Designing to improve an experience for a special population begins with understanding the subjects and their environment. Knowing as much as possible about the subjects will guide the designer towards a solution of best fit, but most importantly, keeps them away from ill-fitting ones.
In the research for KidPilot, I conducted a survey of twenty subjects: all adults who have traveled with young children. This helped to understand physical needs, find trends, and cluster types of behavior, beliefs and values amongst the population. Topics included physical limitations, carry-on item priorities, and preferences of in-flight activities.
In-depth interviews were performed with five of the survey takers for a finer-grain look at what made air travel with their children enjoyable, what made it difficult, and what would they love in an ideal world.
The start of the user research process was a survey that was crafted to understand, at a high level, the pain points of air travel with children. The goal of the survey was to understand some categorical problematic areas of air travel: physical issues, activities, comfort, and baggage/personal items.
|Height?||Perception of enough in-flight entertainment options for all ages||Preference: Extra hands or extra space?||Percentage of carry-on dedicated to child’s things?|
|Fitness level?||Frequency of personal reading/work time for adult||Use of baby sling?||Use of a packing system/rules?|
|Range of motion problems?||Comparative stress level against routine outings with child||Use of tray tables for things other than eating?||Frequency of occurrence where something needed is out of reach?|
|Frequency of worrying about child bothering other passengers|
I wanted to understand what physical limitations this population experienced. People have a wide range of physical ability and I wanted my solution to be as accessible as possible. This meant starting with bare minimum requirement of usage. Asking the height of a person alludes to them possibly being unable to reach the overhead bin and then leading them to store their baggage under the seat in front of them.
The next category I wanted to know what activities the parent usually performed while traveling with their child. Were they able to have time to themselves? If not, that could be a stressor if they needed to get some work done while away at the office. Another question asked how much more stressful a flight with their child was compared to a normal outing to perhaps a grocery store; was there something specific about the plane that caused the child to become fussier than normal?
For this category, the idea was to understand what would make the adult more comfortable. Baby slings can free up hands but if the parent doesn’t have the physical ability to wear one it won’t do much good. An extra set of hands could be helpful for getting situated in the seats but so would more space to move around to undo jackets or bulky clothing. How do the parents use their surfaces and spaces available to them now? Can we use that to our advantage in this situation?
Baggage & Personal Items
How does the parent pack their carry-on for a flight with their kid? Do they overpack perhaps? Do they have a system to ensure they don’t forget anything? How often are they reaching for something? Do we need to invent a new kind of luggage? Or perhaps an organizing system?
“What item would you bring with you on a flight if it was not cumbersome and you had unlimited space (and it was allowed by the FAA) Why?”
After the surveys were completed (around 21), I looked at the results and looked at some emerging themes, grouping some commonalities.
One relationship that struck out was that a large percentage of those surveyed said they had a fairly well-cemented system for packing their carry-on bags, yet, most of those and a similar percentage reported that it frequently occurs that something they need is not readily available or is just out of reach. It led me to try to and figure out why that was the case via the interview questions.
From the surveys, it was already fairly apparent that flying with a child was stressful for the parent. About half of surveyed parents said that flying was at least almost always more stressful than a routine outing with their child. Over half worried at least frequently about their child disturbing other passengers.
- Tell me about a great flying experience you had while traveling with your child. What made it so great?
- What’s something you always worry about when flying with your child?
- What’s your preparation routine like?
- Has anyone ever offered to help you in a time of need while flying?
- What’s your least favorite situation you find yourself in while flying?
- Do you consider other modes of transportation? Why?
- When boarding, would you rather have an extra set of hands or more space?
- Do you pack food for your child for the flight or do buy food at the airport? Or on the flight?
- Do you take advantage of in-flight entertainment systems for your child to use?
- Do you think it’s worth paying more to choose your seat?
- How do you feel about the bathrooms on the airplanes?
- What’s the most difficult thing to do with your child during the flight?
- How do you handle calming down your child when they are being fussy on a flight?
Research Findings: Problems, Causes, and Consequences
Following the interviews, a problem experienced by all subjects was rarely having what they needed for their child at hand or within easy access.
The consequence of this boiled down to stress for the adult (and child). The adult was in a constant state of stress of worry because they were juggling caring for their child with the normal stressors of economy air travel. Too often they were finding it too difficult to meet the needs of their child at some point in the trip: before, during or after the flight.
After reviewing the surveys and aggregated interview responses, the cause of the problem was distilled to the fact that young children can be unpredictable, especially when placed in out-of-routine situations. They have little control of their bathroom habits and their moods are easily affected by new surroundings or new activities. Thus, air travel and its own unpredictable nature and myriad of environments presents a lot of challenges for a designer working to help the flyer. There is simply no one-size-fits-all solution.
What I proceeded to do next was consider ways in which that stress might be reduced, how to get the things that the child needs (or the parent needs) more easily accessible, and how to make the child’s behavior a bit more predictable.