How the Usability Matrix of Emotions Can Benefit Your Software Testing


Emotional response is a big deal in usability, but how much do the emotions preceding those responses play a part? David Greenlees explains how the Usability Matrix of Emotions can capture the more common emotions that users may have when they begin to use the software product you oversee and how understanding these emotions can shape your usability testing.

The importance of emotions in usability testing is well known, however the focus is more commonly put on the emotions that are produced during and after the use of a software product. The emotions a user has prior to using the product can play a big part in usability, and should therefore be given the same level of importance as those.

Let’s take a look at an easy way to try and catch some of those emotions before your product hits the virtual shelves.

This concept didn't come to me while I was working on a project for a client, as concepts normally do. I was sitting on a bus, I was tired (it was the end of the working day), and I was annoyed as the bus was full and I was somewhat squashed with one leg pushed into the aisle. I'm lucky that this was a relatively short bus trip home for me, but that was not enough to alter my mood to a more positive one.

I needed to log into an online auction site as there was an item I had my eye on and the auction was ending soon. Normally, I would just place my maximum bid long before the auction ends and be comfortable with the fact that I may not get the item; I’m usually happy when the software behind the auction site stops me from reaching my maximum bid. On this occasion, however, I really wanted the item.

Considering all the emotions and feelings I already had, adding anxiety to the list made me very uncomfortable. Now is probably a good time to mention that last-minute bidding and I don't mix. I get incredibly anxious; I always have.

There was ten minutes left and I watched as the price increased incrementally. Having to hit the refresh button was rather annoying, I might add. With a few minutes to go I began to bid. The process of placing the bid and confirming it was not entirely confusing, but it was quite painful. Perhaps dealing with the changing 3G-connection speed was part of the issue; however, I do think there were some unnecessary steps in the process.

With a minute to go, I quit because of so many distractions: the bus was bumping around, the elbow of the passenger next to me hit me in my ribs, I was tired, my nerves were agitated, and the overall bidding process was tedious. I couldn't take it anymore, and I came to the conclusion that the item just wasn't worth it.

Upon reflection I find it very hard to believe that for the sake of one minute I actually let the item go, but I did. Whatever was happening to me at the time was enough for me to give up on the bidding process.

Is this an uncommon or rare scenario? I think not, although I will admit I have no concrete data to back that up.

All of the emotions and feelings brought on by my surroundings were not in the control of the software designers or developers; however, the bidding process was. Would I have quit if the bidding process was simpler? While I can't be sure, I'm certain that it would have somehow impacted my decision.

So, how did this experience change the way I view emotions in usability testing, and the way I believe we should all view them?

Have you ever stopped to think about how your users may be feeling at the more common times and places of use for your software? Of course you have if you're a UX designer, but what about the usability testers and practitioners out there?

User Comments

duncan nisbet's picture
duncan nisbet

Great model David should really help with an aspect of my testing which I consider to be rather weak.

I'm going to try & apply the model at work...

October 15, 2013 - 8:06am
Liz Renton's picture
Liz Renton

Interesting. Although it probably sounds a bit corny I wonder whether sometimes some 'role play' might even be useful to test these types of scenarios if they are considered to be likely to occur for users of an application. In the same way that we would ideally simulate the environmental conditions of use, it may be worth considering simulating the situation of use e.g. people trying use application under pressure of a time constraint or when they are tired or both.

It can also be useful to approach this from the other direction. E.g. if you notice yourself (or other testers) are getting frustrated or impatient it can be worth stepping back to examine whether this is related to the design of the application, the situation of use, or some other unrelated factor.

September 30, 2013 - 7:37pm
Parimala Hariprasad's picture
Parimala Hariprasad

Great perspective David. This matrix if used in the eCommerce and mobile world can be very very powerful!

Thanks for sharing!

November 21, 2013 - 7:34am

About the author

StickyMinds is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.