Research for the Design of Digital Play

Insight into research processes behind the development of digital products.


Twice a week I work for the children’s media agency Dubit in the area of research leading to design. Dubit is one of only a few agencies that combine research and development under one roof. This is unfortunate because the connection between research and digital development is a vital part of producing a good design. Here I outline four types of research that are user-led and help ensure the products developed match the audience they are designed for.

Combining research and design

Trends Data looks at the broadest picture, using a quantitative process to reap a broad insight into children’s lives. Dubit collects data in this manner using a 6-monthly online survey of children aged 2–15 years and their parents, which is conducted across 8 countries. The survey asks questions related to children’s tech and media use so we can understand which types of content are engaging children and what technology they have access to.

Understanding these international trends allows us to know where the products we produce tie in with what else children are using and the extent to which we are competing with similar content.

The Play Lab is a purpose built space in our Leeds HQ and portable facilities that allow us to undertake detailed observations of children’s play and how they engage and interact with toys, games, characters, apps and books.

We use the Play Lab at different stages of the design and development process. It might be used at the start of a new project in order to understand children’s physical play around a theme we are creating for digital content, or for testing the latest versions of app prototypes.

In our experience, the most reliable way to make a product children love is to involve them from the start! Asking children to help test our products every three to four weeks during development gives the best results, striking the balance between making meaningful progress on the product, while not going too far building a feature that children turn out not to like or are confused by.

Research on Location is undertaken in the context of children’s lives to understand better how the digital products we produce would tie in with their daily activities. This can include spending time observing and talking to children in nursery settings, schools and homes.

Digital products are firmly embedded in children’s lives and they are often happy to meet people involved in digital production and share their expertise about their own play.

Design Summits are an intense 2–3 days, and involve all key stakeholders. In the Design Summit, we drill into all aspects of the current products on offer, we create user journeys and revisit initial concepts and assumptions.

Design summits can also be undertaken directly with the end users to get their input too.

Design summit with teenagers

It is hoped that knowledge of these types of research can be applied to the design process more widely no matter what is being developed or who the end-user is.