User experience research has traditionally relied upon qualitative techniques that entail users telling us their feelings, wants, and needs. This creates an inherent cognitive bias – data is filtered through the participant’s cognition. That is, we may not necessarily be hearing the participants’ true feelings. They may be trying to please the moderator or may just be unable to articulate the cause of their emotions. But researchers and stakeholders alike are thirsty for quantitative data that complements the qualitative. Luckily, we live in exciting times – there are two particular technologies that are becoming more accessible that will help usability researchers break through cognitive bias and provide that ever tantalizing quantitative data: eye tracking and biometrics. Eye tracking equipment has only recently started to become affordable to most anyone who wants to use it. Researchers must now get up-to-speed on eye tracking methodology and analysis. When is it appropriate? How can we turn the data into actionable findings? What the heck do I do with all of this new data?! More importantly, we should find new research techniques that will break through cognitive bias.
This is where the second technology comes in: biometrics. Psychophysiology is the study of how emotions affect changes in the body. Changes in heart rate, breathing rate, heart rate variability, and galvanic skin response (GSR) have all been shown to be accurate indicators of a person’s emotions, among others. Just as with eye tracking, the equipment to measure these biometrics are just now starting to become accessible to usability researchers. Until very recently, the equipment to gather this data was rather obtrusive and invasive. This not only affected participant comfort, but also did not lend to conducting “discount” usability research. But new technology allows the collection of biometrics in non-invasive ways. For instance, Affectiva’s Q Sensor is worn on the wrist and wirelessly gathers a participant’s GSR. The problem with integrating psychophysiological data into usability research is that individual researchers will need to come up with not only the algorithms to interpret the biometrics but also the technology to temporally marry the biometrics to the eye tracking data. These are no small tasks. There are companies out there that will collect and interpret the data for you for a hefty fee. But this technique should be in every usability researcher’s toolkit. As such, we should come together as a research community to figure this out. We need an open dialogue. We need to share techniques and stories.