Tuts+ has always been about taking complex concepts and breaking them down into simple, step-by-step tutorials. But recently we set ourselves a new challenge: create some tutorials specifically aimed at kids, helping them master traditionally "grown-up" subjects like web design and Photoshop image manipulation.
Reaching out to kids is just one of a number of recent initiatives at Tuts+ to appeal to new audiences. After all, inclusiveness is one of the main values of our parent company, Envato.
So we've already made efforts to diversify our content geographically, through our Global Influences initiative, which includes articles on everything from Japanese web design to Polish winged hussars. And we're encouraging members of the community to translate our tutorials into as many languages as possible.
We've also started offering short, free video courses, so that we can reach people who don't have the time or the budget to take our regular courses. The idea is to teach a new skill in a series of bite-sized videos totalling around an hour of viewing time.
Each of these attempts to reach new audiences has provided its own challenges, but writing for kids was perhaps the most daunting of all.
Creating Tutorials for Kids
So far we've published an 11-part series on Web Design for Kids, and we have a series on Adobe Photoshop for Kids in progress, with two tutorials published so far. There's more to come, but here's an overview of what we've learned from those first two series.
Make No Assumptions
The basic concept for the Web Design for Kids series was simple enough: take kids step by step through the process of designing and building a website. So far it sounds pretty much like any other Tuts+ tutorial series.
But how do you teach someone how to build a website when they may not even know the basics of how a website works, let alone what HTML and CSS stand for?
"One of the hardest parts of the entire project was eliminating all assumptions of existing knowledge," wrote the instructor, Joni Trythall, in a post on her website. "I couldn't assume the audience already knew how files work or how the internet works, for example."
So the introductory post for the series begins by explaining the basics of how computers connect to each other, how websites are built using "a special set of rules that computers understand", and how people then view these websites using a browser.
We tend to think that our beginner tutorials on Tuts+ already keep things simple, but creating content for a younger audience really exposes how much pre-existing knowledge we often assume.
It's easy to lose touch with the struggles of a beginner in general, but this becomes even more difficult when you factor in a much younger audience." —Tuts+ instructor Joni Trythall
Make It Fun
Of course, any content we create should be engaging, but for children it's particularly important that the projects are fun.
So the writing style of these tutorials is lighter and more informal than usual, and they include plenty of simple, colourful graphics. But by far the best way to ensure the tutorials are fun to read is for the instructor to have fun creating them.
That was certainly the case for our Design & Illustration instructor Kirk Nelson, who has worked with his daughters to create a couple of Photoshop tutorials. Both are designed as collaborations, meaning that they provide a great opportunity for parents and kids to do something fun together.
I asked Sharon Milne, Tuts+ Design & Illustration Editor, how the series was going, and she told me:
"Kirk got back to me the other day about him working so much with his daughters on his tutorials. They're enjoying it a great deal and it shows with the end results. Being able to spend extra time with your family while you create has to be on the best benefits about working on this series!"
And if you have any doubt that Kirk's daughter enjoyed it as well, take a look at the smile on her face:
Adults Sometimes Want to Have Fun Too
Although there are of course many differences between teaching kids and teaching adults, some things remain the same.
"An unexpected benefit from publishing our Web Design for Kids series? That the most common response has actually been from adults who’ve appreciated the chance to go back to basics." — Ian Yates, Tuts+ Web Design Editor
So if you've been feeling a bit embarrassed about your desire to create a fantasy photo manipulation of yourself fighting dragons, don't worry. Although the series are aimed at kids, you don't have to be a kid to enjoy them. So feel free to indulge your inner child by playing along with us:
Where Should We Go Next?
We've got more Photoshop tutorials planned, and will also be launching a new series on Adobe Illustrator for Kids. But we'd love to expand our child-friendly content into new areas as well, so do you have a suggestion for a subject we could cover? Let us know in the comments below!