How to Objectively Measure Emotional Response to Your Web Site’s Design

UXMatters recently posted an excellent article about using a more structured method for soliciting user feedback than the traditional user interview.

The goal of this technique is to avoid the dangers of bias that can creep into regular interviews and also to help you to ensure you are asking the right types of questions – i.e. ones that are relevant to the interviewee.

Unfortunately, the article is titled “The Repertory Grid: Eliciting User Experience Comparisons in the Customer’s Voice” which doesn’t exactly scream ‘must read.’

Repertory Grid

In any case, the Repertory Grid on which the article is based is a psychological interviewing technique that is a way to objectively measure the way people emotionally respond to something.

For example, in the field of web design, this might be a home page design.

Using the home page example, following the Repertory Grid methodology will result in a grid of emotional responses to the page being viewed by the user, each plotted on a scale.

Each of these responses is plotted on a scale of polar opposites – examples of which might include ugly/pretty, light/heavy, professional/amateur.

As you add in the ratings of more users you can start to see trends appearing, where certain designs are seen as being more professional, more cluttered, more friendly, or more impersonal.

Because this technique involves reviewing multiple examples it is also a useful tool for conducting competitive analysis.

Bipolar Emotional Response Test

The BBC’s web team used a version of this technique in the 2002 redesign of their home page, famously documented in The Glass Wall (PDF 6.7MB). They used the term “bipolar emotional response test,” which is at least a little more meaningful.

See pages 11-13 of the PDF for more about the bipolar emotional response test and examples of their results diagrams for different web sites.

By the way, this is a must read for anyone interested in how a very popular, content rich home page is redesigned (oh, and there are lots of pictures).

We used bipolar emotional response testing when we were redesigning Seattle Children’s Hospital’s web site as a way to objectively evaluate comps of the new design against competitor home pages.

Not only did it help us to get objective user feedback on the designs, but it also enabled us to present findings and recommendations to our stakeholders that were backed up with data.

This made it difficult for someone to disagree with us based purely on their own subjective viewpoint. Thanks to Brian Fling for introducing me to this technique.

Not much has been written about the application of the Repertory Grid or bipolar emotional response testing to web design, which is surprising given how useful a component it is of any user experience design toolbox.

I highly recommend giving it a try. There’s even a free online tool developed around the Repertory Grid method.