Adobe Acrobat showing an eight page document of Fix the Stuff! app screens.

Usability Testing with Children during COVID-19: What I Learned

With America locking itself down for months due to the coronavirus, I can’t do any usability testing in person.

This has made me adapt my usability testing strategy to become more remote. In spite of my concerns, I was still able to test Fix the Stuff! to see if pre-teens understand the app’s different features.

Here’s a list of everything I found out about usability testing with children remotely. With the methods I used as a broke graduate student during the test, I didn’t even have to spend any money on special tools to do this.

Can’t see the kids? Ask their parents to read questions and record answers

Unlike the tests I have conducted in the past for my graduate school coursework, I could not gather the children in the same room, record their reactions, or ask them questions about my app directly.

This could have been a major problem with usability testing, but I remembered what I learned in my persona research: kids use their parents to process information. The parents could help run the test while not officially being moderators.

To do this, I created a usability test script form where the parents could read the scripted questions and then immediately write down their children’s responses on the same paper. My digital analytics professor (Dr. Amanda Sturgill) introduced my project to some parents she knew and then I sent out the forms. If you’re thinking about testing an app or website made for kids, you could reach out to parents you know as well or ask people if they know someone with children.

Usability testing with a PDF of your app’s screens can work

It was easy to ask Elon University undergraduate students to test a Figma website prototype for a Cuban farmer and artist when I was right there in the library with my Figma account. When you get to test parents outside of tech remotely, most of them don’t have any design tools installed on their computers.

I designed my app prototype in Sketch thinking that I could get kids to use an interactive draft of my app. This turned into a numbered document of app screens that parents could flip through for their kids during the test.

By doing this, I eliminated the need for parents to download any additional software that might not be compatible with their computer. This approach worked for me because I was doing a formative test, but choose what to do based on your needs. Just make sure it is easy for parents to use and that parents can open it for their kids.

Consider the needs of your subjects’ parents

Most of us are really busy at this time. My parents are teaching online and my mother is doing so while working on her doctorate. One sister is working from home and studying for her MBA, the other has online yoga classes. I’m finishing graduate school online while applying for jobs, networking, blogging here, and trying to beat DOOM Eternal (that last part is unimportant, but you get my point).

Parents already have their hands full during a normal school week. Imagine how that must be now when they’re home all of the time.

My original usability test script was made up of two separate documents: a highly-detailed set of instructions and questions and a lengthy form where parents could write down what their kid said. I sent this to my capstone professor (Dr. Qian Xu) who has a one-year-old. Naturally, these forms wouldn’t work.

I then combined both forms while reducing how many questions I asked. As I’ve started the first usability test last week, the forms have gone over well so far. No one had any major issues using them and they sent back 100 percent completed tests. When you test remotely, remember that your subjects also have many responsibilities.

Have you tested remotely before? Let me know!

These are just the lessons I have learned from testing with children remotely, but I’d love to hear your stories! What are your experiences with remote usability testing? Let me know in the comments and have a great week!


Ethan McElvaney

A eLearning developer and civic tech designer with several years of digital media experience. I aim to make engaging training for healthcare, civic, and education professionals so they can do their best work. I also like volunteering with Code for America, hiking, and playing action role-playing games.