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Kids know best

A few months ago I facilitated a design discovery workshop with one of the local school districts. A group of internal stakeholders responded to our initial design questionnaire, and from these responses I put together a digital scrapbook. The idea was to narrow down our options and come to a unified concept for our design direction.

Here's a little aside for you. The scrapbook is an amazing way to help folks visually quantify the qualities they want in their site. For instance, when I hear people say, "we want lots of white space," that can mean different things to different people. So I'll search out three sites that have varying degrees of white space, and then as a group we select the one that adequately meets the "lots of white space" criteria that they have requested.

Colour is another really interesting one. "We want bright vivid colours!" You would be shocked at how different one person's bright and vivid can be from someone else's. If you look at the three examples below you can see what I mean. All three use bright and vibrant colours, but it's definitely a sliding scale in terms of overall effect.

Colour Screen 1Colour Screen 2Colour Screen 3

So back to my design discovery workshop with the school district? After about an hour or so discussing colours, white space, content density, fonts, etc., we felt we were pretty much all on-board with the design direction. We then talked about the audience that we were trying to appeal to and what they respond to visually. This particular project is an external-facing website for three main audience groups: elementary school students, secondary school students, and of course their parents.

The school principal suggested we grab a couple of students and show them some of the examples that we felt best embodied our direction and get their opinions. We had four Grade 8 students enter our meeting and tell us exactly what we needed to hear. For each screen they clearly articulated what they liked and what they didn't. Much as I like to think of myself as being able to relate to the young, and much as the stakeholders felt they knew their audience, it turns out we weren't entirely on track.

Our first two screens were pretty much just OK. The students kept their hands in their pockets, looked down at their feet, and remained pretty casual. However, the third screen was a completely different story. It was amazing to see how every one of them was unable to control their body language. Their eyes lit up and they all started talking at once — basically they loved the site! It comes as no surprise that the screen we showed them was the Apple iTunes music store.


  • The colours are rich but not overly bright.
  • Imagery plays an important role but it's not about one main image.
  • Movement plays a role in helping draw the eye, but it's subtle compared to the gaming and chat sites that they regularly visit.
  • The content density was perfect for the students who loved to see "lots going on" compared to the adults who felt the whole page was a little busy.