Kibooco: How to Think Like a 5-Year-Old

August 29, 2012

1:00 pm

If you were designing an “undo” button for a 5-year-old, who can’t read, what would it look like? The traditional back arrow makes just about zero sense to a young kid.

The team at Kibooco, an app that helps kids create their own story books, spent literally hours pondering this question. They came up with a spray bottle and a cloth: undoing is like cleaning up the mess you just made.

An experimental version of the “undo” tool

If your startup is using back arrows instead of cleaning bottles, so to speak, you might be confusing rather than delighting your users.

Kibooco offers children a few story templates to choose from, and they can do the illustrations. For painting an object, the app features a squishy blob with sound effects, rather than the usual spilling bucket. To make an object bigger, it has a button with a big balloon and a button with a small ballon – even + and – are too complicated for the 5-year-old mind.

“We want it to look yummy to kids,” says cofounder and CEO Molly Schneeberg, a mother of two who hopes to use technology to connect with her kids, not distract them.

An experimental version of the “biggerizer” and “smallerizer” tool

Kibooco partnered with a local childcare center in its hometown of Vancouver to test the app on kids ages 4 to 10. “As much as we even try to think like 5-year-olds, we aren’t,” says Schneeberg. As they observed kids using the app, they had a few surprises.

One student made a beautiful drawing, then selected the pencil tool to add a final flourish. As anyone who has used a mouse to write words can attest to, this is no easy task – especially for a child with subpar motor control. So the drawing was ruined, the student got frustrated, and he hadn’t learned “undo” yet.

Another student was so enthralled by the bubble paint tool, which was supposed to add bubbles in the background, that she bubbled over her whole drawing. Kibooco ended up nixing the pencil tool and adding some limitations to avoid bubble mania.

An experimental version of the bubble paint

With feedback from a PhD student in children’s usability, they also learned to be very “forgiving”: if you’re a few pixels off when you try to grab an object, it still works; when you can’t perform a certain action, you get a funny noise or picture designed to elicit giggles, not annoyance.

Kibooco is also asking for feedback from parents through its Indiegogo campaign. They are trying to raise $50,000, partly to fund a partnership with a printer so kids’ creations can actually be printed. The Vancouver startup plans to launch in beta in about two months.

Next time you’re designing a feature, ask yourself: are your users 5-year-olds?

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact

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