Now available: Design for Impact by Erin Weigel

Using EEG in a usability test of a survey


We all know that people will give up on surveys if they are too long or too boring. But exactly how long is too long? Exactly how boring is too boring?

One of my most fascinating clients is Kantar, the market research and insight part of WPP. This is a giant business; Kantar conducts 77 million interviews a year, 34 million online. And that’s not 34 million people interacting with one single web site, it’s samples interacting with many, many questionnaires. My very conservative estimate is that there must be a minimum of 50,000 different questionnaires used each year.

The whole survey research industry is facing declining response rates, and every client wants better data for less cost. So Kantar has a raft of initiatives looking into how to improve the user experience of surveys.

Usability testing of individual questions

Even though there are zillions of different questionnaires, they tend to have common features such as specific types of questions.
I worked with Kantar Operations to help them start their usability testing programme and I continue to mentor it. This has been part of their initiative to develop new types of questions, and to improve the respondent experience with questions.

Using EEG to get insight into overall UX in a survey

This still leaves us with a challenge: how best to measure the respondent experience of a whole survey, and how to generalise that.

In a project led by Alex Johnson of Kantar Operations, we had the opportunity to try using neuroscience techniques, using an EEG monitor. Electroencephalography (EEG) is the recording of electrical activity along the scalp and it can give some insight into what a respondent’s brain waves are doing.

From our point of view, this means we hoped to pick up moment-by-moment changes without disturbing the respondent. We then replayed the recording and asked them about their experience to try to find out whether what they thought was happening had been reflected in the EEG traces.

ESRA presentation: using EEG

So far as I know, there isn’t a lot of EEG happening in UX yet. So I was thrilled to have the chance to participate in this project.

Many clients would want to keep every detail of this sort of thing to themselves, so I was even more thrilled when Kantar agreed that Richard Coombe from Kantar Operations and I could present on it at the European Survey Research Association Conference in Lausanne in July.

I’m delighted to report that Kantar has allowed us to publish the slides.

So, if you’d like to learn more about it, have a look at our presentation at ESRA11.