Rethinking UX research with nonverbal cues

photo of men having conversation for article on UX nonverbal cues

Understanding the end user is a complex and sometimes daunting process. Typically, humans don’t know what we want until we see it. We need experts to interpret our segmented requests and half-baked ideas in order to design something we think we might like to use.

As the researcher, designer, or expert in any creative field, this can be maddening. The individual, uneducated in the specific field, attempts to describe details and nuances without the proper language, experience, or expertise. However, when working with clients, interpreting their needs is the name of the game. So, we’d like to propose a new (and old) way to go about it: pay attention to the nonverbal cues.

Nonverbal communication accounts for a large portion of our overall messaging. And yet, it has been washed away into the sea of internet connectivity and email inundation. More often than not, the movement of the user’s cursor is not the only movement to track. Take a look at their posturing, their gestures as they attempt to explain their reactions to the interface, and their facial expressions while interacting with the prototype. These nonverbal indicators of posture, gesture, and expression will often provide more insight than their stumbled articulation of their experience with the tool or application.

Certain questions to consider:

  • How are they sitting? Are they leaning toward the screen or away?
  • How is their face changing between one page and another?
  • When they discuss their thoughts on the product, are they using complex or incomplete gestures?
  • How would you describe their tone of voice: is it energetic or apathetic?

So, as the user experience research process begins, make sure to design for movement. Design an evaluation process and research method that takes these nonverbal cues into account. Ensure that your research method includes a thorough and streamlined approach to assessing these indicators and documenting them. Only then — with all verbal testimonies, eye-tracking data, and more — will you have a full understanding of how the interface and experience truly impacted the individual and an adequate prediction of how it might impact the next user.

Katherine Hill

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