Setting screen time limits
During my DesignLab UX Bootcamp, I was given the task of adding a feature to an existing app. My mind immediately went to a feature my husband and I discuss all the time - adding a timer to the Netflix app to end the arguments with our 7-year-old daughter around screen time being done for the day.
Originally founded in 1997 as a DVD subscription service, Netflix has become the most popular streaming platform in the United States. With award-winning original content and a wide range of usability features, it appeals to both kids and adults.
Is there an opportunity to expand Netflix’s parental controls and make it even more appealing to families with children?
This is a speculative project only. I was not hired or commissioned by Netflix to complete this task.
Effects of screen time
The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages media use by children younger than 2 and recommends limiting older children's screen time to no more than one or two hours a day. Too much screen time can be linked to a host of issues including irregular sleep, behavioral problems, impaired academic performance, less time for play, and more.
But even with this knowledge, are parents actively setting screen time limits? And if so, how are they going about it? Are they familiar with parental controls you can set on children’s app profiles or on their devices? I conducted three interviews and surveyed my local parents’ Facebook group to find out.
What did we learn?
Streaming usage among families is very common, yet knowledge regarding parental controls is somewhat limited. While most respondents do set up a kid's profile in their favorite streaming services (Netflix being the most popular!) less than half take the time to explore anything beyond the basic limits that are "baked in" to the age restrictions.
A strong majority of parents do set some type of time limit for their children, however, methods vary - some take a more "offline" approach, others use built-in app controls (popular on kid's tablets such as Samsung Kids or Amazon Fire Kids), while others base time limits around daily activities or chores.
85% of respondents set some type of time limit
Time limits often set based on time of day or activities planned
Knowledge of setting and using parental controls is limited
While a screen-time timer would be a valuable feature to many parents I surveyed, especially those with younger children, the fact remains that there are users who simply wouldn't use it; either they don't strictly enforce time limits for a variety of reasons, or they prefer a less technical approach.
Two personas emerged: the work from home mom and the busy dad of older children. The timer needs to be simple and useful for the work from home mom to set-up, and easily disabled for the busy dad of older children.
What's the end goal?
Combining my user research with a thorough competitive analysis of both streaming apps and kid-friendly devices such as Amazon Fire Kids and the Nintendo Switch, I outlined overall project goals.
How should it work?
Given the constraint of working within the existing app structure and design, I studied the Netflix app in depth, marking out the various paths a user takes to get to the account settings screens. I then simplified this down to a very basic user flow for the new Screen Time feature.
Existing Netflix account log-in and parental control screens
Kate Sets Limits
Kate wants to try the new Netflix Screen Time feature in her daughter’s profile. She would like to set a bedtime, cap her weekday usage to 1 hour, and allow unlimited time on the weekends.
How does it work?
Following Netflix branding for their current parental control screens, I created a main settings screen as well as several app screens to adjust timer settings to test among parents who are also Netflix users. View prototype here.
For those users who prefer to take a more "offline" approach to setting screen time limits, I created an "Auto Shut-Off" feature that can be enabled or disabled. When enabled, the child can no longer watch Netflix until their time resets the next day. When disabled, a subtle warning, accompanied by an alarm tone, displays in the top corner of the screen, but the child can continue watching with the knowledge that they are extending past their allotted time limit for the day.
Auto Shut-Off Disabled
Auto Shut-Off Enabled
What did everyone think?
Using live interviews as well as a Maze test to online respondents, I tasked users with changing basic settings and requested design feedback.
Screen Time Feature - Usability Test Analysis
Do screens fit well within the Netflix app?
Are screen time controls easy to navigate to and select?
Are child-facing screens (warning, time’s up) simple to understand?
Is this feature useful?
3 live usabilty tests utilizing screensharing
10 additional online only surveys via Maze
Pop ups indicating times and time limits are easy to navigate
Child-facing screens communicate well when time is up
All testers were likely to use this feature
Main settings screen could be more user-friendly
Main app screens are slightly off-brand from Netflix established guidelines
Swap placement of weekday and weekend settings
Larger touch targets for time settings
Tweaks to main app screens to more closely align to Netflix branding
Problem: Users clicked around a lot on this screen, and 2/3 live interviews assumed weekdays would come first.
Swap placement of weekdays and weekends settings
Time settings more apparent - larger, darker, bolder
Problem: Screens slightly off-brand from Netflix guidelines.
Revision: Revisited app screens and adjusted as appropriate.
How did we do?
"I would use this across any app my children watch, assuming it was very easy to program."
“As a parent, this is a fantastic feature I would definitely use!”
Feedback was very positive among usability testers, with almost all saying they would use this new feature. It also seemed easy to use, with most having little to no issues adjusting settings for weekdays and weekends.