USER EXPERIENCE DESIGN

Heebee: Helping Children Develop Healthy Screen Habits

Proof of concept (POC) for a tablet-based app for kids.

2019.06.24

Child using tablet

Heebee helps manage children's screen time . (Photo: Igor Starkov)

PROJECT DETAILS

CLIENT

Heebee (Dio)

ROLE

UX designer

TEAM

UX/product designers and  UI designers

RESPONSIBILITIES

Research, ideation, information architecture, design (wireframes and prototypes), user testing

Overview

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.

The Problem

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?

USER GOALS

  • Peace of mind when your child is using a mobile device.
  • Simple to install, set up and use.
  • Establish healthy habits around technology and screen time.

PROJECT GOALS

  • Research and deliver a proof of concept (POC) for an app that manages screen time for children.
  • Create a medium fidelity prototype.

BUSINESS GOALS

  • Find partnership opportunities with content producers.
  • Sell the app concept or develop and monetize it.

Challenges

  1.  Market differentiation from a myriad of parental control apps or child-focused education, screen time and mindfulness apps.
  2.  Navigating Google and Apple iOS system constraints and privacy restrictions.
  3.  Ease of use: setup, customization, onboarding.
  4.  Appeal to children. Can it be fun?
  5.  Apple and Google’s movement into the space with Apple Screen Time and Google Family Link.

I. Discovery

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).

WHO definition and recommendation

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.

UX research competitive analysis

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.

Research competitive analysis

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.

UX research data

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.

UX research data

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

  • Due to current restrictions, iOS development is not an option for this app. Android is the platform for our design.
  • Currently there is no app that offers screen time limitation with compulsory educational (or mindfulness) content.
  • Third-party apps in the current space are overloaded with features, complicated to set-up and use, and may provide privacy concerns.
  • Parents express a strong interest in mindfulness content, in some cases, more than educational content.
  • Access to phone and maps is required at all times on device in case of emergency.

User Personas

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.

UX persona

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.

II. Planning

storyboards

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.

UX storyboard

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.

UX research affinity map

Our team creating an affinity diagram to categorize research findings and extract potential features.

Feature prioritization buckets

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.

UX research Eisenhower Matrix

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.

UX flow diagram
UX flow diagram
UX flow diagram
UX flow diagram

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.

Sitemap

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.

UX sitemap

Sitemap illustrating initial onboarding, parent's home and menu area, and child's activity flow.

KEY PLANNING TAKEAWAYS

  • Parents need to (1) set full screen time, (2) interval time, and (3) content type. Default settings for 5 years and older are 2 hours full screen time with interruptions every 30 mins. These follow W.H.O. best practices
  • Minimum information required upon sign-up: Child’s name and age (customizes experience), four-digit PIN code (to unlock device/stop app), and email address/security question (to recover PIN)
  • This is an app for parents and children. Giving the child control over their experience will go a long way in reducing parent/child conflict over device use and help instill personal responsibility. The addition of an extra screen (child home/start) is justified.
  • Show system status. Popups warn the child that their screen time will be interrupted and eliminate surprise. This allows the child to save a document, or pause a game/video. Alerts advise when five minutes and one minute remain.

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.

UX low-fidelity prototype

Assorted  screens from the Heebee low-fidelity paper prototype ready to test with users.

MEDIUM-FIDELITY PROTOTYPE

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.

UX medium fidelity prototype
UX medium fidelity prototype
UX medium fidelity prototype
UX medium fidelity prototype
UX medium fidelity prototype
UX medium fidelity prototype
UX medium fidelity prototype
UX medium fidelity prototype
UX medium fidelity prototype

Select medium-fidelity prototype screens including the main dashboard, child's start ('beegin') page, activity and the first step of the onboarding process.

USER TESTING

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.

UX user testing
UX user testing
UX user testing
UX user testing

User testing low- (paper) and medium-fidelity prototypes quickly made apparent any confusion, ambiguity, or other pain points.

KEY FINDINGS

  1. Onboarding screens are too information dense and disconnected from app.
    Solution Edit and optimize onboarding copy to essentials. Utilize sequential tooltips to guide user through process instead of separate screens.
  2. Home screen form fields made for slow customization and lacked emotional appeal.
    Solution —Convert to a single screen 'dashboard' consolidating all essential settings (child, total and interval time, content type) in a single place and utilize a more engaging and interactive 'dashboard'-type design.
  3. Labeling and instructions on home screen and child start screen were ambiguous and/or inconsistent.
    Solution —Review and A/B test button labels and terminology. Ensure clear transition of information and vocabulary between sequential screens.

Conclusion

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.