Standards for how to conduct a usability test are fairly easy to find these days. Tech agencies and product companies are becoming well-versed in a variety of user-centered research methods, from traditional user interviews and ethnographic observation to the more new and specific such as card sorting and tree-testing.
All of these methods, old and new, yield great product insights - assuming your users are adults and can hold a meaningful conversation with you! We recently had the opportunity to conduct usability tests with 20 kids, ranging in ages from 3 to 12 years old. Below we identify some key practices we think you’ll find useful if you also find yourself in this situation.
It might sound obvious, but getting proper informed consent is crucial when doing research with children. There are well-founded ethical concerns anytime research is being conducted on kids. Many of these ethics are codified into laws, which you can review here: Usability Testing with Kids and Teens. Basically, kids under the age of 18 cannot consent, so a parent or guardian will have to grant consent for them. This should not deter you, however! Follow this template and you’re well on your way.
Have a Parent in the Room
Normally in a research setting, you want to minimize outside influence (e.g., too many researchers standing around taking notes). Counterintuitively, having kids’ parents in the room actually helped our process. For example, when a child says, “I don’t know” to our question, a parent was helpful in reminding their child that they did in fact know. This helped us gather accurate data.
Make it a Kid Zone, not a Sterile Lab
Providing granola bars, juice boxes, and a warm environment really makes kids more comfortable. Don’t be afraid to butter them up a little bit (and with the parents in the room, you don’t need to enforce any rules about the amount of snacks they have). Of course, your usability lab should always be warm and friendly for all your users coming in.
Be Patient and Flexible
Young children (5 and under) are still learning social norms, so be prepared for some funny moments. As you can imagine, drawing their attention away from their favorite TV show to go to the next task can be challenging. Some of the children would even bluntly respond, “I don’t want to.” Try asking again after a few seconds and they’re usually more willing. Be patient, be kind, and be flexible!
Don’t Worry about the Cameras
As researchers, we are always thinking about The Hawthorne Effect - or the idea that people being researched will change their behavior simply because they’re being observed. There are ways to minimize this observer bias, including making cameras (if you’re recording) less visible to those being recorded, having fewer people in the room, and establishing rapport with your users. Kids, however, don’t really notice or care about the cameras. If there’s one thing we learned, it’s that you’re more likely to get honest feedback from kids than from adults!
Remember that TV is a Shared Experience
We tailor each research design to our research question. In this case, we weren’t just researching kids, but we were researching how kids interact with TV apps on mobile devices. Watching TV and movies is often a shared experience with friends and family, so we knew it would be important to see how kids interacted with each other when using apps. While there are obvious drawbacks to studying multiple kids at once, doing so yielded insights into which kid picks the shows, how the decision process works, and how older siblings help their younger siblings.
Decide which Kids to Test
Breaking up by age group was important based on different abilities (such as reading level). First, we separated our kid participants by age group using existing guidelines. There turned out to be a big difference (as you can imagine) between asking a four-year-old versus a twelve-year-old to accomplish a task. Age segmentation proved to be the most valuable in informing our design decisions. It’s definitely not a one-size-fits all approach.
Stay tuned for our findings in our next blog post!