be more helpful to draw attention to a particular approach that hasn’t been covered yet but that stands out from the rest.

Kids enjoy novelty, and adults go to a lot of trouble to organize parties and outings that give kids new ideas and novel experiences. Ideally, a website aimed at kids does the same. Ask yourself what you could offer that would fit seamlessly in their existing Web experience and that would enable them to do something they haven’t done before.

If you want to do that, you’ll need to suppress the urge to start on screen and spend a bit more time in the planning stage. The reward is a much tighter fit between your design and the kids you’re designing for.