Harnessing the Power and Imagination of Young People in UX Research

Posted by AnswerLab Research on Dec 17, 2020

There are a number of complexities and nuances to consider when conducting research with young people. Gen Z already has a massive influence on the digital landscape, accounting for 40% of global consumers. But this group requires a different approach to research to get meaningful and effective insights.

We hosted a webinar with AnswerLab’s Mitra Martin to dig into how to effectively conduct youth research— from designing your study to tailoring your moderation approach. Watch the full recording below to learn more.


Hearing directly from young people can provide the perspective needed to create products that actually reach and work for them. From reframing your mindset of youth to developing new methods and interviewing practices, Mitra shared a number of actionable steps we as researchers can implement to take our research practice to the next level. Here were some of our takeaways.

Our Key Takeaways

Examine your own mental models around youth and teenagers

Thinking of young people as “teens” can actually reinforce negative stereotypes and suggest bad judgement or untrustworthiness. This way of characterizing teens as “other” often creates distance and prevents real connection. Mitra recommended reexamining your own mental models and reframing this group as “youth” to highlight positive connotations of discovery, exploration, and experimentation.

The “teenager” label often excludes young people from many aspects of adult life. Researchers have the opportunity to include young people in research, giving them a real voice in the creation of their world. Including young people in research is a great way to take them out of this marginalized group, redefine the meaning behind the word “teenager,” and incorporate their imaginative perspective into the experiences we’re building.

Show genuine interest and care when talking with youth

Showing genuine interest and curiosity is a critical step in building rapport with young people. Mitra shared her dedication to showing young people that she truly respects them and their words and that she’s curious about their experiences. Showing your participants you care will help create a stronger connection and encourage them to open up.

Take your time with this. Ask questions about school and their hobbies to show real curiosity about their lives, even if it doesn’t directly relate to the research. If they share raw or emotional material, improvise and express empathy. It’s important to make sure you have the time to respond with authenticity.

Give them a strong sense of agency

When you first meet your research participant, it’s important to remind them what they’ve agreed to for the research session. This helps reinforce their agency in detail. As you move through your session, you must get informed and ongoing consent. There is an obvious power imbalance with you as an adult and the interviewer, so make sure to explain that you want the participant to feel comfortable. Tell them they can stop at any time, they don’t have to answer any questions they don’t want to, and that they will still be paid regardless of these changes.

Highlight their ability to make change

Many young people are passionate about making change, helping others, and bettering their communities and the world. Sharing that their thoughts and contributions to the research session can help create change is often incredibly motivating.

Share how you’ve seen research conversations make an impact on products and experiences and highlight the fact that hearing their perspective is very important to your work. These reminders help young people feel motivated and excited to contribute.

Do no harm

Reflect thoughtfully on your work as a researcher, and be sure to do no harm when working with youth. Building respect for young people means ensuring that your work isn’t harming them. This is highly complex and nuanced, but an important step to consider during the research process. Reflect on the ethics of your work and consider how your insights and products are being used.

Want to learn more? Check out these resources from AnswerLab:

Or visit some other resources Mitra referenced in her talk:

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AnswerLab Research

The AnswerLab research team collaborates on articles to bring you the latest UX trends and best practices.

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