CX Insights

What Can Children Teach Us About UX Design?

7 min read

On Wednesday afternoon we launched our new webinar series – Usabilla On Air – the first episode titled “What Can Children Teach Us About UX Design?’. If you’re unaware of Usabilla on Air we aim to produce one webinar a month, each with a different design theme and discussion with an expert in that field. All episodes will then remain on Youtube, so if you didn’t manage to catch it live you can still view Wednesday’s episode here in full.

If you’re lacking time to spend a half hour watching the episode then don’t worry, here’s a summary.

Sabina Idler (founder of UXkids) studied Information Design at University where she developed skills in user centered design. This led her to another course Youth and Media, which inspired her to start creating a more positive user experience for children using digital devices. On Wednesday, Sabina joined Usabilla’s UX specialist Oliver McGough to discuss the topic “What Can Children Teach Us About UX Design?”.

Why the focus on kids?

There is an increasing demand for digital devices for children, especially in schools to provide an engaging form of education. Currently UXkids are one of only a few companies specialising in testing with children.

How is Usability testing different with children?

Sabina has worked with children between the ages of 4 and 12. The rate of development between these ages is huge so when testing a device with children it can be very useful to categorise children per age group and figure out how they respond to the different aspects of the questions.

Toddlers can be very difficult to work with due to their inability to have a structured conversation so researching for devices aimed at this age group is mainly done through observation. This involves recording how they respond to pictures, colours and buttons then combining this with what you learn from talking to teachers and parents.

Older kids have greater cognitive, social and physical development, making it easier for them to respond with answers and opinions that contain greater detail.

What techniques/theories do you use?

Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is very useful for UX studies with children. As you can see from the diagram below it splits child development into five age groups.

Jean Piaget’s theory of cognitive development is very useful for UX studies with children. As you can see from the diagram below it splits child development into five age groups.

  1. Sensory-motor intelligence (0-2 years)

This is the first stage when babies are not yet two years of age. During this time language and thought processes are very limited and the only possible research is observation or interviewing parents.

  1. Preconceptual thought (2-4 years)

Toddlers learn to speak and interact with others. In this age group, qualitative interviews that include ‘playing’ tasks can be done and small focus groups can be held. However, all five steps of the question-answer process are still difficult at this age and both questions and answers must be evaluated carefully.

  1. Intuitive thought (4-7 years)

During this stage, language skills improve but comprehension and verbal memory are still limited. Both those skills are important for step one (understanding the question) and step two (retrieving information from memory) of the question-answer process. Questions should be very simple and the words used should match the child’s language.

  1. Concrete operations (8-11 years)

During the stage of concrete operations, language develops and reading skills are acquired. However, depersonalized or indirect questions are still critical at this age and a careful research design is important for step 1 and 2 of the question-answer process. Keep it simple.
Be aware of satisficing in this age group. Satisficing means that children use only one heuristic to decide on an answer instead of going through the whole question.

  1. Formal thought (11-15 years)

These children are in the stage of formal thought. Their cognitive function as well as their social skills are well developed. They are, however, very context sensitive at this age. This means that they might for example behave completely different in school than they do at home. They are easily influenced by their classmates, parents, or siblings. Social desirability plays an important role which especially influences step 4 (evaluation of the answer) and 5 (communicating the final answer) of the question-answer process.

Q&A Theory
For the older age groups it may be useful to apply the Question and Answer theory. This breaks down the Q&A process into 5 stages:

Understanding the question
Thinking about the question
Thinking about formatting the answer into words
Evaluating whether you should use that answer
Communicating the answer you choose.

All steps can be adapted to different age groups but one of the most difficult parts is finding the right questions to get the answers you need.

What are the main issues when getting feedback from children?

*Children are notorious for having short attention spans, which means sessions and questions have to be brief and triggers have to be offered to keep it fun and engaging.
*Children sometimes have an answer but are afraid it is not what the adult wants to hear or worried their friends would answer differently.
*Many kids lack self confidence and may be too afraid to say they don’t understand

In terms of developmental stages, we can assume that most adults have actually reached adulthood, which means they have all cognitive skills to go through all stages of the question-answer process.

However, some characteristics that are natural for kids and therefore considered when doing research with kids – also play a role during research with adults, such as:

Limited memory
Social desirability

How does UX design differ for children?

The main differences with using an interface design is based on the different goals users have. Adults have intrinsic motivations e.g. accessing their bank account, booking a vacation. whereas children are mainly motivated by entertainment.

Children have no prior experience with software, so it is important for user interfaces to be intuitive and fun. Kids love exploring a website of app if they can keep going forward. As soon as the get stuck they return to the beginning and try again. Ideally, they never need to go back.

Also, it is important that the software is easy to learn. Once kids have found something they like, they will remember the click path rather than understanding the underlying content structure. Visual cues are important. This means that consistency throughout your app or website is key to avoiding confusion i.e. a certain icon should always lead to the same content, or the same sound should be activated when completing a section. However, this is also relative to age as colours and sounds can be great instigators for children under six, but older kids can quickly find these interactions annoying.

Having studied both children and adults, are there any unexpected traits the two share?

Kids are very curious and never worry that they could break anything. Also kids never doubt themselves. If media doesn’t work as expected, if they can’t find something, if all options are not clear in an instance kids will leave and look for a better alternative.

They don’t have the cognitive ability to understand ‘complex’ interfaces. They don’t look for efficient ways but stick to what works. (Again, big difference in age) .Kids nowadays see media as a given thing that just needs to work. There is little patience.

What do you think kids taught you about UX design?

“Whenever you design something for children you really narrow it down, you really try to pause and think about their abilities, their cognitive abilities, their physical abilities and you allow for them to have limitations with all of these. You really consider there is a limitation in the amount of information I can offer…you always keep it simple, simple, simple. Whenever you design something for kids you can be pretty sure it works for adults’.

If you would like to know anymore on this subject the Youtube video will be checked for comments or you can ask Sabina or UXkids directly on twitter. We hope you enjoyed this discussion and look forward to seeing you for the next webinar which will be announced in the New Year. Follow us on Google+, Twitter and Facebook or subscribe to our emails to make sure you don’t miss it.

Bryony Watson
Online marketing intern at Usabilla