Penelope Rance

My UX research & design ramblings

The Research Thing - User Research with Kids: lessons from niche groups

As researchers we are used to speaking with people to understand more about their wants and needs. But for some groups this can be a slightly different experience.

In this month's The Research Thing event, they were focusing on niche groups and what we can learn from working with them, in this case doing research with children.

Thomas Snitker from Lego spoke first, reminding us that there is a huge difference between a 5 year old and an 8 year old and you cannot make assumptions about what they can and cannot do.

Apparently 35% of Lego is bought by adults for adults, but that still leaves plenty of room for the kids.

Lego do not just make plastic bricks to play with, they have apps on many platforms and a magazine too, all of which needs research.

Thomas talked about the extremes of testing. Kids think in a different way to adults and this can affect the research we run if we cannot get into more of a child's mind set.

He also talked about how he selects children to do research with. Parents might sign their children up to do the research, but kids can change very quickly, so while last month they really loved dinosaurs, maybe now they are more into ninjas. So he likes to speak with the children before the research to make sure they really are a match for what he needs to find out.

He also had a framework for finding a best match based on ability and interests; and he thinks the extremes or edge cases can be more valuable to speak to than the 75% in the middle.

Frances Brown then built on this with practical advice on running sessions with kids.

She said that research with children can be some of the hardest research she does, as you need to stay so focused and be able to think on your feet, but she also thinks it makes you a better researcher for the very same reasons.

Just like with any research there is so much to think about, but when doing research with children you need to make sure you have multiple ways of finding the answer - they might not understand what you are asking, or have the ability to explain their answer.

Staying on task can be an issue, as can getting the right sort of energy in the room. You do not want a kid that is bouncing off the walls, but you do not want them tired and hungry either.

Children’s focus groups are a bad idea, but ‘friend’ groups can work.

Other key tips included making sure they know they can go to the loo at any time; trying not to have parents in the room; making sure the task is not too complicated or too ‘babyish’; and being aware that children have a very poor concept of time.

The event then ended in an interesting Q&A session which really confirmed for me the need to be able to adapt your session on the fly for each kid.

It was so interesting to hear from both Thomas and Frances and I am looking forward to how this group compares to other niche groups at the next event.

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