It is not easy to gauge how a user feels when interacting with a product. But if we can somehow know, learn and understand this, it can help us optimize the user experience. Currently, research in this area is focused on gaining user insight directly from the user. But users are not always objective in their answers and often fall prey to their biases. Many times, we find that the participants knows what the researcher wants to hear and they report their emotions accordingly. Sometimes, they cannot even interpret their own emotions.
Psychological measurements with the aid of technology (biometric technology) can remove this subjective bias. There are now technologies to measure such involuntary, subconscious responses. With the help of these technologies, UX designers can refine the user experience to elicit specific emotional responses and make the product more usable. Here we will discuss some of these techniques.
Eye tracking - Eye tracking involves monitoring the user's eye, as it moves over the product. The mechanism consists of a monitor with an attached eye tracker. Used properly, eye tracking can give you unparalleled insights into the user behavior.
Electroencephalography - In this method, electrodes are placed at various points on the scalp, to measure electrical signals in the brain that are created in response to emotions. Some of the latest EEG machines are completely wireless.
Galvanic skin responses - Galvanic skin response is a technology to measure the electrical conductivity of sweat on the skin. Apparently, certain emotional states such as stress or frustration cause the skin to produce more sweat.
Facial response coding – In facial coding, facial expressions are systematically analyzed to determine the emotions that the user is undergoing. The major apparatus in this system is a web-cam. The analysis is performed by a specialized computer algorithm.
But just one technology isn’t enough for a holistic understanding of a user's preferences. The ideal approach will involve several of these devices. They should complement one another. The biggest advantage of combining the different machines is that you can learn different things from different devices. For instance, if the eye tracking device tells you which object on the screen is keeping the user's attention, the EEG machine will tell you what excites the user.
Are there any challenges to using these new tools?
Yes, there are challenges too. These tools come from a field, the UX researcher is unfamiliar with. Some of the tools are intimidating to use. To use some of these devices, you may need a PhD in psychology on your team. Another challenge lies in interpreting the data. You may observe the same physiological responses even if the mental states are different. So eventually, you may have to collect additional observations like ratings, comments along with the physiological measurements.
The future of measuring UX responses
There is no denying that current methods to measure a user's emotional response to a UX design are limited and often inaccurate. But the field of UX measurement is constantly evolving, and new methods are being developed to aid in UX measurement, such as biometric devices. Yet, there remains significant challenges to implement these technologies. But it is also true that soon we are going to reach a point where the use of such technologies will become commonplace.