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How parents read and why it matters: testing with content for Action for Children

When we built parenting platform Dots for forward-thinking charity Action for Children, we were seeking to present impartial advice to new parents in a format that they found instantly trustworthy and reassuring.

We underwent a rigorous testing process to make sure that what we were creating was going to connect with our audience. The three main things we wanted to test were:

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Meaningful content

Since the platform would contain a huge amount of written content, it was vital that all our design decisions were informed by the way busy parents consumed and interacted with the written word. We wanted to begin introducing realistic text, testing with content at the earliest possible stage, in order to learn as much as possible.

Too many researchers just opt for lorem ipsum or rough draft copy, without realizing that including meaningful content would alter the psychological framework of a test, thereby altering the results.

Patrick StaffordFounder of UX Writers Collective

Testing user habits

We often find that the best way to connect with users is to meet them in the places they’ll be able to interact with the product most naturally. In this case that meant taking a trip to a nursery, where parents would be in their usual frame of mind.

Amid the toy kitchens, tea sets, tears and tantrums (and that was just Russ! 😂) we learned so much from testing with a super lightweight prototype, consisting of a single article with elements to read and review. The way they read would dictate the flow of our designs.

These were just a few of the unexpected things we would never have discovered if we hadn’t involved content at this stage:

Reading and feeding 👶

Many of the new mums would combine breastfeeding their baby with reading. Were they able to read the whole article using just one hand? Were buttons positioned correctly for one-handed tapping and scrolling?

Overcoming distractions 👀

I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get engrossed in an article whilst a toddler clamours for your attention and a newborn needs changing, but it’s not the easiest.

This testing session revealed that articles needed to have a 1-3 minutes read time, and that distracted users need familiar patterns; now was not the time to try something experimental.

Bullet points, ‘friendly’ fonts and sizes were crucial.

Save for later 💾

We could probably have assumed that all parents would be distracted, to some extent at least. What we couldn’t have guessed, however, is that despite being time-poor and multi-tasking, parents were still incredibly keen to follow links.

Bookmarking and saving content for later became much more of a priority than we’d anticipated.

Shareability matters 📲

A lot of the time, we find clients are interested in including social share buttons on their blog posts or other content. We tend to discourage them for a few reasons – not least because they seldom see a lot of use.

Spending design time on incorporating things that won’t be relevant to a vast majority of users isn’t a good plan.

However, parents prioritised sharing highly – they told us so explicitly.

If you have a phone in your hand, you’re sharing something – it’s what people do these days.

A parent we met at the nursery

Time to get going with those buttons then, right? Well no! We discovered from testing that busy users shared in the easiest way possible, by copy and pasting links to whatsapp or facebook messenger. Their social shares were private, simple and speedy. No buttons required.

User focus

Testing early with real content gave us so many insights we couldn’t have known otherwise, and that ultimately led to a much more successful application for Action for Children.

It’s easy to get tied up with creating beautiful interfaces, focusing on design decisions and putting content aside until a later date.

We get it, the visual side is often the most fun part of bringing a new product to life.

For a project like this the content is going to be what makes or breaks the platform. If this isn’t well matched to user needs, then any amount of dressing up won’t make it better. Putting this right is ultimately going to cost more money and time than testing content early doors.

Bringing in content early in a design process helps put the user first and keep the project user-focused from the off, and that is something we should always aim to do.