USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN
Heebee: Helping Children Develop Healthy Screen Habits
Proof of concept (POC) for a tablet-based app for kids.
UX/product designers and UI designers
Research, ideation, information architecture, design (wireframes and prototypes), user testing
Heebee is an app that helps children develop healthy habits by limiting their screen time and providing educational or mindful content at set intervals. With the app, parents can set the total length of time on device, interval period, and type of content (educational, mindful, physical, etc.).
Heebee came to us as a fledgling, Vancouver-based startup with little more than a rough concept and some rudimentary market research.
Our team was tasked with creating a proof of concept (POC) and medium-fidelity prototype that could serve to make the project more tangible and move it to the next phase of business development.
Children can spend too much time on digital devices. Often they are disengaged from their surroundings. Parents do not want to prohibit access to technology –developing fluency with digital technologies is important. However, with children using devices unsupervised, how can parents maintain peace of mind and know that their children have a healthy relationship with digital technology?
what is screen time?
The oft referenced screen time recommendation for children aged 3 to 5 is that published by the World Health Organization (WHO): Guidelines on Physical Activity, Sedentary Behaviour and Sleep for Children Under 5 Years of Age (2019).
The WHO definition of sedentary screen time and recommendation for children aged 3 to 5 years old.
For children older than 5 years, the WHO and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stress a balance between physical activity, sleep and screen time more than a specified time frame. However, for parents looking for guidlelines, BC's Fraser Health Authority and the Canadian 24-Hour Movement Guidelines for Children and Youth recommend up to 2 hours of recreational screen time per day.
Unfortunately, the screen time statistics for school-aged children tell another story. According to a Statistics Canada report, children aged 5 to 17 averaged 3 hours of screen time per day, and there are other reports indicating much higher numbers.
An Android app
Parental control and screen time applications require a significant amount of system control. We needed our app to interrupt applications in use and restrict access to parts of the device.
We learned Android was far less restrictive than iOS, and Apple, citing iOS privacy and security concerns, had recently pulled a number of screen time-like apps from the App Store.
Likewise, not surprisingly, both Google and Apple had recently implemented their own screen time functionality and enhanced parental controls. Apple Screen Time is built into iOS and Google Family Link is an app that can be downloaded. As a result, there were fewer third-party players in the space.
Because of Apple's restrictions, it was clear that Android –if the project should go ahead– would be our platform of choice.
The launch of Apple's Screen Time and Google's Family Link have taken over the screen time management and parental control duties of many third-party apps.
Competitive & comparaTIVE analysis
We conducted a competitive and comparative analysis to see what already existed in the market place, what were the trends and product features, and who were the main players. We looked not just at screen time apps but also those devoted to parental control, mindfulness (adult/child), education and games.
The team downloaded several apps and tested them out. We followed up by scouring App Store and Google Play ratings and reviews to help identify user pain points.
We found that apps designed for parental control or to manage children’s screen time were over complicated , suffered from feature bloat and, as a result, difficult to install and manage. Some were in fact two apps , one for child and one for parent. Features included everything from scheduling, usage stats and content filtering, to remote device control, location tracking, and step counting.
Installing any of these apps required extensive system permissions and a significant set-up process. Fortunately for our client, we found that none offered the simplicity he was looking for and the precise combination of screen time limitation and educational interruption.
Competitive analysis: A breakdown of parental control, kid's screen time, mindfulness and educational apps. Most were over-complicated and a challenge to install and configure.
SURVEYS & INTERVIEWS
Our surveys (41 respondents) and interviews (9 interviewees) yielded results to further round out our research as well as confirm and challenge some of our initial assumptions.
We determined that the primary devices used by children under 10 were tablets and/or smart phones. These were usually shared (loaned) by the parent.
Regarding parents, their primary concerns were lack of engagement (children zoning out), physical factors (ergonomics, eye strain, low energy levels, sedentary behaviour), and time on device (i.e., length of time committed to a screen versus a book, active play, etc.).
Curiously enough, despite these concerns, we found that few parents actually used apps to monitor/restrict screen time.
Survey respondents were concerned primarily by the length of time their children were on devices. Duration in general ranked higher than specific concerns such as physical factors and 'zoning out'. As a result the top ranking key feature was one that limited use.
Our interviews confirmed an interest in limiting screen time through some kind of educational or active means. Importantly, parent’s expressed an interest in not prohibiting use of a digital device, but wanting to ensure a better balance of entertainment and quality, age-specific content.
Unlike our survey, however, our interviewees ranked mindfulness activities very highly. We attributed this difference to our ability to elaborate on mindfulness in-person and to overcome some narrow connotations the word ‘mindfulness’ may have conjured up.
Some key findings from the surveys, including the concern that emergency use of the device (specifically the phone function) not be comprised.
Key Research Learnings
Based on our research findings, we created a parent-child user persona. This pair would represent a primary market segment and act as a powerful reminder through subsequent phases of the design process. Tanya’s profile kept the project user-focused and acted as a testing board to validate ideas. The inclusion of Josh allowed us to focus our prototype on a specific age segment and provide relevant (albeit imaginary) content.
User persona: Tanya typified a busy professional parent with school-age child. The inclusion of Josh was useful on account of the app's shared nature.
With our primary user, Tanya, in mind we began the planning phase by storyboarding everyday situations Tanya would find herself in. These snapshots show changes in mood and context as she manages her child’s screen time.
Her challenges include: conflict, resentment and excessive ‘negotiation’ with her child whenever device use is allowed; the seeming impossibility of establishing a balance between screen time and other (non device-oriented) activities; and insufficient time to research and instill healthy screen time habits in children.
Storyboards put our user personas in context and help bring to light behaviorial, emotional and environmental considerations.
Affinity diagraming & feature prioritization
In order to organize our research data and determine what features we would include in our prototype we utilized affinity mapping and a couple feature prioritization frameworks: content buckets and an Eisenhower matrix.
Only those features and that were determined important and urgent would be included in our prototype. This exercise helped us ensure the simplicity we desired and a significant improvement over existing apps.
Our team creating an affinity diagram to categorize research findings and extract potential features.
We used a feature buckets framework t0 prioritize features based on three category 'buckets': (1) Nice to have, (2) Need to have, (3) Don't want.
We also used an Eisenhower matrix reframe and prioritize features.
USER FLOW DIAGRAMS
User flow diagrams (or models) mapped out the interrelationships between key areas of the app (onboarding, settings, activites), duration loop(s) and total time completion, and user (parent/child) handoff.
Evolution of user flow diagrams. These mapped out the key sections of the app, sequence of tasks, loop cycle of child activities, and user (parent/child) handoff.
The app architecture was translated into a sitemap. It illustrated the initial set up path for new users (onboarding) as well as the two main content areas of the app: (1) parent's menu (account details, child settings, FAQ, etc.) and (2) child’s start.
The home screen served as a dashboard for the parent. Here they could edit and confirm all settings before handing the device over to the child. In order to have the child feel some control over their experience –and to shift screen time responsibility from the parent – we created a simplified home (or start) screen for the child, too. Here they would be in control of starting the timer for their screen time experience.
Sitemap illustrating initial onboarding, parent's home and menu area, and child's activity flow.
KEY PLANNING TAKEAWAYS
III. Design & Testing
SKETCHING & PAPER PROTOTYPES
We developed a paper prototype to initiate layout design and to start user testing. Prototype screens were modified, iterated and annotated on the fly as feedback from testing came in.
Drawing on the 'bee' in Heebee, we used a friendly bee character to drive the child-facing part of the app. Fun and friendly bee metaphors coloured the instructional and user feedback messaging.
We focused on a three key task flows: (1) on boarding of new users, (2) session set up and customization, and (3) a child's activity sequence.
Assorted screens from the Heebee low-fidelity paper prototype ready to test with users.
Feedback from our low-fidelity testing shaped our medium-fidelity, digital prototype. This was created in Sketch and made interactive with Invision. Once again, with more feedback from user testing, this design went through several rounds of iteration. Most changes focused on the new user onboarding flow and the primary home (parent's 'dashboard') screen.
Select medium-fidelity prototype screens including the main dashboard, child's start ('beegin') page, activity and the first step of the onboarding process.
For both our low- and medium-fidelity testing, we found participants who were parents of children aged 10 and under. We encouraged them to ‘think aloud’ while moving through their tasks. This gave us insight into what they were thinking and helped elucidate any moments of hesitation.
Medium-fidelity testing validated the changes we made from the low-fidelity, paper prototypes. Results from user testing focused our attention on two key parts of our design: onboarding and the home screen.
User testing low- (paper) and medium-fidelity prototypes quickly made apparent any confusion, ambiguity, or other pain points.
Our client’s fledgling idea came full circle. We proved that there was a place in the market for the app's concept, something that limits screen time and forces an educational interaction from the child. The simple user flow, as it was first described to us, didn’t change much, but there were many hoops to jump through and direct challenges to actually get the app to function in such a simple way.
In the end, with both Apple and Google taking parental control and screen time under their own proprietary control, this app concept may be more valuable as an enhancement to the tech giants existing systems than a successful third-party app.
Copyright © 2020 Oliver Tomas. All rights reserved.