So kids need a special approach to user research for several reasons. One reason is that they are different from adults. When conducting user research with kids, we cannot rely on anything we know either from ourselves or from doing research with other adults. Here are 5 key differences between kids and adults that we need to be aware of we conduct user research with kids:
1. Physical development
First of all, there is the physical development. When doing research with adults, this is hardly anything you would consider. Grown people can be expected to have a minimum height, a reasonable strength, grown hands, etc.
Kids are not only not as developed as adults, they also differ tremendously by age. Some obvious aspects are their physical size, which might be important considering how they approach a product, or how they sit o a chair. Then, there is the hand size. For example, for touch screens this is an important metric, which cannot be adapted from adults. Also, kids can have a limited eye-hand coordination and fine motoric, which affects their ability to interact with a product.
2. Cognitive development
Second, children are still developing their cognitive abilities. We can expect adults to have similar mental abilities that allow us to communicate with each other in a natural way. You can ask adults to perform tasks, trust that they will object if further information is required, and you can expect their answers to be correct, or at least related to the core question.
Kids on the other hand possess differing cognitive abilities. In order to perform successful user research with kids, it is important to be familiar with these abilities. For example, it helps you to decide which research method to apply, which questions to ask, and how to interpret the results. As children grow older, they continuously lean new things and their thinking becomes more abstract. While small kids are very egocentric and believe that everyone sees the world the way they do, as they get older, they gradually learn to see the world from a different perspective.
3. Social development
Also the social development is an important factor when doing research with kids. Adults have learned social rules and values. We know how to be empathic and that you should treat others the way you want them to treat you.
Kids can be very self centered. They prize their own needs and interests above those of others. By the time kids get older, this perception of self changes and they become familiar with the concept of empathy. Also, their relationship to others change and they develop their own personality with individual character traits and personal preferences.
When it comes to getting adults to perform in a research study, usually an attractive incentive will do the trick. This can be money, a gift card, or as little as some coffee and a piece of cake. Anyways, once you have informed adults about the length of the study and they have agreed to participate, you are set for the rest of the study.
This does not apply to kids. Children might be easy to excite and they will be happy to participate. However, then you still need to make sure they stay with you till you have all your results. Kids are very spontaneous, easily distracted, and their concentration span is very limited. It is important to offer enough extrinsic motivation to keep kids engaged.
Last but not least, kids are likely to have little or no foreknowledge. Adults have had a lifetime to gather experiences on all kind of occasions and in all kind of situations. Also, we have learned to apply things we have learned at one occasion to another. This is also the reason why we have expectations even though we might not be familiar with a product.
Kids have much less experience. Neither are they as trained to apply familiar concepts to new situations. When doing user research with kids it is important to offer sufficient information and not expect kids to know something they don’t. Limited foreknowledge can cause uncertainty and discourage kids to participate in the research.