Usability tests are important to understand how users interact with products. Accordingly, on a project dedicated to improving the UX of a product designed for kids, it's essential to conduct usability tests with kids. We recently worked on such a project, redesigning an app related to a kid’s robot kit.
With this blog post, our intention is to help you to prepare for running usability testing with kids. We’ll share aspects you should generally pay attention to, along with practical tips that we have learned during in-person and remote testing sessions. Also, we’ll shed some light on the challenges we faced overall while testing with kids.
Some context on the UX Studio’s project
Not long ago, in UX studio, we had the chance to work on a mobile application for a kid’s robotics kit. This kit aimed to teach kids the basics of programming. Consequently, the project focused on redesigning the previous version of the application by keeping flexibility high and complexity down. But most importantly, we aimed to create a new app design that kids can use by themselves for the first time as well.
During this project, we started by testing the previous version of the app with 9 kids. Once we started the redesign, we ran usability tests on 11 prototypes with 36 kids. The kids involved in the project were 7-14 years old. Additionally, we ran both in-person and remote usability tests over the course of the project. The in-person tests were conducted in our office in Budapest, while the remote ones were with kids from the US.
Since this project ran for seven months, we had the chance to gain a lot of experience in usability testing with kids. We’d like to share the learnings with you in this post.
Preparing for usability testing with kids
We can state for sure that usability testing with kids is different from usability testing with adults. Before you start planning a project that involves kids as usability test participants, you should keep in mind a couple of important things.
Recruitment for testing with kids
To recruit for our project, we chose to set up a paid Facebook advertising campaign. This campaign targeted parents with ages between 28 and 65+, with early school-age children (6-8 years), with preteens (9-12 years), and with teenagers (13-17 years). Altogether we set up 4 different ads both in English and Hungarian. These ads ran both on Facebook and Instagram feeds and stories.
For us, this campaign setup proved to be quite successful. Within 3 days, almost 100 parents applied to take part in the research.
Be prepared legally as well
Testing with kids is always a delicate situation. On the one hand, you should be aware of what personal information you are allowed to ask about the kids during the recruitment process. In our recruitment screener, we decided not to ask for any personal information related to the kids, only for the parent’s.
On the other hand, the kids we worked with were underage. This meant they were not allowed to give their own consent to participate in the research. To solve this, we provided a consent form for the parents. Here, the parents agreed to participate in the research with the help of their kids. Therefore, we started the project by creating a consent form that we sent out to parents and strictly asked them to sign it before the testing session.
After conducting tests with kids, we can say that it won’t be any harder than testing with adults. However, kids may arrive to sessions more stressed because of the unknown situation. On top of that, talking to someone they don’t know can be equally stressful as well. So, if you want to make your job easier, you will need to invest some energy into creating a friendly, nice, and maybe fun environment for the kids before starting the exact testing part.
In our experience, a small chat in the beginning of the session about the kid’s day, what they like to do in their free time, or their favourite subjects in school could be really helpful to release this stress. Also, showing them that you are interested in what they want to tell you can also increase trust. This is something you should apply during in-person and a remote test as well.
In-person usability testing with kids
Besides the above-listed general preparations, we also collected some tips for conducting in-person usability tests with kids. We would emphasise the in-person aspect here because later on in this blog post we will also share some tips on how to work with kids in a remote setup.
Image source: Unsplash
What to do before the test
The first thing you can do is send an introduction email to the parents. In this email you can introduce the team and the project. This is when you should also ask them about appropriate dates and times when they can come in for the testing.
Once you have the date, test the setup you want to work with. Equally important, make sure to charge every device you’ll use before the sessions.
We would suggest investing some time and money to buy some sweets, fruit, and drinks for the kids. From time to time they can get hungry, but mostly thirsty by answering our questions and sharing their thoughts. Having some snacks or drinks nearby can be also used as an ice-breaker at the beginning.
What to pay attention to during the test
First of all, what we experienced is that kids can understand everything or at least more than we think they do. So, be open about explaining things, like the setup you’re using, why, and how the session will be recorded. This could help them better understand the situation and how we do research.
Also, be open about the fact that you will ask a lot of questions. At the same time, make sure that they understand that this is not a test. You could emphasise that with their help, you will be able to create an easier-to-use version of the app they will test. As we experienced, saying it out loud that they can help us was motivating for them to share all of their thoughts and opinions more honestly.
There’s one thing to keep in mind here. A lot of questions can be scary for a kid. For this reason, it is important to pay attention to phrasing questions as simply as possible. If you’re not sure that kids could understand, you can ask them to repeat your question using their own words. Another thing you can try to make the questions or tasks more simple by rephrasing them.
Sadly, it still can happen that kids can’t remember, or can’t verbalise what they obviously struggled with during the testing. If this is the case, it is more important to rely on your observations than on their answers.
Remote usability testing with kids
As we already mentioned, we had the opportunity to test with kids in a remote setup as well. Before we started these sessions, we did our research on whether it is something that could work with kids. We looked at how it would be possible and what practical tips we can follow to make these sessions successful.
We found a couple of sources to learn from. So, here, we would like to summarize what helped us besides our existing knowledge from in-person testing.
Image source: Pexels
What to do before the tests
Once you agreed on a date and time, you could send a more detailed email to the parents about what you need to conduct the usability tests remotely. In this email, you can state which platform and devices you want to use. You can also provide help on how to set these up and how to use them. Besides that, you can ask parents to charge devices before the session and inquire about the quality of the wifi connection as well.
Additionally, in this email, we also asked that at least one of the parents be there in case we experienced any difficulties. However, we asked them not to help the kids during the testing.
In our case, parents were quite cooperative. During the sessions, they were either in the same room but far from the kids or in another room. With this setup, they could hear if the kid struggled with something and could come and help, but also they couldn’t help with the tasks.
Also, to make your work easier, we suggest asking parents to download and turn on the tap shower on the device the kids will use during the session. With this tap shower, you can easily follow what the kids are doing within the prototype even if they won’t verbalize their steps.
Test your remote setups
Our last tip would be to test the planned setup before the sessions, just to make sure that everything will work in real life as well. However, it can still happen that during the session you need to solve unexpected situations related to the setup. In this case, we would suggest keeping calm as much as possible. The best thing to do in this case is to think through quickly on what piece of information is important for you to recorde.
In our case, we asked the parents to use two devices: one for showing the kid’s face and one for testing the prototype and sharing the screen. During our project, one of the families couldn’t provide a second device. In that situation, kids could use the same iPad for Zoom and also for testing. Also, if they shared their screens Zoom turned off their camera, so we couldn’t see their faces.
To solve this situation we explained to the kids that we can’t see their faces now, so it is extremely important that they say aloud every thought, every step, and every opinion about what goes on in the prototype. To be honest, we didn’t experience difficulties during these sessions, because kids from the US were really talkative and confident. Accordingly, they were happy to share all of their thoughts.
What to do during the test
We would suggest asking the kids to turn on their camera, so you can see their faces and reactions during the test. In addition, we think it is equally important to show your own face as well as a facilitator. In our opinion, if kids can see the facilitator’s face, that creates a more safe and trustworthy environment during the test.
Why is parents’ presence a good call during the tests? To make the tester able to ask them to check time-to-time that the call is still going on and everything is working well. With their help, if you experience a weak wifi connection or if the signal is breaking down, you can solve these technical problems faster.
General challenges for usability testing with kids
Although you can do a lot of things to prepare for testing with kids, there are specific situations you can run into. Below are some of the challenges we encountered and how we approached them.
Keeping up the kid’s attention
Keeping kids engaged in the testing situations is not always an easy task. During the planning phase, we suggest thinking through the duration of the sessions and how to make these a little fun. Also, you should consider the possibility that you won’t be able to take notes during the sessions.
During our project, we conducted 40-60 minute long usability tests with kids. Based on our experience, we would suggest limiting the sessions to 40-45 minutes. Although kids are able to stay in the situation after 40 minutes, loss of interest, attention, and discipline could be observed after that time frame.
We also realised, during our sessions, that as a facilitator it is almost impossible to make notes. Every time we wrote something down, the kid’s attention shifted from the tasks to our behaviour. Also, they started asking questions about what we wrote down and why. In this case, if the test setup allows it, you could ask someone else to take notes for you. If that’s not an option, we suggest simply rewatching the recordings.
Difficulties in understanding what a prototype is
According to our experience, it’s hard for kids to imagine or to keep in mind what a prototype is. At the beginning of each session, we explained this to them, adding that they would not be able to use every part of the prototype. Still, when kids opened the app, they wanted to explore every part and clicked on everything.
To solve this, at certain points, we reminded kids of the fact that they were using a prototype and that not everything works in it. Also, we asked them to continue with the task we gave them.
Adjusting your working hours
Testing with kids can involve the fact that you need to adjust your working hours. In order to run sessions with kids, we often worked after regular working hours, when parents were available to bring the kids to the office for in-person testing. This situation can also come up if you are testing with kids remotely from other countries with different time zones.
During the testing periods, what we could do was change our usual work hours. Here, at the studio, our leaders are encouraging us to start our days later if we work late. In this way we didn’t have to work more than the regular 8 hours/day, and were able to save a healthy work-life balance.
Testing with kids with ADHD
That this happened only once, and we didn’t know about it until the end of the session. We wanted to include this as a “challenge”, because the product we tested aimed to teach programming basics to kids. In this sense, we did not want to exclude anyone from testing, because we believe that these educational apps are for every kid. According to this, we did not include any questions in the screener about any possible disorders.
During this session, we only experienced that the kid was more active. It was a little bit harder to keep him focused, and he got distracted a couple of times. In the end, we had the opportunity to talk to his mother. She was happy that the session went well because, according to her, the kid had ADHD. We were kind of surprised about it because the kid performed well and we could get great insights.
So, this was not really a “challenge” but a heads up for you to think through who is the target audience and whether you want to exclude someone based on different conditions. However, if you design for kids in general, we don’t suggest excluding anyone, despite the fact that it could cause more challenging testing situations.
After reading this post, usability testing with kids may sound challenging, but it is also rewarding in a special way. In the beginning of the project, we were worried about how it would go. However, the kids and also the parents were cooperative. Moreover, during the tests, kids participated actively and shared all of their thoughts in an honest and sometimes funny way. Altogether, with their help, we could collect a lot of exciting and useful insights to improve the app we were working on.
So, if you would consider conducting usability tests with kids, don’t be afraid of the challenge. As you can see, it is possible to conduct usability tests with kids in-person and remote as well. Try to see this situation as a great opportunity to learn about how kids think and use different digital products. Moreover, since not many of the agencies work with kids, in this way, as a researcher, you can also extend your skill set to be even more valuable in the field of UX research.