Guerrilla research with teenagers

by Nirish on 24 June 2014

Webcredible have been working with UCAS (Universities and Colleges Admissions Service) as a user experience and design partner. As part of the user research for a redesign project, we conducted guerrilla research with school students at a couple of UCAS Conventions. The purpose of the research was to understand the students’ motivation in attending the conventions, their higher education application journey and their critical queries in the process. So what did we learn after spending 2 full days guerrilla testing with motivated, hormone-charged teenagers with hopes, fears and dreams?

1. Don’t be afraid to approach them

As user researchers, most of us are used to with talking to adults and we’re very comfortable with that. But it’s not often that we get to talk to teenagers and children. But don’t worry. They don’t bite, at least most of them don’t. Don’t be afraid to approach them and stop them in their paths. Just be honest about what you’re after. 

2. Talk to the lost and confused first

If you’re nervous about stopping someone for the first time, here’s a tip to help you get started. Look out for teenagers who’re walking around looking lost and confused. Most probably, they are. Sometimes it’s all about making that first move and breaking the ice. Your participant will likely appreciate it when someone approaches them and says hello without them having to make the effort. Also, it’s much easier to talk to shy people if you’re feeling shy as well.

3. Treat them as adults

Nothing turns off teenagers more than speaking to them condescendingly. Remember the old adage of user research – you’re the apprentice, they’re the master. The same rule applies with teenagers and children. Show the same respect you show to adults and value their opinions in the same way.

4. Encourage everyone in a group to speak

Interviewing a group of people at the same time is always tricky. It's too easy for one person to direct the flow of conversation and for others not utter a word. We found that the teenagers felt more comfortable speaking to us when they were with their group of friends. Don’t turn willing participants away just because they’re in a group. However, encourage everyone in the group to contribute individually. Ask each person for their opinion, but don’t force them to come up with a response. Some teenagers prefer to keep quiet.

5. Try not to interview parents and teenagers together

Every time we interviewed parents and their teenage children, the kids just went dead silent or seemed uninterested in the conversation. Even questions directed at the teenagers were met with quick ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answers. However don't avoid talking with parents but rather interview them separately and compare the data later.

6. Sweets are good incentives

User research doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you’re interviewing teenagers. Most of them are happy to speak to you for a packet of sweets. However, we found some teenagers grabbed some sweets and walked away while we were busy talking to someone else. In the end we had to place a sign over the bowl of sweets with the words ‘FREE SWEETS if you answer our questions!’.

7. Be prepared for mid-session drop-outs

The stress of university applications, school exams and peer pressure led to shorter attention spans during sessions. We had a few participants cutting the session short or being pulled away by their friends. The teenagers (and anyone else you talk to in guerrilla research) have much more important things to worry about than talking to you. Respect their time and ask the most important questions first, just in case you have to cut the interview short. Don’t be offended if the participants runs off mid-sentence! Researching with teenagers is a lot of fun but can be stressful for new researchers. But the tips above should hopefully reduce that stress so you can focus on their problems rather than your own. What is your experience researching with children and teenagers? Do you have any other tips you want to add to the list? Add your comments below! If you want to learn more about guerrilla research, and other user research methods we have a training course that can help.

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