It's no surprise that computers and the Internet have become the medium of choice for today's children. Regardless of age, income or ethnicity, children are fascinated by technology.
And if you have ever spent time watching a child use a computer, you soon realize that children have a natural talent for mastering technology. In fact, in many homes, children are the technology experts.
Some say it's a child's willingness to experiment with new applications that makes them more proficient. Whatever the reason, today's child frequently uses computers to e-mail, chat, play games, download music and visit favorite Web sites.
In fact, tweens — children between the ages of 8 and 12 — are fast becoming the most desirable online demographic. It's estimated that in the U.S. alone, tweens wield a combined spending power of more than $250 billion dollars.
Kiosk vendors would be wise to build loyalty among this tech-savvy group.
Keeping kids happy
Fast-food chains have long understood that children drive traffic. That's why they offer incentives such as child-size meals with toys. But due to fierce competition, some QSRs have started to deploy kid-friendly kiosks as a way to keep patrons in the store longer, and as a result increase sales.
Fast-food giants, Burger King and Dairy Queen were two of the first QSRs to use interactive kiosks as part of their kid-friendly offerings.
Burger King's award winning Virtual Fun Center uses a kid-friendly design, whichÂ incorporates bright primary colors that convey a feeling of fun. The VFC is also designed for children. The screen is low (at a kid's eye level) and because of obvious dexterity issues there is no keyboard.
Brian Ardinger, business developer for nanonation, with the Virtual Fun Center
But kid-friendly kiosks are not just about the look and feel. To successfully keep the attention of tech-savvy kids, the applications must be cutting-edge.
Wendell Bradley, the owner ofÂ a Dairy Queen in Illinois, was looking to reach a new wired generation of patrons.
Bradley hired nanonation to create a kiosk solution that was flexible and customizable – one that would appeal to both adults and their children.
The kiosks (one design is targeted to adults and one design is targeted to children) needed to promote Dairy Queen's brand image, leverage existing marketing and promotional materials, encourage additional visits and increase sales per visit.
"I wanted to make my Dairy Queen not only a place where you can get great food and desserts, but also a place where you can take your family and friends and enjoy exciting digital entertainment," said Bradley. "This is what I had in mind for the Playzone."
Bradley wanted two of the kiosks to appeal specifically to his younger patrons who come in with their parents. "You can't forget about kids. Many times they know more about technology than their parents," he said.
nanonation helped make that vision a reality with a spill-proof digital entertainment device called a "nanopoint."
"The nanopoint can take a pounding and because it is spill proof, whether it be a root beer float or a strawberry sundae, it washes off, with no damage to the machine," explained Bradley Walker, president and CEO of nanonation. "The nanopoint is kid-proof."
The nanopoint has been an absolute hit. "They are working great! I am just amazed how many people are using them," said Bradley. "I see 3-year olds to 83-year olds. Plus, my customers are staying in the store longer which is good for business."
The school of kiosk
Educational venues are also discovering the benefits of using kid-friendly kiosks. At the 2004 KioskCom Interactive Kiosk Excellence Awards, industry veterans wereÂ surprised when students from Boyne City High School took first place in the Best Public Access Kiosk Application category. According to Randy Calcaterra, digital media designer for Charlevoix-Emmet Intermediate School District/Boyne City Public Schools, the audience for this award-winning kiosk is a combination of students and adults.
"Students are very, very interested in the gaming aspects of it," he said. "They stand around during lunch and it is a competition sort of the thing. In the evening parents use it for content about the curriculum and what the elementary and middle schools have to offer. Parents seem to be broader in their exploring of the content."
If you are just throwing up flash games, or Web sites they can get at home or school, then there is no extra value for using that unit.
-- Bradley Walker, president and CEO of nanonation
Calcaterra has learned that kids are more tech savvy and they are not afraid to try the kiosk. "They have an inherent knack on how to use it, where the adults don't. The adults sit back and watch the kids use it. If I were going to go through the design phase again, I would look at not how to get kids to use it, but how to get adults to use it."
Content is king
Calcaterra found that kiosk games must offer the user something that is going to encourage returnability. Examples of games that did not work are ones that are more linear and have a patterned, predictable outcome.
"Effective games have more of a non-linear randomness, which seems to draw children back to the kiosk," he said. "Children like games that have some randomness thrown in so that they don't know what is going to happen next."
According to Walker, developers need to understand the fusion of interactivity, video and the gaming orientation. "If you are just throwing up flash games, or Web sites they can get at home or school, then there is no extra value for using that unit."
Are kid-friendly kiosks just shrunken versions of adult-sized kiosks or should there be fundamental differences?
Calcaterra thinks the most important difference should be the content. For his students, the outside physical structure is less important. A flashy enclosure might attract them at the start but children have shown that they instinctively want to touch or play with kiosk systems.
Students and faculty at BCHS can use the award-winning kiosk to keep up-to-date with what's happening at the school.
"I would imagine that brighter colors and more kid-type plastic enclosures would get their attention, initially, but I feel they would go play with it anyway because they are simply used to video games," Calcaterra said. "In the long run there may be a little more use and it is obviously more targeted, but I think it would more than likely just exclude the older users."
Walker agrees. He found that everyone seems to be driven by the same thing – fresh, engaging content. "I think either there is a compelling reason to use it once or a compelling reason to use it again and again. And that reason is driven by the content. The most important part of any project is to have content that will drive user behavior."
Learning disguised as entertainment
Museums were one of the first to use kiosks as a learning tool. Since 1997 the Children's Museum of Memphis has used kid-friendly kiosks that help children ages 1 through 12 learn about careers.
"The challenge we face is that we have a variety of users, from young children up to adults. We have to engage users to get lessons across," said Cecilia Palazola, director of education for the museum. "The hardest thing is to keep things simple."
She offered as an example the air traffic controller kiosk. "We had to explain a complex occupation simply enough so that kids could make the decisions that a real air traffic controller would make."
Another, the "Growing Healthy" exhibit, has two kiosks; one that lets kids learn about careers in healthcare and another that lets kids make choices about healthy eating.
"People don't even realize that they are learning, because they are having fun," said Charles Gaushell, principal of Paradigm Productions LLC, which designs kiosk projects for museums.
Calcaterra believes that educational settings are the perfect place for kiosk use.
"Many schools have called and are intrigued by this application. They want to know how to duplicate the system," he said. "I fully believe that there is an audience for these in other schools simply because kiosks can provide more multimedia-rich content than you can get on the Web."
According to Walker there is a whole generation of computer users out there who feel as comfortable in front of a keyboard as they do the television. "nanopoint is designed to capture the imagination of these consumers and create a unique experience that is based on the media they understand so well."