In one of the last projects I worked on I had the opportunity to conduct usability testing with children between 6 and 12 years old. In this article I present five things you should consider when working with children.
1. Neutralize preconditions
The conditions or biases that children bring to the testing sessions tend to come from two main sources: from their own ability to fantasize; and from their parents’ influence. The former is a normal behavior for certain ages, especially for children between 6 and 12. With regard to parents, we must have in mind that they are usually the ones who tell the children what they will be doing during the test and while doing this they might build up expectations or distort the concept of a usability test.
In order to prevent these I often ask users at the beginning of the test, what they had been told about what they will be doing during the session. Then I tell them my story and try to neutralize the distortions and focus the user on what really matters.
2. Avoid the word “test”
When explaining to children what they will be doing and what is expected of them during the session you should avoid using the word “test”. It has a very specific meaning for school-aged children. They might think they are being evaluated.
To avoid this, we must communicate explicitly that the goal is to help us discover those things we can improve, that their opinion is very important to us and there is no right or wrong answer. We are testing the interface not the users.
3. Start the routine tests with questions that help to build rapport
While it is also a good practice when testing with adults, in the case of children, generating empathy is critical. Kids can take more time to build trust with you, which is needed so that the technique of “thinking out loud” yields its full potential.
To accomplish this you can ask general questions like: what grade they are in, what classes they like and dislike in school, what they do in their spare time, or what sports they like the most. Questions should change and should be adjusted according to the child’s age and answers. The goal is to forget for a few minutes that we’re doing a usability test and just have a nice chat with them.
4. Adapt the furniture to the physical conditions of children
Something that seems a minor detail and is often disregarded is having chairs and tables suitable for children. This has the purpose of making them feel comfortable while using the mouse, keyboard and viewing the entire screen.
This is usually resolved with a good adjustable chairs with armrests.
5. Snacks for breaking the ice
It is strange to imagine a group of happy children running through the halls of an office or playing at an oval table in a meeting room. Offices are clearly not meant for kids. They are very formal, monochromatic and, in some cases, cold. If tests are performed in a usability lab with mirrors and video cameras, the feeling of being watched can generate even greater self-consciousness.
In order to create a friendlier environment for children you can decorate the room with toys, posters and offer snacks. This last gesture has a special power to get a smile out of children and to break the ice.
I hope you will find these tips valuable the next time you test with children. Have you ever tested with children and want to add? Have any questions? Please let me now below, or via Twitter.