Connecting with the Next Generation


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I am an avid learner and reader. At some point and for years, I was reading between 120 and 150 books a year, mostly fiction. Because I wanted to filter in a diverse roster of styles and levels of experience, I used to pick 3-5 books at a time at the local library.

Since it was a few years before apps became a good way to track things, I made notes on an old phone agenda to record what I was reading organized by author's surname. In some letters I ran out of space quickly (which gave me the added bonus of learning about the commonalities of initials).

Technology is changing everything we do, and in some cases rewiring us to do differently — and our brain in the process. We are it seems ages ahead of the very first flip phones and personal computers. Devices are designed better (thank you, Mac, the PC also benefited from you) and are more intuitive to use.

In fact, I would wager that some of us had to unlearn bad habits to learn how to use newer devices like smartphones and tablets. This process makes it harder to move away from established pathways in how we do what we do, including for fear of messing up.

Children do not have this problem. Naturally predisposed to absorbing new information, they are generally not wondering about messing up. Their approach is one of play and curiosity. So it is not a huge surprise that six year olds understand technology better than adults#.

Early in my life here in the U.S. I taught children Italian; they are sponges, believe me. We had a great time. Recent research from Ofcom confirms reams of data I have been collecting since then:

Born in the new millennium, these children have never known the dark ages of dial up internet, and the youngest are learning how to operate smartphones or tablets before they are able to talk.

"These younger people are shaping communications," said Jane Rumble, Ofcom's media research head. "As a result of growing up in the digital age, they are developing fundamentally different communication habits from older generations, even compared to what we call the early adopters, the 16-to-24 age group."

I have a 5 year old niece who figured out how to record a video of herself with my iPad. She is quite the composed star, too.

Learning to learn is a very valuable skills, especially at a time when technology keeps moving at a rate faster than ever before. I am intensely interested in understanding the implications of technology as well as the patterns in human behavior.

About a year ago, while at Empathy Lab, I worked alongside a brilliant user experience designer on the wireframes of an app for tablet for the very center that brought me to the U.S.

Debra Levin Gelman has a deep interest in designing media for children and has worked on designing web sites for brands like Crayola (currently a client of PM Digital), Scholastic, PBS, Comcast, Campbell's Soup Company, and Pepperidge Farm. Through her actual work with kids, Debra learned about the importance of visual literacy.

It was her desire to learn better tips and techniques on how to design apps for iPad and iPhone, devices that are extremely intuitive and easy to use for children, that she first came up with the idea of putting together a comprehensive resource on designing compelling digital producst for children of different ages.

The guide soon became a book proposal, and I am thrilled that Design for Kids; digital products for playing and learning is now out. Debra's publisher, Rosenfeld media, was kind enough to send me a review copy.

Having worked with Debra for a few months on a live project, I already had a primer of some of the processes that go into it. I was eager to learn more and Designing for Kids is a wonderful blueprint for any designer working on digital experiences for children of any age (we all love great experiences, don't we?)

If you work on digital products, this book is for you. Go get your copy. Well done, Debra. Three years of work and dedication paid off.

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Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.


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