Right App for Right Kids: Guideline system and current situation for children using mobile apps in China

About this research initiative:

A study of children using mobile apps in China, including guideline systems, interviews for stakeholders, and survey for current situation and parents’ attitude in China. 

This is my undergraduate thesis, I worked independently under the supervision of Professor Pei-luen Patrick Rau.

Research Details

1. Ideas & Background - Mobile devices are common, fun, and...horrible?

Nowadays in China, it is not surprising to see small children holding mobile devices attentively and ejecting birds to the pigs. Mobile applications are working as educational tools, entertainment platform and babysitters - I want to explore more about what is going on.

For Chinese children, mobile devices are becoming one of the most widely used digital products thanks to economy growth and popularization of WiFi network. Government, platform providers and developers are all working to make usage of this new trend for children entertainment and education. But in China, where no official age band is set for games and movies, the market is not mature with products with uneven quality.  

With great interest in the current situation about children using mobile applications in China and worries about the products in the market, I studied about the current situation and build a guideline system of mobile apps for Chinese children. The study is based on literature, more than 100 existing product reviews, interviews and surveys, to build a credible guideline system for reference, and also get deeper understanding about the current situation of the app usage among families. 

2. Conceptual Model: how I organized everything, and build a logic

The guideline system is built, improved, and validated from different sources and methods shown in the following conceptual model. Seven general factors reflecting major perspectives of concern in children’s apps are derived from Nielsen’s and ISO standards of usability, adding more dimensions particularly important with children. On the other hand, all the traditional usability metrics are given new content in consideration of children. 

3. Existing Product Review: Two dimensions, four experiences 

I conducted an overall review of more than 100 different mobile applications for children in Chinese application markets such as Apple App Store and Android Market. The uneven quality in user experience is obvious. On the other hand, the content and the general design focus of the products are divergent, which I classified from four different quadrants. 

Usability problems of the products are also collected and generalized for future guideline generation and prioritization. 

4. Stakeholder Interview: Developer & designer, evaluator, parents, and teachers

From the first phase of product design to children playing with the final product, there are different links of stakeholders taking care of each process: companies, evaluators, teachers, and parents These different links will directly influence what kind of products will reach our young users.

I interviewed the UX lead from Tinman Art and the CEO of Magikid, both are famous kids app company in China with millions of users. I also interviewed founder of iDaddy, the firstkids product recommendation platform in China. Three teachers and four parents are also interviewed for their opinions.

These semi-structured interviews are related to the status quo of their understanding of children’s products, as well as their opinions about guidelines of designing products for children. Word cloud is made according to the their response - there are great differences. 

5. Guideline system: The things you should know and care about

The system is designed in different layers from general factors to detailed guidelines, and also with different priorities. The system is built based on literature, product review, interviews and questionnaires for 133 parents. The questionnaire is designed by current situation and guideline related questions, where I investigated context, access, usage frequency and preference for the former, and payment, detailed guidelines, gestures, motivation and baby gate for the later.


6. For Social Good...help more people be better informed

I designed a infographic for a local Chinese forum according to what I learnt from the research. I wish my work could help more people have a comprehensive understanding of this area, especially for the worried parents. Mobile devices are not dreadful monsters that will make children addicted, selfish, half-blind and hate real-world communication. Government, companies, evaluators, parents and children themselves should work together to make the best of these new technologies. After all, I grew up with TV, my sister grew up with computers, and now these children are growing up with smart phones and tablets - these technologies are just natural to them. 

The infographic was highlighted by the forum and inspired a heated discussion about the children and mobile applications among parents and educators. My lab at Tsinghua also started cooperation with a local kids app company for deeper study.