Data regarding children's behaviors, attitudes, and prior knowledge of the arts and creativity, existing creative play games (e.g. Mindcraft), and the Pinkalicious brand, as well as insight into child media consumption behaviors and preferences (e.g. tablet-based games).


User research plays an important role in any product development process. But when designing products for children, it is indispensable. Try as we may to embody our child users and understand their needs and behaviors, we are limited as adults. We simply do not process information and experience the world in the same way.

For that reason, I have spent much of my career as a producer for PBS KIDS conducting and evangelizing the value of user research. It provides a gateway into the mind of a child, enabling designers and developers to build products that are not only engaging but reflect and support a child's cognitive development.


In February 2018, PBS KIDS, known for such Emmy and Peabody award-winning children's series as Curious George, Arthur, Sesame Street, will debut a new, multi-platform media series. Based on the bestselling picture books, Pinkalicious & Peterrific is designed to foster creativity and artistic exploration among children ages 3-6. In addition to 40 half-hour episodes, the series will include short-form videos, a website, 3 digital games, and a robust mobile app, all of which I have worked to develop and produce.

As part of this process, I supervised a team of 5 in conducting user research to better understand our target user group: children ages 5-6, particularly those familiar with the popular Pinkalicious book series.


What did these children know about Pinkalicious? How did they want to play and engage with the characters, particularly in a digital format? What forms of creative play did they enjoy (e.g. visual arts, music, dance, theater)? And what type of access and prior experience, if any, did they have with other children's games and mobile apps?

Leveraging a mix of traditional (i.e. focus groups) and play-based research methods (i.e. narrated drawing), my team and I sought to answer these and other questions. The data collected from this study directly informed the digital plan and development of PBS's Pinkalicious & Peterrific website, digital games, and mobile app.


  • Vanessa Wiegel: Coordinating Producer for WGBH Children's Media

  • Melissa Carlson: Senior Producer for WGBH Digital

  • Tara Taylor: Designer for WGBH Digital

  • Jesse Haley: Designer for WGBH Digital

  • Anessa Roth: Production Assistant for WGBH Digital

  • Anthony Bostler: Production Assistant for WGBH Children's Media


  • Supervised all user research efforts

  • Co-developed research plan and protocol with Melissa Carlson

  • Educated team on user research best practices

  • Facilitated user research sessions

  • Analyzed user research data


  • Formulating an appropriate, multi-method research plan for a special population (i.e. children)

  • Generating user research protocols (i.e. non-biased, non-leading interview protocol)

  • Conducting user research, including play-based methods

  • Analyzing user research data

  • Communicating findings to stakeholders (i.e. written report, oral presentation)

  • Making data-driven design recommendations

The Mind of a PBS Kid

Understanding how kindergartners play and interact with PBS KIDS characters

Want more detail? Read on...


We began by identifying our research goals and target user group (i.e. boys and girls ages 5-6 who were familiar with the Pinkalicious book series).


I then guided the team in discussing and developing an appropriate research plan and protocol. Based on past experience conducting discovery research with children, we opted to employ focus groups and a play-based, drawing activity. The former would enable us to collect qualitative data regarding prior knowledge of the series, media consumption behaviors and preferences, and usage/attitudes regarding existing creative play games (e.g. Mindcraft). The latter would further facilitate these conversations while enabling us to collect visualizations of how children wanted to engage with the characters and world of Pinkalicious.


Specifically, we structured the user research sessions as follows:

  • 10-minute introduction and discussion of Pinkalicious book series and characters (to assess prior knowledge and attitudes) with a group of 8 boys and girls ages 5-6

  • Group screening of a 3-minute episode clip, followed by a 3-minute discussion of the clip/content

  • 45-minute small group session (2 children paired with a moderator)

    • 10-minute reading of an existing Pinkalicious book, followed by discussion

    • 25-minute drawing activity in which children drew and narrated how they would like to play and engage with the Pinkalicious & Peterrific world and characters. Moderators would interject with questions, as appropriate.

    • 10-minute discussion to assess users' activity preferences, particularly art-related, and media consumption behaviors and preferences (TV, web, mobile).


  • All users wanted to play and interact with the Pinkalicious characters (e.g. play rainbow ball with Peter, dress up with Pinkalicious)

  • All users had experience with web-based games and/or mobile app games

  • The majority of users enjoyed sandbox games (e.g. Mindcraft) that offered flexible tools for artistic expression and creativity

  • All users enjoyed pretend play (e.g. dress up, pretending to be fairies or other mythical creatures)


Group think: One challenge we faced--common to focus groups--is that users being questioned in groups are sometimes influenced by the answers of their co-participants. Children are particularly susceptible to peer influences and social pressure.


I trained moderators on how to counteract this effect. Techniques included alternating which user answered a question first, avoiding any verbal or non-verbal indicators of approval/disapproval, and ensuring no one user dominated the conversation through active moderation/conversation management.

Play-based research
Play-based research
Play-based research
Play-based research
Play-based research