User Testing with Children

How can you get the most out of your User Testing session with children?

Working with children can be an exciting and nervous time for a User Researcher. We need to identify barriers and uncover insights into how they use the product.

You may be feeling unsure about how they will react—questioning whether you can maintain their interest during the session.

After working with Melbourne agency Keepers on Mattel’s Your Letter to Santa digital campaign, I discovered how you can better prepare yourself before planning your session.


Breaking the Ice

Before heading into the session, give your young participant the chance to acclimatise to their surroundings.

Offer snacks and refreshments and introduce the parent and child to everyone sitting in on your session. Don’t offer straws, lollies, or anything that takes a long time to eat. They prevent the child from speaking during your session.

Watch for body language that signals the child is comfortable, then start a conversation with them. Ask how their day has been and which snack they liked the most. Building rapport with the child early gives you an indication of how they will respond to questions during the session.

TIP: Adjust your non-verbals and tone to match the child’s.


Getting the child on your side

It is important to set expectations with the child throughout the session to keep them engaged. Before each task, ask the child for permission to begin each activity. The child can then prepare themselves to answer questions at the end of the activity.

TIP: Set the child’s expectations early so they aren’t caught off guard when the time comes to gather insights.


Giving them time to answer

It is important to give the child enough time to understand your questions before prompting a response. Keep in mind that younger children need more time before they answer than older children. Think back to the television show Blues Clues: The call-and-response time between presenter and child is very long to allow their very young audience time to process the question.

TIP: Ask your question, then allow a long pause so the child can answer in their own time.


Influencing answers

Parents are accustomed to helping their children when they are stuck, but this is not helpful in a testing environment. Leading questions result in biased answers, and it’s difficult to discern whether the answer is the child's or adult’s.

Avoid asking the parent not to interfere with the child’s answers. Putting conditions on how the parent interacts with the child breeds unnatural conversations that result in distorted insights.

Instead, when you see the child look to the parent for guidance, quickly engage with the child by phrasing the question in a simpler way.

TIP: Shape your questions so they’re easy for the child to understand so the parent does not need to explain it to the child.


Dealing out distractions

While it seems obvious to limit distractions for the child during the session, this may not always be the best approach.

For sessions with parent activities independent of child involvement, distractions become an asset. Replicate a home environment where the parent may not have the luxury of committing their full attention to the product. Remember: Insights come when you least expect them.

Colouring books and floor toys allow younger children to release pent up energy when the session  becomes overwhelming. They can then return to the session once they are done blowing up dinosaurs and have regained their focus.

TIP: Don’t offer the child toys that make sounds. Self explanatory.

Children’s honesty is an asset to any User Testing session. You’ll discover insights that adults tend to filter out. Become comfortable working with children so you know how to best facilitate your session. When you know what to expect when working with children, User Testing becomes an exciting opportunity.