Hutchinson, H., Druin, A., Bederson, B. (November 2008)
Elementary-age children (ages 6-11) are among the largest user groups of computers and the Internet. Therefore, it is important to design searching and browsing tools that support them. However, many interfaces for children do not consider their skills and preferences. Children are capable of creating Boolean queries using category browsers, but have difficulty with the hierarchies used in many category browsing interfaces because different branches of the hierarchy must be navigated sequentially and top-level categories are often too abstract for them to understand. Based on previous research, we believed using a flat category structure, where only leaf-level categories are available and can be viewed simultaneously, might better support children. However, this design introduces many more items on the screen and the need for paging or scrolling, all potential usability problems. To evaluate these tradeoffs, we conducted two studies with children searching and browsing using two types of category browsers in the International Children’s Digital Library. Our results suggest that a flat, simultaneous interface provides advantages over a hierarchical, sequential interface for children in both Boolean searching and casual browsing. These results add to our understanding of children’s searching and browsing skills and preferences and also suggest guidelines for other children’s interface designers.