The Future of UX Research: Uncovering Users’ True Emotions with Mixed Methodologies

future of UX research
Explore what methodologies work well together to uncover users’ hidden emotions to strengthen UX testing

Emotion research can help brands find ways to create deeper emotional connections with prospects and deliver purposeful, enhanced experiences to current customers. It also is ideally suited for supporting the user experience (UX) design process. The future of UX research and design will increasingly include emotion research methodologies to show how people actually feel while using a product.

Superior user experiences win long-term loyalty. Think about the last time an app, website, or product delighted you. What made the experience memorable and enjoyable? Was it a fun micro-animation after you completed a task; was there an additional feature that was cool to use or see; or was it just easier to use than other similar products?

While UX research seems like an inherent win for any organization, only 55% of companies conduct UX or usability testing. Of those that conduct UX research, the standard quantitative metrics collected and reported include how many people complete the tasks, what the mean satisfaction rating is, how many users convert with design A compared to design B.

Additionally, qualitative feedback can be gathered directly from participants to better understand their experiences. A common way to collect emotional and cognitive aspects in UX testing is through a retrospective self-report where participants are asked to describe or answer questions about their experiences, either with verbal or written responses.

According to Andrew Schall, Senior Director of User Experience at Modernizing Medicine, while this sort of data collection is routine, it relies too heavily on the highly subjective nature of participants’ interpretation and recollection of their emotions. He continues to say the reality is that participants tell us what they think we want to hear or selectively report their emotions. However, emotion research can provide richer insights by probing at the core of users’ experiences by studying their emotions.

How emotion research can strengthen UX research

UX or usability testing is a way to see how easy and enticing a new or updated product is to use by testing it with real users. Users are asked to complete tasks, typically while they are being observed by a researcher, to see if/where they encounter problems or experience confusion.

Emotion research is used to uncover users’ hidden feelings and help brands build positive connections with prospects. There are many different approaches for measuring emotion. Here’s a look at various emotion research methodologies and how each can take UX research to the next level:

Emotion Intelligence is a versatile and proprietary tool for uncovering hidden opinions and associations. If offers a simple and scalable solution. This tool uses AI technology and is based upon Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions. Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions is a psychoevolutionary classification approach that illustrates 8 primary bipolar emotions—including the connections and intensities of each. Emotion Intelligence similarly reflects the multi-dimensional aspects of emotions with 4 key properties. It uses patented algorithms to process language – from surveys, focus group transcriptions, research reports, social media, online reviews, and other sources – to detect and organize emotional words. It seamlessly integrates with qualitative data from UX research to reveal the true emotions users had while testing.

Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions and Martec Emotion Intelligence

Eye tracking provides a way to track the location of a participant’s eyes. Eye trackers are used as an input device for human-computer interaction to aid marketing and communication efforts and for product design and development. Eye tracking is relatively scalable and can work in tandem with any other methodology.

Electroencephalography (EEG) is a method for monitoring electrical activity in the brain. EEG uses academic neuroscience principles to study marketing and advertising content. EEG studies provide robust, real-time (to the millisecond) precision and can show the full spectrum of emotions and cognitive activity. However, EEG sessions and equipment (caps and sensors) can be cost-prohibitive and bring logistical challenges when trying to collect data from larger sample sizes.

Galvanic skin response (GSR) research identifies emotional arousal and stress. GSR tools can detect electrical activity conducted through sweat glands in the skin. It offers a way to measure the intensity of an emotion experienced. As Schall notes in User Experience Magazine: it is critical to obtain a baseline measurement prior to the presentation of stimuli. Participants will vary in terms of their typical level of sweat output and their emotional state (e.g., feeling anxious) when they arrive at the testing facility.

Facial coding uses automated software and webcam capture to quantify emotional responses. As with GSR, researchers will need to obtain a baseline measurement prior to the presentation of stimuli. Additionally, this technique does not fully support inclusive testing because it examines users’ facial expressions. Medical conditions that affect facial expressions, such as ADHD, autism, Bell’s palsy, and others, may disqualify some participants.

Ultimately, when you’re evaluating research methodologies to support UX, product development, and marketing strategies, the top deciding factors are likely to be price and quality. To uncover users’ true emotions with mixed methodologies, we recommend combining quantitative and qualitative UX research with Emotion Intelligence and eye tracking. Each method separately provides a simple, scalable solution and each seamlessly integrates with one another. The data gathered through these methods will build upon every layer of insight. This mixture can provide richer, truer insights in a cost-effective way to strengthen any design or development process.

Related reading: Building, Improving, and Maintaining Brand Loyalty through CX

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