Usability test: when and why to use think aloud, eye-tracker and GSR

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Uncovering the whys of user behavior: how think aloud, eye tracker and GSR can help design successful experiences


Usability test with facilitator

The behavior of the participant is undoubtedly what we try to understand within the usability tests. In fact, it is the main reason why user testing takes place. But he certainly isn’t the only one. Behavior gives us information about what is happening. But it often fails to give us insight into why.

Understanding the “why” of certain behaviors allows us to design experiences based on people’s needs and expectations. And it saves us the unfortunate condition in which we are forced to endlessly remodel our product and service, until we achieve customer satisfaction.

To get information on the “why” you need to resort to “think aloud”. “Think aloud” is a technique used in usability testing that involves asking participants to verbalize what they are thinking while using a product or an interface. In other words, people are invited to express their thoughts, feelings and reactions while interacting with the interface, in order to make explicit their decision-making processes and the difficulties they encounter.

Usability test - Think aloud

This technique allows researchers to better understand the motivations and needs of users. Furthermore, the verbalization of thoughts allows researchers to have a better understanding of the cognitive processes that underlie the use of a product and to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the interface.

There is also an aspect, certainly not secondary, linked to the effectiveness of communication. It is different to see a hesitation (detectable at a behavioral level), compared to being told “I have no idea what to do” (detectable with think aloud). And it’s not just about the content, but also about the way of exposure. This element is particularly relevant that at TSW we systematically prefer to make our client live the experience of people in real time. This dynamic helps a lot to account for the caliber of the problem and the real level of satisfaction of one’s audience.

In this scenario, further tools can be added, deriving from the world of neuroscience, which have the main characteristic of being objective. In particular, the most used in usability tests are undoubtedly eye trackers and GSR.

The eye tracker is a tool that allows us to understand the ocular behavior of people within a web page and allows us to make objective choices on the position, visibility and comprehensibility of the elements on the page. Understanding the eye pattern, understanding what is actually seen and what is not processed, allows us to structure a fluid experience and highlight the truly distinctive aspects.

The GSR or Galvanic Skin Response, on the other hand, is the galvanic response of the skin and is used to measure people’s emotional activation while using a product or an interface. Using the GSR in usability testing allows researchers to identify situations or product features that cause the most negative or positive emotional arousal, providing insights into improving people’s experience and overall satisfaction with the product.

Test of experience in TSW

In addition to all of the above, at TSW we are committed to broadening the meaning of usability testing. And we try to do this by immediately involving all the company’s internal stakeholders, making the experience of their customers live in another room in real time. On the one hand, this allows us to understand what actually happens on their sites, and the difficulties their customers encounter, as anticipated in think aloud. But at the same time it also allows you to refine questions in real time. In fact, the facilitator is always connected to another colleague and can afford, in real time, to explore issues that have emerged that had not been considered before.

But it’s not just about that. The approach used is to consider the experience in its complexity and not just as a single touch point. This allows us to have more information on the relationship between customer and brand and above all allows us to understand in which context our product or service fits. This condition inevitably generates reasoning about new business opportunities that involuntarily emerge from the needs of our users.

Last but not least, it should be emphasized that for a test to be effective, it should not limit itself to highlighting the problems, but it should also propose hypotheses of solutions to these problems. For this reason, in TSW we have an experience design team that increases the value of the activities we carry out by already providing hypothetical solutions, based on all the elements that test, think aloud, eye tracker and GSR have provided us.

In conclusion, it is useful to highlight that all the elements mentioned are in fact tools. Tools make up our toolbox. We experts will have to be good at understanding why it makes sense to use one tool rather than another, or a combination of these. And above all, once used, to show what result they have generated from an insight point of view. Only in this way will it be possible to bring the culture of usability testing tools into the company.

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7 June 2023 Christian Caldato

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TAG: user testing eye tracking usability test experience design