How Biometrics Can Elevate Your Research Strategy

User testing is essential to digital product development.  Nothing beats candid feedback from real users of a product.  However, test participants bring their own quirks and biases with them and it can therefore be challenging to discern what they really think of a digital experience.  Are they just being nice? Having an off day? Trying to score an easy gift card?

Over 90% of human communication is nonverbal, yet most user tests rely primarily on spoken feedback, taken at face value.  This approach can miss the valuable insights that can be found in darting eye movements, subtle facial cues such as a smirk or a furrow, or bioindicators like sweaty skin or a racing pulse.  In the past, these intangibles have been difficult for researchers to discover, quantify, and present as compelling evidence.

How do we discover these critically important, and potentially business-changing insights, without moonlighting for the CIA?  On a magnificent summer night, Isobar hosted a lively and engaged crowd from the Interaction Design Association of Chicago (IxDA).  We demonstrated how user research professionals of all sorts can use simple, biometrically-aided user testing to uncover the inner joy, frustration, and fixations of each tester, and get closer to reaching customers on a deep emotional level.  

Jessica Azoulay from Isobar’s Marketing Intelligence Practice began the evening by demonstrating the fundamentals and technology of biometric user testing.  She demonstrated each of Isobar’s biometric testing capabilities, and showed how they are harmonized to measure many aspects of the user’s emotional response while offering a simple and intimidation-free experience for the participant.  She also showed several testing tools, including:

  • Eye Tracking – tracks the user’s gaze and focus as they use the digital product
  • Facial Expression Analysis – measures expressions such as joy, surprise, frustration, or confusion
  • Electroencephalography (EEG) – records electrical activity and brain waves while monitoring cognitive states associated with engagement, excitement, stress and meditation
  • Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) – skin conductance offers valuable insights into our subconscious arousal when we‘re confronted with emotionally loaded stimulus material
  • Electrocardiography (ECG) – enables us to gain insights into respondents’ physical state, anxiety and stress levels (arousal), and how changes in physiological state relate to their actions and decisions.

When can biometric tests be used most effectively?  Jessica described the differences between traditional user testing and biometrically-enhanced testing and outlined suitable uses for both.  Traditional user tests tend to be more qualitative, discussion-based and focused on general user goals. Though biometric tests feature discussion and qualitative factors as well, they also sharpen the focus to more specific and quantitatively measurable tasks.  Biometric testing adds a great deal of richness to the data gathered.

Next, Ben McNeil from our Experience Strategy and Design team talked about how Isobar used biometric testing methods to discover unique insights on digital experience for several nationally known pizza restaurants.  Ideas and cravings reverberated through the crowd as he demonstrated the unique testing approach Isobar took to rigorously measure how quickly pizza shoppers could navigate core tasks using each brand’s digital platforms.  

The study gathered data measuring emotions (i.e. frustration, joy, and arousal) and compared these emotional observations to more objective points, such as time on task or specific points of visual activity and focus.  Isobar also asked a series of subjective questions on a 1-5 scale to evaluate the user’s satisfaction with the ease of the task and how it was designed. Often, the biometric data reinforced what the observed metrics said, and the observations of the moderator.  In these cases, biometric data helps confirm and strengthen the case for action.

Biometrics really shine in the cases where we uncover emotions and physical responses that are incongruent with our more easily observable data.  For example, in one instance, users reported the highest satisfaction with a task that took longest and caused far higher frustration. Deeper questioning discovered that users were giving it “partial credit” for thinking it looked easy, even though it contained a couple of major frustrating usability flaws.

Isobar’s ability to delve deep into the minds of customers doesn’t end in the usability lab, and doesn’t require lots of fancy, high-tech equipment.  MindSight is Isobar’s patented tool for understanding unconscious emotions. The MindSight technique represents a substantial advance in emotional measurement, and can be presented quickly and simply through the browser to a large audience anywhere in the world.

A brief MindSight study had been given to many of our guests prior to the event, measuring how they felt about Amazon and its shopper experience.  The results were fascinating, demonstrating how, despite positive feedback on Amazon’s overall user experience, based on standard rational questioning, emotionally speaking Amazon has some significant room for improvement, particularly around helping users feel a exceptional about their shopping experience (Mastery) and in making users feel like their personal tastes and styles are being addressed (Identity).

It’s time to start understanding customers on a deeper emotional level.  Biometric user testing is continually becoming simpler, more cost effective, and more powerful and offers great promise for discovering the intangible aspects of the customer relationship in an ever-growing world of data.  Please contact us to learn more about how Isobar can help you be at the cutting edge of user testing.

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