Watching my 4 year old laugh and learn while playing games on pbskids.org...
I came up with a question.
But first, a little background: If you haven't seen pbskids.org, please
check it out. It's a large collection of interactive learning games for
young minds to enjoy; lots of interactive puzzles, classic jigsaw
puzzles, music makers, etc... including a puzzle involving the physics
of getting a ball (meatball) to fall from a platform and be guided (by
you) to a landing pad (bowl of spaghetti). The game simulates gravity
and inertia, trajectories, etc... and teaches, very directly, cause and
As my 4 year old son played the game, he was also learning the
intricacies of interacting with the interface. In order to move and
tilt the platforms which guide the meatball, he would click them one or
more times, with each click incrementing or resetting the angle of the
At one point, I noticed he experimented with the interface a bit,
checking to see whether the side of the platform clicked made a
difference as to which direction the platform would tilt. He quickly
discovered that this made no difference, and went back to clicking
several times to get the desired platform angle.
I'm surprised this didn't grab my attention before.
I noticed that these games aren't just teaching the readily apparent
intent of cause and effect, matching, sequencing, letters, language,
math, etc... but also how to learn new interfaces.
I wonder if the team creating this game would have found it a valuable
investment to build-in dual click targets for each platform, for those
kids who wanted a bit more flexibility (slide further to the right on
the "usability/flexibility scale"), as their skill-sets grew. If my
mini usability research session were on the payroll as it were, would
this be seen as a valuable investment? What would you tend to decide?
Is the multi-click interaction plenty to get the job done without too
much frustration? Would multi-target patterns just cause more
frustration in the earlier stages of play?
Also, is it silly to imagine the lessons that might be provided by
allowing an instructional design, for early learners, to be less than
perfect, as a way to say "for the time-being, you probably will run into
interface inconsistencies and unexpected things", and allow for that in
your designs? Is this potentially one of the good side-effects to
less-than-optimal design, often resulting from limiting schedules and
Also, what is your opinion on the usability/flexibility "trade-off"? Is
it necessarily a trade-off? What tricks have you learned in this area?
Can the remote control give the advanced user as much flexibility as
they want, while avoiding confusion for the newbie?