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Gregory V. Wilson
I bought my fourth copy of Broderbund's award-winning "KidPix" program a few weeks ago, and after installing it on the PC that my oldest niece and nephew use, I got to wondering about children's software in general. I messed around with Logo many years ago, and watched my niece and nephew play with the Web and various educational programs, but that was pretty much all I knew.
The Design of Children's Technology, edited by Allison Druin, is a collection of eleven articles that did a good job of filling in the gaps in my knowledge. The book is not a survey; instead, each article describes one group's experiences with designing software for youngsters. The first six chapters are focused on the design process: How do you find out what children are thinking about the programs they are using? How do you solicit and interpret suggestions for changes? And, most importantly, how do you tell if what you've built is fun, interesting, and usable?
The five articles making up the second half of the book are less concerned with "how," and more concerned with describing tools that their authors have created. These include multimedia authoring frameworks for kids, Lego robotic parts, and systems like Cocoa and ToonTalk, which are based on programming-by-example and direct manipulation. The book includes a few color slides and a reasonable index, but fewer URLs than some other books I've read recently.
Like most collections, The Design of Children's Technology contains material that will fascinate some readers, but be paged through by others. I was most interested in the descriptions of methodologies and pitfalls in the first half; a lot of the points made seem obvious once they have been stated, but would probably not occur to someone who hadn't tripped over them before. The descriptive material in the second half was less satisfying for me, as the projects discussed have moved on since the book was written, and more up-to-date material is available through the Web. However, these chapters were still useful as an overview of who's doing what, and why.
One of the most important points this book's authors make is that children are a very exacting audience -- they won't accept excuses based on how hard something is to implement, or on marketing's insistence that this version has to be backward-compatible with one written 10 years ago. As "KidPix" and similar programs have proved, anything that passes the "child test" will necessarily be more usable, and hence more powerful in the hands of 95 percent of the adult population than its adult-only equivalent. I would therefore recommend this book to anyone interested in interface design for any age group.
— Electronic Review of Computer Books