Here at Smart, we believe it’s important to make people the focus of our design research before we begin creating new concepts for products. We spend a lot of time observing kids and adults alike in order to learn what solutions make the most sense.
In addition to our observations, we look to experts to guide us in our thinking. Jean Piaget, famed Swiss psychologist and philosopher, is one such resource. In 1929, he developed Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, which describes five stages of cognitive growth. He used this theory to explain how humans acquire, construct, and use knowledge… good things to consider when building a research approach!
1. Sensory-motor intelligence (0-2 years old)
In the stage of sensory-motor intelligence, researchers have limited options to investigate usability issues. Language and thought processes are very limited and coordination between vision and apprehension is only developing. In this stage, none of the five steps of the question-answer process can be fulfilled. The only possible way to research this age group is by observation or by interviewing parents.
2. Preconceptual thought (2-4 years old)
During this stage, children learn how to use and represent objects by images, words, and drawings. Children also learn to form concepts and perform mental reasoning. Furthermore, toddlers learn to speak and interact with others. In this age group, qualitative interviews that include ‘playing’ tasks can be carried-out 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.
3. Intuitive thought (4-7 years old)
Language skills improve but comprehension and verbal memory are still limited. Both of these 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. Further, this age group is very literal, suggestible, has a short attention span, and does not yet understand depersonalized or indirect questions. Methods that can be used for doing research with children in the intuitive thought stage are; small focus groups and short qualitative interviews.
4. Concrete operations (8-11 years old)
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 and be aware of satisficing. Satisficing means that children use only one heuristic to decide on an answer instead of going through the whole question. Motivation and concentration are also critical issues. For children in this age group it is very important to keep it simple, visual, and most of all fun! Methods you can user are surveys, semi-structured or structured interviews as well as focus groups.
5. Formal thought (11-15 years old)
By this age, children’s cognitive functions, formal thinking, negations, and logic, as well as their social skills are well developed. However, kids are very context sensitive at this age. This means that they might, for example, behave completely different in school than they do at home. Besides, 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. For this age group, all common research methods can be adapted but be careful with comprehension problems, ambiguity, flippancy and boredom. Again, keep it simple, and keep it fun.
From age 16 cognitive skills are adult like and age becomes a negligible factor for choosing a research method.
Read the full Post here: http://johnnyholland.org/2011/07/04/usability-testing-with-children-a-lesson-from-piaget/