Measuring Emotions in UX with EEG’s


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Every day we all feel a variety of emotions. And they vary depending on what tasks we try to accomplish. When it comes to usability testing, how do researchers know how users are feeling at each step of a task?

Emotions in design can be measured in a variety of ways such as: self-reporting, uncovering implicit feelings, and by measuring non-conscious reactions. Self- reported techniques is the most simple and direct approach and is done by asking users how they feel. An example of this being the star rating in iTunes to rate apps. Uncovering a user’s implicit feelings is done by asking a user to describe how they feel, and researchers infer their feelings based on the user’s word choice. For example, going on Twitter or another platform and see what users are saying about a certain product or brand. (Reynolds).

The last way to measure emotion is a bit more technical, and that is by measuring a user’s non-conscious reactions through analyzing a user’s physical responses. The previous techniques rely on users to answer consciously the different emotions they experience, by measuring their non-conscious reactions, researchers can discover emotions felt, that the user themselves may not have been aware of. Andrew Schall’s article discusses the different technologies to test this. There are different types of technology to conduct this research some of which are eye- tracking, galvanic skin responses, facial recognition, and electroencephalography (EEG).

EEG technology measures electrical activity in the brain by having the user wear a special headset with electrodes, while they are doing a task. The signals obtained are analyzed and that data is interpreted into different emotions that the user is experiencing. For instance, a spike can indicate excitement, while a drop could indicate a negative emotion.

There are a number of pros of using EEG to measure emotion and engagement. One is that it delivers responses in real time. While another is that it can detect even very subtle signals. One downside is however, that unless the researcher has special software to read the signals, the researcher would have to be well versed in reading the signals.

What are the things researchers have to keep a look out on when doing this sort of study? The first thing is long and short-term excitement. This is detected by the length of up spikes in signal activity and can be tied to a specific event (short term) or a more stable state (long term). Another is engagement, which can be detected by a user’s alertness, interest, and stimulation to the task. The last thing to look out for is a user’s frustration. This is important to note, as negative experiences tend to stick more stubbornly in a user’s memory and could have negative effects on the brand/site/ or product if changes aren’t made. (Kowalewski).  Overall, when it comes to non-conscious emotions, while EEG’s can read the signals in the brain, which can still only tell so much. It is useful to try and do one of the other methods as well when testing.


Kowalewski, R. (2017, January 26th). Can emotional testing be valuable to a usability study? Retrieved from


Reynolds, A. (2017, October 14th). How to measure emotion in design. [blog]. Retrieved from


Schall, A. (2015, April). The future of UX research: Uncovering the true emotions of our users. In UX User Experience. Retrieved from

Design Critique: Goodreads IOS App is a site that allows users to keep track of books they have read as well as books they want to read. It also allows them to see what their friends are reading and offers the user recommendations to other titles based on what they have already read. Goodreads is also available as an app for phones and tablets, with the iOS version is what I plan to critique. The four aspects I will be reviewing are: the home page, the recommendations feature, the explore feature and the search feature. Concepts for this critique come from some of Don Norman’s concepts explained in The Design of Everyday Things.

Homepage with Newsfeed:

Figure 1: Homepage format showing the newsfeed and icons at the bottom


Overall the homepage and newsfeed are a clean design showing a user what their friends have been reading, as well as recommendations, what’s popular or new from the user’s frequently read genres. The icons at the bottom are good for discoverability and clearly state what function each icon does. There is one for the home screen, one for the users bookshelves, one for search, a scan feature, and a menu icon for more options. There is also a search bar at the top of the page. The homepage is clean and not too cluttered and is perfect as is, though it could possibly do away with the extra search bar at the top.





Figure 2: Search page


The signifier for the main search feature is a magnifying glass at the bottom center of the screen. The search feature allows the user to search for books by title, author, or subject, and this feature is accessed in one of three areas of the app, at the tope of the home page, or the magnifying glass at the bottom center of the app, and one under “My Books”. However the user has to be careful which search feature they use, as the search feature under “My Books” searches only through books on the user has already marked as “Read”. It is good that for this specific search, it does say “search books on your shelves”, but it doesn’t have anything like that in the other search areas.

Figure 3: Specific search under “My Books”, no results show as the user has not read this title

An improvement that could be made is to only keep the main search signifier (the magnifying glass) and get rid of the others to narrow down confusion. The main one is clearly identifiable and accessible anytime within the app, and it includes books the user has already read within its searches.

Figure 4: Searching for title in general search, title appears


Explore Page:

The “explore” feature is accessed from the “more” menu on the lower right of the app. The “more” menu is signified by three bars on the lower right hand corner of the screen, to show that there are more options to choose from. “Explore” allows the user to explore books in various genres for when they are browsing for something new to read. When the user picks a genre, a list of the most popular books in that genre shows up, and they can browse and see which one appeals to them.

Figure 5: More menu with options

Figure 6: Explore feature genre list

Figure 7: List of titles within genre selection, notice no option to narrow down to subgenre

A recommendation to improve this specific feature would be to have an area within the genre the user chooses to have the option to narrow the list down by subgenre. This feature is available on the full website, but not the app. The list rarely changes, and it is very overwhelming as well. If the user is in the mood for a historical fiction novel taking place in the Middle Ages, they would have to click each title and read the summery to see when the book takes place. With an option to explore by subgenre, a user could choose “historical fiction” and then “Middle Ages” from a list of subgenres. While the discoverability of finding this feature is fairly simple, the discoverability of exploring items related to a specific interest is not.

Recommendations Page:

The recommendations feature gives recommendations of books to users based on what they have already read. The feature is in the part of the “More” menu on the bottom right of the app. This feature allows the user to see recommendations based on genres they choose, or based on one of user’s shelves. What is nice about the feature is that the titles appear larger and are easier to see the cover, and the user can swipe to the side to see all the options, which are limited to fifty items per genre, as opposed to a long list.

Figure 8: Recommendations page

A recommendation to improve this feature is to try and update the recommendations more regularly. Particularly for an avid reader, it is annoying to see the same recommendations all the time. Granted, a user could use the similar “explore” feature, but it is good to have the option to get ideas of what to read next, based on one’s particular tastes. The other thing to improve is for the choice to filter by shelf or genre, one has to click on the icon itself and it will change. It would be helpful to have it appear as a drop down menu with a small arrow indicator, as it does when the user can pick a genre, to let the user know there is more than one option there.

In Conclusion

Overall, Goodreads is a very helpful and easy to use app for avid readers. It has clear signifiers, and fairly straightforward discoverability for the most frequently used functions. While the app is quite good now, a few minor improvements would make for an even better user experience.