Reading Time: 4 min | Feb 2024

Share on:


How to design great apps for kids (that even parents will love)

What makes great design... great? How is a design award-worthy? In this series, we ask experts across the creative industries to open up their magic bag of tools. We spoke with Lucas Zanotto, designer, illustrator, artist and director: about designing apps and creating UX for children.

Lucas and his company YATATOY created Drawnimal, Miximal, Loopimal and Bandimal. With stunning graphics and cute, child-friendly animation, the apps quickly caught the attention of parents and media alike. Apple featured Drawnimal in a commercial, and in 2018 Bandimal won the Apple Design Award.

The Interaction Design Foundation says UX design is the process for creating “meaningful and relevant experiences to users”. What makes great UX design for kids?

First, you should define what great means to you. When you’re designing for children, there are a few different aspects to consider. If you just look at the financials or absolute engagement, then Instagram and Tiktok are right at the top. Think of the time kids spend on the app, dopamine triggers. But is trying to maximize screen time really creating a great user experience for kids?

I’m a father, and when I was designing my first app, I had small children at the time. I wanted to create something a little bit like a Rudolf Steiner app. More like a tool or a toy. Engaging yes, but without addictive elements. I actually wanted kids to play with it for a bit, have fun and then go and do something else.

I believe there are three elements that make great UX for kids.

First of all, passion. You have to make something you love.

Lucas Zanotto
"You have to make something you love!"

Secondly, I do believe that every technology has a core functionality. What makes it unique, the way it should be used. And that makes up its quality. When we look at a book, you can feel the paper, touch the binding, look at the quality of the print. It’s tangible. With digital, you can’t just add a skin so it looks like a book, that’s not its quality.

Then there are aesthetics. I love a minimalistic approach, flat colours, no gradients. No flashy colors or rounded elements. Beautiful shapes and fine proportions. Stripping everything back and just keeping the essential. With Bandimal, there are also the amazing sounds. My friend Ulrich Troyer designed them, he’s incredibly talented, and most are analogue sounds. So even if it’s the sound of a synthesizer, it’s actually an analogue synthesizer. Of course all the code is native, and you can feel it when you interact with the interface. To go back to the first point: you can feel the passion.

Bandimal, by Lucas Zanotto

BANDIMAL is a fun and intuitive tool that allows children to create their first compositions and discover the creative world of music.

What makes a product or project a success?

You need something that is good, or even better than that. But I believe that if you’re passionate about what you do you’ll create something great in time. The second point is, you have to shout around about it. Unfortunately, the louder you shout the more successful you are. It’s not about being humble and saying quietly, ‘I made this perfect thing’. Of course you have to make the perfect thing, but then you have to tell people about it.

When I founded Yatatoy and we created the first app, I wrote hundreds of emails to influencer moms and all the blogs I could find. Every design blog and every educational blog I could find. I was really aggressive, and it worked. We started getting noticed by magazines, and that’s how we first got into contact with Apple, which has been a very good relationship since then.

Lucas Zanotto
"A great product is not enough, you have to tell people about it – loudly."

Can winning a design award help?

Well, we won the Apple Design Award with Bandimal, and it did make a difference. After that, we were definitely on the map with most children’s app houses. Ilari Niitamo, my partner at Yatatoy, went to California for the award ceremony and it was quite an experience for him.

You started your career as an architect, you’ve worked in advertising, illustration and product design, and of course you’ve created some amazing apps. What’s the red thread running through what you do?

I have a certain taste, certain things I like no matter which medium I’m working in. Playful, not too serious. Recently I designed a furniture collection, and someone who knows my work well saw it and said they recognized that it was done by me. But I don’t really have a design philosophy.

What is your favorite design or designer – and what makes them so great?

I love everything Bruno Munari made, he is my absolute favourite, as he has this playful approach to everything.