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A post by
Ana Pavuna
April 7, 2020

Four considerations when testing digital solutions with children

Four considerations when testing digital solutions with children

A post by
Ana Pavuna
April 7, 2020
min read

Research with kids is a delicate subject, particularly for businesses. It can bring a lot of extra legal and ethical considerations.

A guide to conducting UX research with kids

While there are definitely some subjects that are too sensitive to discuss with kids, allowing children to have a say on their digital experiences can in fact be more ethical in the long term. This doesn’t mean that kids’ research has to be far more expensive than the adult equivalent, it just takes a bit more planning. So as long as a research team has adequate processes in place, research shouldn’t require much extra time to accomplish.

Here follows a selection of best practices that our team has developed over the years. Note that these will always vary according to the research scope and market of interest:

Asking feedback to different age groups

Kids younger than 6 years old tend to be able to describe familiar objects, but only within their natural environment. On the other hand, kids between 7 and 12 years old, start to formulate wishes and opinions of their own.

But age isn’t always enough to dictate what a kid can or cannot do, therefore at Ostmodern we design feedback methods with the youngest cognitive stage of development in mind.

A popular method we use is re-enactment. It essentially consists of prompting children to reproduce their usual habits: from where they sat in a room to what they did the last time they engaged with a product. This method tends to form the basis of our studies as it is easy for all stages of development to partake in and provides invaluable contextual data. Hence, we even use it in our adult studies!

In addition, we ensure that the study doesn’t get boring for their shorter attention span. We spread our questions across different exercises which essentially involves a lot of playing around. In our latest research, we asked young children to take pictures of literally “all the things they use to watch TV”. Now, let’s be honest, the pictures weren’t great but we got a ton of them and more importantly, we had the kids motivated to do a great deal of the detective work for us.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Understanding household effects

Within the kids industry, it isn’t rare to see businesses having trouble analysing what their data truly mean. As it is hard to tell, for instance, whether drop offs are due to kids’ natural restlessness or parental control.

By talking to families, we can understand better what leads to these changes. For example, for kids with divorced parents, it is harder to consistently use a service. Simply because it may not be available in both households or because kids are given a completely different screen time schedule within each.

'At dad’s we watch films on the game box and at mom’s we watch them on the iPad or the phone'

— An 8 year old

This is why we advise to be mindful of exploring household dynamics prior to observing kids behaviours in a digital service: family structures and expectations usually drive usage.

Recruitment surveys include questions around household dynamics

Our team regularly researches behavioural reports in family structures (i.e. % of divorced households) to ensure that, wherever a study may take place, we recruit representative market samples that will report on these complexities.

We also include contextual questions around family dynamics at the start of each test session. These make up the basis for our feedback methodology: once we know through which lens questions need to be framed, kids’ interactions are then easier to capture and contextualise.

Testing in safe environments

Regardless of a researcher’s set of qualifications, children tend to be shy with strangers and having parents or relatives lead the way makes for better feedback. Similarly we always prefer studies to take place at kids’ homes or in a familiar and comfortable place.

To facilitate this, we create steps to guide parents through the design of a study. This can vary from a simple slideshow to follow in a literal sense, to a more hands-on approach when researchers support parents as the situation unfolds.

And thanks to recent technologies such as voice assistants and video calls, kids have grown confident in talking through remote means of communications. Which means remote testing has actually become an easy method to talk directly to a child without causing them any further distress.

Kids are given instructions (or fun tasks) by our researcher over a conference call

Lastly, if the research scope is wide and participants are under 7, we plan for extra participants. At a young age, it is hard for kids to focus for a long time. Sometimes, simply asking fewer questions to more children turns out to be more beneficial for both their welfare and our data needs.

'Plan for kids research just like you’d plan for senior stakeholders: both have tight schedules which won’t fit all your questions, but the former have an agenda which consists of sleeping, eating or playing'

Asking for consent and GDPR considerations

Regarding data, most personal information is not needed to achieve great research. Our researchers have note-taking systems which focus on capturing solely product behaviours, not personal information. However, when using a remote testing software these often come with video recordings. We delete the recordings as soon as research analysis is over and make sure to inform family members about it.

We try our best to get kids on board as much as parents. If children are older than 7, we produce fun leaflets for them to digest along with their parents. For kids under 6 however, this can prove counterproductive and make them feel distressed by the information overload. In this case, we inform parents and let them introduce us in whichever way they seem fit for their kids abilities.

In summary

These are just a set of considerations amongst many others, but overall our best practice is to balance creativity and scientific rigour in the methods we choose. As each generation grows, new habits are uncovered and these are real opportunities for us to refine our best practices and methods around.

So if you have any specific questions around kids research, don’t hesitate to contact us.

We’ll leave you with a simple but true statement that we keep in mind when designing solutions:

'Every generation frames their experience through the lens of what they already know. And our job is to uncover what this means for an experience'

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