UX research with children as respondents undeniably poses a variety of challenges both logistic, legal and ethical. Still, it’s worth the effort. The conclusions researchers draw from the feedback coming from the youth can prove fascinating from the point of UX research as well as human sciences in general. What’s more, in the case of developing a product aimed at the young, UX research is a necessity. Read our article to learn how to properly prepare for UX research with children and how to conduct it in a stress-free manner for both parties.
UX research with children – table of contents:
When to conduct UX research with children?
Anyone who has dealt with children (professionally or privately) knows that children are not just “smaller” people. They think, react to situations, perceive the world as well as get motivated differently than adults. Children’s expectations about the appearance of products vary too. To the point that they find some processes that seem commonplace to adults challenging or even incomprehensible.
Therefore, when designing a product for children, screening it with adult respondents is a grave mistake to avoid – they will handle the product uniquely and pay attention to other things and functionalities. Hence, the result of such a study is by design flawed. To check whether our target users (in this case, children) will find the solution we have developed satisfying, they have to take part in the research process.
How to conduct UX research with children?
Planning and preparation for the UX research with children should proceed similarly to research with adults. We need to determine whether to remotely conduct the study at a defined location. Recruiting remotely may seem easy and lets you reach participants from a broader geographic or socioeconomic demographic group. Surveying a desktop format, at the respondent’s residence, enables you to see the true context of product functionality.
Is the participant testing the product in a room with poor Wi-Fi coverage? Are siblings distracting when the subjects are trying to complete the next level in a game, for example? Does the old family iPad have to be constantly plugged in because of a dead battery? These kinds of observations can have real implications for how to design a product.
In most cases, it is when conducting in-person surveys that you gather richer data. It’s then easier to keep study participants engaged so the researchers can track their facial expressions, body language as well as other numerous behavioral aspects during product usability tests. When conducting UX research with children under the age of 10, it’s best to stick to desktop testing. Remote testing with younger children tends to make the process more troublesome because they are hard to control, especially if they get bored or distracted by something. Remote testing with teenagers, on the other hand, can be quite successful.
The next step concerns recruiting participants for the study. We have already written about the recruitment of participants and available recruitment channels. When recruiting children, opt for local recruitment options – you can ask friends for help, share posts on family Facebook groups, and distribute flyers at schools, kindergartens, community centers, soccer clubs or theater groups, etc.
Targeting precisely kindergartens, schools, and camps provides a huge base of potential participants who get informed by passing on information to parents. Regardless of the recruitment method you choose, make sure that such a flyer/poster includes a brief description of the research objectives, expectations of the participants, the location and duration of the study, and a proposed incentive for participation (such as gift certificates or cash).
Once the research group has been selected, it’s time to plan the questions we want to ask. As with standard research with adults, test the scenario by running a pilot study. It will help to fish out “mistakes” in our scenario (unclear, problematic questions), as well as to undergo a dress rehearsal before the actual survey – which is especially valuable if we do not yet have experience in conducting the study with the youngest participants. It’s worth remembering not to ask too general questions – in research with adults, very general, open-ended questions make them relaxed and open up to the researcher.
However, with children, overly broad questions may confuse them, making the answers incoherent. Therefore, an opening question in a survey should, for example, concern a favorite game, computer game or subject at school.
At the examination stage, take care of the “warm-up” – a short game to get the child moving and feeling more confident and comfortable. Sometimes the presence of a parent is necessary at the session (because, for example, the child will get scared on its own). In such a situation, warn the parent that he/she has to remain quiet at the examination site. As silent observers, parents should not prompt, distract or comment on their children. However, once the study is over, you can ask the parents for feedback – so that they feel included in the whole process.
What else distinguishes adult surveys from surveys with children? It is worth matching the form of the question to the age – for example, for an adult, rating something on a scale of 1 to 5 is quite understandable, but for a child, it can be confusing. In the case of scales, for example, go for emoticons – from sad to indifferent to happy smiley – to represent the scale. Remember about simple and understandable language – children may not understand specific industry vocabulary. Therefore, instead of the word “prototype” say “sample site”, instead of “useful” say “simple for children to use”.
Children are also often more “exploratory” – Perhaps they will click and discover new things (often unintentionally) during usability tests. This has its pros and cons – they may find a new bug in the prototype that we didn’t know about, but this will extend the time of the whole test and force us to do further research, not to mention distracting us from the main research problem. Take care of the options to quickly reset the prototype and return to the study site.
Naturally, after the survey, give positive feedback – thank the children for their time, and make them realize that they helped you a lot with their participation and that they did a great job. You can also reward them with, for example, a sticker, a coloring book, or a small toy. Remember that the cash prize – should go only to an adult (in this case, to the parent or guardian of the child under study).
When conducting a study with the participation of children, expect the unexpected. Of course, you’ll never prepare for every eventuality when planning a study. On the other hand, there are a few things to watch out for to run the screening smoothly. Freedom during conducting UX research with children applies not only to the way you behave but also to the way you dress – prepare to sit on the floor or get dirty. Casual clothing will also make your child feel at ease (and not like they are on a school test).
Bring a few quiet distractions such as coloring books or cake pops to keep curious siblings occupied if needed without disrupting the session. Also, remember to have a buffer of time between scheduled appointments (research with children can drag on considerably). On the other hand, if your child becomes bored, frustrated or tired, don’t be afraid to interrupt the study and end it sooner.
UX research with children is often not only essential (if you are designing a product for children) but also extremely valuable! One of the best parts concerns observing their enthusiasm for items – listening to their comments about the product or watching their facial expressions when something surprises or upsets them. In addition, children’s unconditional sincerity and vivaciousness influence their honest opinion. The funny comments and sayings we hear during the research session are sure to stay in our memories for a long time and remain an amusing anecdote among our colleagues. Finally, remember that children are amazing inspirations! Observe them and transfer their passion, energy, and openness to your work.
- What is UX research?
- Types of UX research
- What are research questions and how to write them?
- Requirements gathering process for UI/UX projects
- Why are stakeholder interviews crucial for the design process?
- How to leverage our gathered customer data?
- How to create a good UX research plan?
- How to choose a research method?
- How can pilot testing improve UX research?
- UX study participant recruitment
- Channels and tools for finding UX research participants
- Screener survey for UX Research
- UX Research Incentives
- UX research with children
- Discovery research methods
- What is desk research?
- How to conduct user interviews?
- How to conduct a diary studies?
- What are focus groups in research?
- What is ethnographic research?
- Survey research
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- What is evaluative research?
- How to conduct usability testing?
- When and how to run preference testing?
- What is A/B testing in UX?
- Eyetracking in UX testing
- What is tree testing?
- First click testing
- What is task analysis in UX research?
- Evaluation of emotions in UX
- Continuous Research in UX
- Data analysis in UX research
- How to prepare a UX study report?
- Customer Journey Map – what is it and how to create it?